According to Ian Begley of ESPN NY, the Knicks have re-signed shooting guard JR Smith for $2.8 million next season with a $2.8 million player option for a second season. From a talent standpoint, this is an absolute steal for the Knicks. With all the horrible contracts that have been handed out this off-season (for example, Jeff Green 4 years $36 million, Landry Fields 3 years $20 million), it’s nice to see the Knicks not completely overpay for Smith. They got him at a very good deal relative to his talent level. However, talent has never been the issue with JR Smith. When you think about this man, you don’t think about his great athleticism or outside shooting ability. You think of all the other things.
When the name JR Smith comes up in conversation, I tend to think about everything negative. I think of the contested step back jumpers that never ever go in. I think of the ball hogging, the inability to make the correct swing pass around the perimeter and all the times that he took ill advised shots that threw the offense out of wack. As I watched the NBA finals, I thought about JR. I thought about how neither the Heat nor the Thunder had a player like JR on their roster. They didn’t have a role player coming off the bench to chuck 15 shots per game, most of them contested step backs.
I think we fall in love with the idea of JR Smith instead of what JR Smith actually is. Smith’s skill set fits perfectly for what the Knicks need. He’s a taller guard who can defend, shoot the 3 and explosively score at the rim. The problem is that he does none of these things consistently and certainly didn’t do so with the Knicks last season.
He played well defensively for the most part, but his offense was a complete disaster. Smith had about five really strong offensive games and was average to terrible in the rest of them. That isn’t what the Knicks need from a guy playing 30-35 minutes off the bench every night. They need a guy who can give them 15-20 efficient points each and night and shoot around 40% from downtown. This is not the kind of player that JR Smith is, and it is his own fault. Smith has the skill set to be that type of scorer, if only he focused on shooting more spot up shots, where he shot 39% from downtown, instead of shooting stupid isolation 3’s, where he shot 19% last season. If Smith gave up his chucking ways and played a more team oriented offensive game, I think he could be a championship piece on this Knicks team.
Enough with the negatives, there are some positives that go along with this signing. The Knicks are getting a guy with elite potential for less money than they just gave to both Marcus Camby and Steve Novak. They’re getting a guy who can play point guard as well as small forward (in a microscopic lineup) in addition to his natural shooting guard position. He doesn’t have great handles, but he did do some nice things running the pick and roll next year. Smith is a guy who can get hot and reel off 30 point games with ease, although he didn’t do so last season. A full healthy season of Jeremy Lin should help Smith’s production, as he will not be asked (hopefully) to be a primary offensive creator like he was last season when the Knicks point guards all seemed to break in one way or another. As frustrating as JR is and can be, he’s also currently the only healthy shooting guard on the roster.
Not to beat a dead horse, but I think the biggest keys for Smith will be smarter shot selection and consistency shooting the basketball. The Knicks needed a bench scorer with Smith’s talent and versatility and now they just need him to produce. I was ultimately against bringing Smith back. I stand by that stance as I think he is a poor fit for Woodson’s scheme, at least the one he ran in Atlanta and late last season with the Knicks. Woodson loves to isolate his “shot makers” such as Joe Johnson in Atlanta or Melo as we saw many times. Woodson also had an affinity for isolating Smith last season, and we all know how that turned out. I’ll happily eat my words if JR comes out proves me wrong. Basketball is a make or miss league, as Jeff Van Gundy often says. Last season, JR Smith missed. Alot. If Smith can turn many of those misses into makes, he can put this Knicks team over the top. Better shot selection and better point guard play should help Smith, but I’m still skeptical. Remember folks, this is the Knicks we’re talking about. I’ll proceed with caution as it pertains to JR Smith.
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