While Carmelo Anthony’s league scoring title was the first time a Knick has done that in nearly two decades, its was J.R. Smith who seemingly got the most attention last season. Sure his career highs in ppg (18.1), minutes played (33.5), field goals made (6.6) and attempted (15.6-much to the chagrin of many Knick fans), made his 6th Man of the Year Title well deserved. This was especially so given his disappointment with not being made a starter before last season began. However it was a roller coaster of a season with enough peaks and dips to probably make Six Flags think of naming their next ride after him. While much of those low-points were “extracurricular” in nature, it’s still the type of erratic behavior that has held him down his entire career. At one point last year there was much being written about his maturity on and off the court, but we all know the NBA season is a long one and towards the end of it those stories were forgotten foot notes. Instead, J.R. Smith’s erratic shooting was reminiscent of his Denver days of being yanked off the court by George Karl, except the fact that Mike Woodson turned a blind eye to it and stuck with him through the playoffs. And it was in the playoffs where stories of J.R. Smith’s evening escapades at nightclubs before game day had many questioning his commitment to winning and blamed for his really poor play. In fact, it seemed as if the instant he was named 6th Man of the Year, he clocked out for the season ostensibly satisfied with achieving his goal.
Like Anthony, scoring is Smith’s biggest asset. His ease in scoring is his best and worst attribute, particularly for a bench player. While his shot selection drives Knick fans crazy, it’s exactly to those horrible “are you kidding me?!” plays that left me flabbergasted when they fell in. And I’m not just talking bout those game winners he knocked down last season. He’s always been described as “a good bad-shot shooter” and as much of an oxymoron that sounds, I really can’t think of a more apt description for him. To score 18 points a game is a heck of an accomplishment, but do to it off the bench requires a lot of shot attempts and a green light from the coach. With a second unit that could include Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire looking to redeem their careers and a coach playing for his next contract, it remains to be seen how much of a leash Smith will play with this year.
What We’ll Need
While his instant offense is a tremendous weapon to have off the bench, he is going to have to find a way to be just as effective when not scoring. This means playing smarter by shooting less and getting the other four guys on the court involved too. Last season there were times when J.R. would control the ball for nearly an entire shot clock just to throw up a jumper that didn’t always fall. And then he would do it again on the next possession and the one after that, too. That kind of play just isn’t effective, especially with players looking to get involved because when Smith is cold, it’s really a ghastly sight to watch. I always said there was a reason a player as talented as Smith never got a big contract and was sought after around the league. Hopefully a visit from the “Ghost of NBA Future” as seen in Ricky Davis’s at Knicks mini-camp serves as a eerie reminder to Smith what happens when you refuses to change your trigger-happy ways.
What We Can Expect
Being a long-time suffering Knick fan has really left me jaded. I would love to write about how I think J.R. Smith is going to learn from last season and ensure that he plays the way he did in the beginning of the year and spread it out for an entire season, but I don’t. I expect more of the same wild shot selection, the hysterical twitter controversies and off court episodes, and Woodson continuing to leave him shooting the Knicks into and out of games. The good news is that the Smith we love to write about will still be here and that also includes game winning shots, electric dunks, and yes, his always entertaining Twitter escapades.
There is no denying the fact that a large part of the Knicks success last year was due to Smith, so while he may drive fans crazy, the Knicks need J.R. Smith in order to have a deep run. In a league where players follow the money and go to teams that bid the highest, it’s easy to see Smith’s genuine love of being a New York Knick. To Knick fans, this is part of why he’s become such an endearing but polarizing figure. And if we are to expect more of the same from last year, its something that falls on the shoulders of coach Woodson to manage. We’ve seen this through his entire 9 year career: JR Smith is going to be JR Smith. It’s up to Woodson to weave that into his overall season strategy.