Thursday, May 10, 2012
Did J.R. Smith Do Enough To Deserve a Return to Knicks?
The biggest question surrounding J.R. Smith's potential return to the New York Knicks next season has been whether or not he will exercise his $2.5 million player option.
Having signed a more modest contract midseason (Smith was previously playing in China due to the NBA lockout), it's widely expected that the swingman will opt out to cash in on a larger payday.
Because the Knicks owe substantial money to the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler, they are otherwise strapped for cash in regard to filling out the rest of their roster. Thus, with the team's Mid-level Exception likely reserved for Jeremy Lin (or another point guard like Steve Nash), the player option represents the highest salary Smith could make as a member of the Knicks next season.
Smith certainly holds the power right now, but did he in fact do enough to warrant a return to the team? Fresh off his stint in China, the veteran struggled to get into a groove offensively once he arrived in New York. He became more well-known for his erratic shooting touch than anything else, initially failing to provide the Knicks with the boost they had expected from him.
As time went on, however, Smith began to pour in the points, teaming up with the likes of Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert to help "Mobb Deep" emerge off the bench. At the end of his short 35-game tenure in New York, Smith boasted averages of 12.5 points and 1.5 steals, but only shot nearly 41% from the field, including 35% from beyond the arc.
Perhaps a more telling statistic, though, is the Knicks' record when Smith scored in double-figures. New York went 17-7 when the guard scored 10 points or more, but only went 4-7 when he did not.
Smith's impact undoubtedly elevated his team when he caught fire and filled it up on offense. That said, the team sank whenever he happened to cool off. Consistency will continue to be the key to Smith positively contributing not only to the Knicks, but any team for that matter.
He is clearly at his best when he's not asked to do too much. Allowing him to come off the bench and provide a spark helps Smith stay in his wheelhouse. However, when Lin was sidelined, Smith not only represented the team's third-leading scorer, but was also featured more in isolation. This is where he seemed to fail, because the Knicks never pulled the plug on him when appeared to be having an off game. They continued to let him falter, bringing the team down with him at times.
Smith's erratic hot/cold shooting touch has garnered a comparison from fans of him to John Starks. While I tend to disagree with such a comparison, I would instead venture to compare Smith's contributions (or lack there of) to Nate Robinson. The firecracker guard lit up the Garden, bringing fans to their feet whenever he was on the money, but struggled to build consistency in his game.
The decision of whether or not to return to New York is ultimately in Smith's hands. That said, should he actually come back, the Knicks need to assure they'll get the most bang for the buck out of him by putting him in a situation to succeed. By pairing him with strong players while continuing to bring him off the bench, the team will allow Smith to do what he does best, concealing any glaring flaws and putting an end to any major criticisms.
If Smith does not appear to be the right fit for this roster moving forward, however, it's obviously best to cut ties now and instead search for a more worthwhile bargain.