While LeBron James has made up his mind on where he’ll be playing for the foreseeable future, Carmelo Anthony has left people waiting. The New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls are supposedly the final two teams he is deciding between, and while its very difficult to see him turn down $129 million, the harsh reality is that it is not out of the question.
If Melo does opt to leave for the Chicago Bulls and does so without a sign-and-trade, the Knicks will most likely not be able to acquire an impact piece to replace him. Yes, Cleanthony Early looked sharp in his summer league debut today, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves in expecting too much from him already. So the question remains, if Melo is not on the Knicks’ roster heading into the 2014-2015 season, who becomes the featured player of the newly installed triangle offense? Call me crazy, but the player built to succeed in this role is none other than Mr. Sixth Man, J.R. Smith.
Looking back at Phil Jackson‘s teams, the common theme in the triangle is an incredibly gifted shooting guard. Both Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant fit that description and had the ability to take over a game at any point. Ultra aggressive players with the tenacity on defense to completely dominate a game. While I’m not saying J.R. Smith is anywhere at the level of Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan, his skill set strengths should translate very well into what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher will be trying to do.
Offensively, Smith has all the talent in the world; few will argue that. Of all the players on the Knicks roster not named Carmelo Anthony, he is head and shoulders above everyone scoring the basketball; he has the range, a perfect one dribble and up, shoots well off screens, and if you’re sleeping as a defender you’ll wind up on a poster. Of course everyone will point to his inconsistencies shooting the ball. In the triangle, the shooting guard will take more mid range jump shots than anything else. Jordan never took over 300 three point attempts in a single season, yet led the NBA in field goal attempts every year. If you give Smith a controlled environment featured around his strengths, then you will see a much higher shooting percentage out of him. The triangle will be much different than Mike Woodson‘s iso-Melo offense with a random three point chuck.
Most people like to knock the Knicks as a terrible defensive unit and that’s fine, because as a whole, they most certainly have been. Not everyone is inadequate on the defensive end of the floor individually however. Iman Shumpert gets too much credit for being the Knicks lock down defender on the perimeter. A lot of times it is Smith and not Shumpert who is guarding the best player on the court. Smith is strong, quick and rebounds the ball extremely well, but he also has the problem of letting his offense effect his defense. This is a serious flaw in Smith’s game. His attitude always has and always will be a concern when discussing J.R. Smith as a player.
If there is one thing Phil Jackson has done in his career (besides win), its maximizing the potential on each player on the court. He has dealt with two of the biggest egos on the planet in Jordan and Bryant (that’s not even counting Shaq). Not only has he dealt with those attitudes, but he has allowed them to thrive and turn them into leaders. Now I’m not saying Smith will magically become a leader, but the Zen Master will have some tricks up his sleeve for keeping Smith focused on and off the court.
Life without Melo will be painful for some Knicks fans. I am definitely in that camp as I believe the Knicks would have won a grand total of 15 games last year without Melo. He was virtually their entire team while the rest of the Knicks struggled to get healthy, J.R. included in that as he came back too fast from knee surgery. The triangle offense will be much different than the Thunder Dome offense Knicks’ fans are used to seeing. J.R. Smith has all the ability in the world and two years ago he mearly scratched it when he averaged 18 points per game off the bench. With all the tools he needs, will Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson be able to take his game to the next level? If they can, number eight is your feature piece in the inaugural season of the New York triangle offense.