Nov 20, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers defeated the Knicks 103-96 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

J.R. Smith: Knicks Need 6th Man to Return to Form

The New York Knicks offensive struggles are well documented this season. After finishing third in offensive efficiency last season, raining in an NBA-record in three-pointers made and attempted, the Knicks’ offense has been sluggish so far. Through 13 games this year, the Knicks are just 23rd in offensive rating. But where has it gone wrong?

Some aspects, frankly, are the same. The Knicks are still among the best teams in taking care of the ball, and to the surprise of some, they’ve received nice offensive contributions from Andrea Bargnani, who is currently averaging 14 points per game on 46% FG, 36% from downtown. Carmelo Anthony is still scoring at a high rate, but less efficiently. The team’s assists per game is about the same as last season. But the Knicks miss last season’s three-point shooting very badly, some of which left with the departures of Steve Novak, Jason Kidd, and Chris Copeland. The Knicks are attempting three fewer three-pointers per game, and their three-point percentage is down to 33% from 37.6% in ’12-13.

However, perhaps the biggest hole in the Knicks’ scoring has been J.R. Smith. J.R. Smith had a strange effect on the 2012-13 Knicks. He was the second best scorer on the team, putting up 18 points on 40% shooting off the bench, but when he was on the court, the Knicks had a worse offensive efficiency, shot the ball worse from two-point and three-point range, and they passed the ball less frequently. Nonetheless, Smith was an integral part of last year’s success. Last year, in games Smith shot 45% or better, the Knicks were 27-5.

This season, Smith is putting up ghastly numbers. He’s averaging 12 points per game on nearly 14 shot attempts while shooting just 32% from the field, 29% from deep, and 59% from the free throw line. Smith’s 41.7% True Shooting percentage is the worst on the team and literally the worst in the NBA of anyone who plays 25 minutes or more per game (Smith plays 32 per game).

However, the answer is not simply to bench Smith; the Knicks just need him to regain form. Although he’s now eight games into the season, he may still not be in complete game shape. Besides for sitting out the first five games of the season, Smith also missed most of training camp as he recovered from knee surgery during the summer. Smith hasn’t looked quite as explosive since returning, which the Knicks desperately hope isn’t a permanent effect of his knee surgery. Some of Smith’s best skills have been predicated on his explosive athleticism, and if that is already diminishing, the Knicks will have a shell of the former player.

There aren’t really any concrete answers for getting Smith back on track. One answer could be making Smith do less on the offensive end. Like Amar’e Stoudemire hinted at after the loss in Portland, the Knicks need to move the ball better, and Smith would benefit from more catch-and-shoot opportunities. Smith’s three most frequent plays, according to Synergy, are isolations, spot-ups, and pick-and-roll ball-handling. He shoots just 37% in isolation situations, scoring .91 points per play when he does so, and in the pick-and-roll, he’s even worse, shooting just 17.6% and scoring .3 points per play. In contrast, as a spot-up shooter (one of Smith’s greatest strengths through his career), he’s shooting 40% and scoring 1.14 points per play. It’s still not a great number, but it’s by far his most efficient offensive play. Placing less burden on Smith to create and instead space the floor could benefit the team as a whole.

The Knicks are tinkering on a very destructive cliff, and they need to turn it around quickly. If J.R. Smith could return to his older form, it could be a start in the right direction for the team.

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Tags: 2013-14 NBA Season J.R. Smith New York Knicks New York Knicks Offense

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