The New York Knicks finally got themselves a win Thursday night against the Brooklyn Nets, improving to a disappointing 4-13 on the season.
Part of the reason for the disappointment is the performance of the reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith.
While the season is still young, it’s is conceivable to call Smith the NBA’s most disappointing player at this point of the season. In fact if you want to take things a step further, it’s fair to call Smith the worst significant player in the entire league at the moment (key word being significant).
If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look.
Smith had a career year last season on his way to winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. He finished the year as one of just six players in the entire league to average at least 17 points, five rebounds and 1.3 steals.
But then came his dreaded postseason.
Everything was going good for Smith and the Knicks right up to the moment where Smith unleashed his selfish elbow to the head of Boston’s Jason Terry.
It almost seemed like at that very moment everything changed for Smith.
He proceeded to struggle mightily after returning from his one-game suspension.
How bad was he?
He became just the second player in the last 50 years to appear in at least 10 playoff games and average over 30 minutes per game, yet shoot below 34 percent from the floor. He was also just the third player in league history to attempt at least 65 three-pointers during one postseason and shoot below 27.5 percent from behind the arc and below 73 percent from the free-throw line.
However that was enough for Smith to still earn a lucrative three-year deal from the Knicks, a move I questioned at the time and still shake my head over.
Then came the saga in which Smith needed knee surgery shortly after signing his contract and then received a five-game suspension for marijuana use.
Once he came back this season, he has picked right up where he left off in the postseason, as he has been as bad as any player in the NBA.
Of the 254 NBA players that have logged at least 200 minutes this season, Smith is the only one shooting below 34 percent from the floor, below 30 percent from three-point territory and below 61 percent from the free-throw stripe.
There are 96 players averaging at least 30 minutes per game and Smith is the only player in the entire league that has a negative Win Share rating (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player). Among this group, Smith is also the only player with a PER (Player Efficient Rating) below 10 and true shooting percentage south of 44 percent.
Smith has played in 20 games since he threw the elbow at Terry’s head. Thursday against the Nets was the first time he has shot above 46 percent from the floor and he only went 3-of-6 from the floor last night.
That’s simply unacceptable by any standards.
Beer also writes:
He has attempted 259 shots over that 19-game span, but has produced just 237 points. This is remarkable, especially when compared directly to his final 19 games of the 2012-13 regular season, when he scored 441 points on 323 FG attempts.
One main reason for Smith’s fast demise is his unwillingness to change.
He continues to settle for long contested jumpers, as opposed to attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw stripe. During his best stretch of his career at the end of the season last year, Smith was averaging nearly seven free-throw attempts per contest, versus just 4.5 three-point attempts. This season, Smith is attempting 6.5 threes per game and just 2.1 free-throws.
That’s important because after last night the Knicks are 34-4 in games in which Smith shoots 50 percent or better in his Knicks career.
The problem is he doesn’t accomplish that feat, or even come close, nearly enough.
As if his offensive struggles weren’t bad enough, the effort that Smith gave on the defensive end of the floor last season isn’t there anymore either.
The bottom line is that since his infamous elbow in the postseason last year Smith has become a liability at both ends of the floor, a liability that the Knicks were foolish enough to invest in.
It’s often wise to proceed with caution when a player such as Smith posts a career year nine years into his NBA career. The chances are he won’t repeat that performance.
That’s what we have seen with Smith as over the course of the 20 game span he has played, no one in the NBA has performed worse.
The good news is that there is still time for Smith to figure it out. The bad news is that no one should have confidence in him doing so.
Smith may not be the worst player in the NBA right now, but he is definitely the most disappointing.
Over the course of the rest of the season he is going to have to do a heck of a lot to shed that label and make the Knicks not regret investing in him.