It has been widely rumored that JR Smith will be a New York Knick soon enough. The Knicks and Smith have had mutual interest for months and the Knicks reportedly will be using their 2.5 “room exception” on Smith. It is also rumored that Smith is trying to work in a player option for next season.
The Knicks bench has been porous this season. With the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the Knicks bench has played stronger as of late but this still is not a championship level bench. The Knicks bench ranks 26th in the league in points per game, they are dead last in rebounds and they are 25th in field goal percentage.
Enter JR Smith. The ex-Denver Nugget has elite athleticism and scoring ability. He is an absolute wizard with the basketball and has deep shooting range. Defensively, Smith is a gambler. He rated above the league average in Defensive Plays Rate (via Hoopdata) which measures defensive blocks, steals and charges taken. Smith gambles a lot defensively and therefore does get a lot of steals. He rated 8th last season in steals per minutes among shooting guards and he rated 5th in total rebounds among shooting guards. He shows flashes of strong defense but has not done so consistently and is notoriously thought of as a weak defender. Given his athleticism, Smith does have the potential to be a solid defender but he has not shown any willingness to do so in his 4 year NBA career. There is a basic assessment of JR Smith’s game. The question now is how does he fit on this Knicks team? Here are the pros and cons of the Knicks signing JR Smith:
- No more Billy Walker! (In theory). Do we need more of a reason to sign JR! Just kidding. In all seriousness, if the Knicks sign JR Smith, odds are that he would come off the bench. I think a six-man like role would be ideal for Lin. At 6’6, Smith can play both the 2 and 3 offensively. With Carmelo Anthony out of the lineup right now, Billy Walker has been starting at small forward. Iman Shumpert has been the Knicks 6th man playing both the 2 and the 3 coming off the bench. I think when Melo returns and Smith is ready to play with the Knicks, Billy Walker will be the odd man out. Really the only thing Walker can do is shoot and he only does that well once in a while. I would start Landry Fields and Melo (duh) and then have Shumpert and JR Smith coming off the bench as in their backups. Shumpert and JR Smith are a clear upgrade over Shumpert and Bill Walker.
- Increased 3 point shooting. The Knicks bench collectively is only shooting 32.4% from outside the arc. If Steve Novak wasn’t around, that number would probably be in the 20’s. The Knicks bench 3 point shooters look like this:
Balkman: 22.2% (I can’t remember one that he made)
- Obviously that is pretty poor. If not for Novak and Harrellson, this would be the worst shooting bench in the league. JR Smith is a career 37.1% shooter from beyond the arc and that percentage jumps over 38% if you discount his rookie season. The guy has insane range and should give the Knicks bench a huge boost in shooting.
- The Knicks would have an impact 6th man. The Lakers had Lamar Odom. The Mavericks had Jason Terry. The 90’s Knicks had Anthony Mason. An impact 6th man goes along way on a great team and the addition of JR Smith would be huge for the Knicks. For a team that has struggled to score this year, having a legitimate scoring threat on the bench should help immensely. I love Iman Shumpert but his offensive game is not on the same hemisphere as Smith’s. If the Knicks were able to get Smith to play defense, he would be a fantastic weapon off the bench that they did not previously have.
- Smith could flourish under D’Antoni. Under a coach that was able to get Leandro Barbosa to average 18 points a game, Smith could potentially be a beast in this system. In a free flowing style with a point guard that loves to set up his teammates, I could see Smith averaging 15 points a game easy. The Knicks spacing as of late has been phenomenal. Like Lin, Smith has an elite first step and he has crazy explosiveness to the rim. He has the potential to put the Knicks offense over the top in D’Antoni’s system.
- Chemistry. This Knicks team seems to finally be getting some continuity as a group. They aren’t perfect, they are flawed but they are learning to play well together. When Carmelo Anthony returns, the Knicks will need to prove again that they can continue to play as unselfishly as they have without him. Now throw JR Smith into the mix and this team may begin to struggle again. Like Anthony, Smith is notorious for hogging the ball and having poor shot selection. Having three guys who have been labeled as “ball stoppers” (Anthony, Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire) may throw a wrench in everything the Knicks have done as of late.
- Smith is a weak defender. Given his athleticism, JR Smith should be able to play adequate defense. It is not impossible to imagine that Smith could step his defensive game up. Hell, Melo has done it! Why can’t Smith? I think being on a team with Tyson Chandler and having Mike Woodson as an assistant coach would encourage Smith to play better defense but it is a risk. According to John Hollinger, Smith was rated by Synergy Sports as the worst defensive shooting guard in the league. Yikes. Again, Melo has stepped up his defense so it is not impossible to think that Smith can do the same but it is a risk.
- Off-Court Issues. On February 2, 2007, JR Smith and Melo (sigh…) were involved in a car accident. In June of the same year, Smith ran stop sign with two passengers in the car and got in another accident. One of the passengers in the car passed away. The then-Nuggets guard spent 24 days in jail and was suspended from the NBA for 7 games. In 2009, Smith temporarily shut down his twitter account because he was accused of tweeting in gang affiliated ways. This guy is no Landry Fields. His off-court record is dirtier than Kevin Garnett’s play or Carlos Boozer’s face. This is in no way a safe pickup for the Knicks. New York City is not a great environment for this kind of player. If Smith is signed in New York, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire MUST keep him under control. These are not the Isiah Thomas era Knicks. Obviously that kind of behavior is never acceptable but especially now with the championship aspirations of this team.
- Less minutes for Fields, Shumpert. With Smith coming in, Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert will see the bench more often. Both young players have really thrived with Jeremy Lin running the point. Both players are also very good defensively. I believe Fields would still start and Shumpert would still see significant minutes but Smith is going to play and he is going to play a lot. You do not bring in a high risk player like Smith if he’s not going to play at least 23-26 minutes a game. This risk also goes back to chemistry and Fields and Shumpert would obviously see less court time with Lin.
So there you go. Whether you love or hate the deal, this as much can be said. JR Smith can score. He can score, he can score and he can score some more. Given his lack of defensive prowess and his off-court troubles, this signing is going to be a high risk, high reward venture for the Knicks. They could hit a home run or they could strike out swinging. If they can get Smith to play within the system and keep him from driving cars, he could be a major hit in New York. If he continues to act like he has in the past, he will be a disaster and the Knicks championship hopes will crash and burn.
Personally, I am about as on the fence as you can be about this signing. If I had to gage my support, I would say I am 51% in favor of this signing. I lean slightly towards signing Smith because of the clear talent upgrade he would provide the porous Knicks bench. Yes he comes with tons of baggage but I think the Knicks have the team leaders to steer Smith the right way. Yes he demands the ball, but what scorer can score without the ball? I think the Knicks chemistry could suffer a bit but even with this 7 game winning streak they are still at .500. This is not a great Knicks team yet. Could they eventually be with this current roster? Maybe. Could they be a great team with a motivated, contributing JR Smith? Absolutely.Follow @tarmosino