By Jon Schmeelk
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Back in July, the Knicks made a decision that they wanted JR Smith to be part of their future when they signed him to a long term contract. Considering their inability to use that money elsewhere for another player, the decision seemed like a no-brainer.
Despite a terrible postseason, the Knicks thought Smith’s efficient April was a sign of things to come.
But there has not been a day since that the Knicks have not regretted that decision.
It took only four days for Smith to announce he was going to have relatively serious knee surgery to repair his patella tendon and lateral meniscus. Smith had never notified the Knicks of his intention to have surgery, and the Knicks medical staff apparently had no clue it was imminent. Shortly thereafter, the length of Smith’s contract, which had been reported as three years with a fourth year player option, was mysteriously shortened to two years with a player option for a third season.
The saga of Chris Smith was another unintended consequence of JR Smith’s resigning. A player barely fit to compete in the D-league was given a partially guaranteed contract in what appeared nothing more than a quid pro quo for JR Smith resigning with the Knicks.
Some might scoff at the importance of the 15th man on the roster, but a long time ago that person was Jeremy Lin. Smith was later kept when the roster were cut down to 15, guaranteeing his contract for the season. There was not one person in the league that thought the decision was basketball related. It was a running joke. JR Smith was also fined $25,000 by the league for fighting with Brandon Jennings on Twitter, when the latter expressed (justified) incredulity that Chris Smith was on an NBA roster.
It didn’t end there, though. When the Knicks finally decided to let Chris Smith go for Jeremy Tyler, JR Smith decided to tweet something indicating the Knicks betrayed him. It was the perfect exclamation point to an embarrassing series of events that only the Knicks could have brought on themselves for hitching their wagon to such a volatile player.
Let’s not forget JR Smith’s drug suspension for marijuana use that was announced in early September. When he finally was healthy enough to play at the end of October, Smith had to serve a five-game suspension. NBA players are not tested for marijuana in the offseason, and a suspension means there were multiple positive tests. Smith’s suspension might have been a blessing if it gave him extra time to get his knee ready for the season, but based on his play he needed a lot more.
The final — and perhaps most important — disappointment regarding JR Smith’s contract has been his play. Whether it is his slow recovery from his knee injury or something else, he has played as poorly as anyone in the NBA this season.
His PER is a putrid 10.23, ranking him as the 268th best NBA player. It is an imperfect statistic but in this case it paints an accurate picture of how bad Smith has been. He is shooting less than 35 percent from the field (the worst percentage of his career) and only 34 percent from 3-point range. He is averaging less than two free-throw attempts and just 11.5 points per game, which is his worst total since 2005-06, his second season in the league. His defense hasn’t been good either, and he is one of the worst culprits in switching on screens unnecessarily.
Smith’s play also negatively impacts others. His bad shots deflate the team, and destroy chemistry, rhythm and continuity. Bone head plays at the end of games, such as his ill-advised 3 against Houston when the team could have held for the final shot, have cost the Knicks games. The team’s net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) is 4 points better with him off the court than on the court. He does not help this team win. Yet, for some reason, he continues to play 32 minutes a game.
That’s on Mike Woodson.
Despite his reputation for accountability Woodson has refused to sit Smith for his poor play. Even when he takes an indefensible shot like he did against Houston, Woodson tried to shift the blame to Beno Udrih for passing the ball to Smith. Even more damning is that the Knicks have better replacements at shooting guard to pick up his minutes.
After a terrible first two months of the season, Iman Shumpert is playing like a true two-way player. Even with his poor shooting earlier this season, the Knicks actually outscored opponents when he was on the floor (only Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony can also claim that). When Shumpert is on the bench, the Knicks are outscored by a ridiculous 11 points per 100 possessions. Anthony is the only Knicks with a higher number. Yet, somehow, Shumpert plays four fewer minutes per game than Smith.
Tim Hardaway is also a far better option offensively than Smith is right now. He has a 15.43 PER, which ranks him in the middle of the pack for shooting guards. He is shooting 46 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3, yet he is only playing 19 minutes per game. Hardaway makes mistakes on defense, but nothing that would negate his far superior shooting.
It’s time for the Knicks and Woodson to pull the plug. Smith should not play until his knee gets to 100 percent and he shows in practice that he is a better player than what we’ve seen so far this season. The team made a mistake in the summer, but it can fix that mistake now. Don’t let Smith hurt the Knicks anymore. It’s time to hold him accountable. If they do, perhaps Smith, finally, will become a better player.
For everything Knicks and Giants please follow Jon on Twitter at @Schmeelk
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