By John Schmeelk
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During the Knicks’ five-game winning streak, the team’s success can be linked to far more than Carmelo Anthony’s return from his knee injury. It has everything to do with how J.R. Smith has changed the way he’s played in those five victories. His 53 percent field-goal percentage doesn’t tell the entire story. Smith has gone through stretches like that when he gets hot. This is something much more significant.
Smith is taking the ball to the hoop with reckless abandon. It has turned someone known as a volume shooter into a player who could even be considered … efficient. Yes, that’s right. Smith has been efficient. That is not a typo. It’s actually true. In those five games Smith has taken only 18 threes, under four per game. It’s two fewer per game than his season average. Usually if Smith shoots just 28 percent from behind the arc he is playing some of his worst games, yet his last five have been some of his best.
In those five games, Smith has shot 30 free throws. That’s two-and-a-half more free throws per game than he has averaged over the course of the rest of the season. If you go back further, in his last seven games he is averaging seven free throws per game, twice his season average. This is the formula for efficient basketball, and somehow Smith has finally discovered it. Give Mike Woodson credit too, since he has been in Smith’s ear about being a smarter basketball player all season long.
Smith will still take the occasional step-back jumper or contested three, but they are becoming fewer and farther between. He’s not only getting to the basket, but he is finishing too — even after drawing contact. The Celtics were shorthanded and without their defensive leader in Kevin Garnett on Tuesday night, but Smith’s ability to get to the hoop at will against such an accomplished defense was a real eye opener. He made mincemeat of Terrence Williams time and time again. I’m still not sure why Doc Rivers didn’t put Avery Bradley on him.
In November — by far Smith’s best and most efficient month (44 percent from the field) — he averaged just under three shots from behind the arc per game. It was the Knicks’ best month of the season. At times this season, the Knicks have gone as goes Smith.If he is returning to his November form, perhaps so are the Knicks.
If Smith can continue playing like this, the Knicks will not miss Amar’e Stoudemire quite as much and could go back to being the ultra-efficient offense that they were during their 18-5 start. They could also be a real threat in the playoffs. Will it continue? Smith’s history makes you want to say, “No way!”
This is his chance to prove everyone wrong.
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I also need to give credit to Kenyon Martin, who has made the loss of Tyson Chandler far less damaging. After his knee injury, I called Chandler the one truly irreplaceable Knick. Yet somehow, Martin has proven to at least be a poor man’s Chandler. The Knicks’ defense hasn’t missed a beat and has even improved in some cases. Martin can guard three positions and has provided a level of toughness. When paired with Chandler, I actually think that the Knicks can handle teams like the Bulls and Pacers.
It’s also amazing how Martin has been able to play so many minutes so quickly. He truly stayed in great shape during his time out of the league. He is playing almost 30 minutes a game without a problem and no signs of tiring. It’s truly amazing that he was a free agent for so long, and it’s strange that the Knicks or someone else didn’t sign him up much earlier.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Do you think that J.R. Smith has finally turned the corner as a player, or will he fall back to his old ways in due time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…