By John Schmeelk
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During his summer-league interview on MSG with Mike Crispino and Walt Frazier, Phil Jackson discussed the lack of balance on the Knicks’ roster. With too many wings and not enough big men, the Knicks had to add more depth up front, and they did that by signing Jason Smith.
The only real resource the Knicks had to add any help in 2014 was their mini-mid level exception for just over $3 million, and Smith’s skill set fits their needs perfectly. In 31 games for New Orleans last year, Smith scored just under 10 points and grabbed just under six rebounds per game before having to undergo knee surgery.
He put up similar numbers the prior two seasons, though with slightly fewer rebounds. He has averaged about a block per game over three years despite averaging only 22 minutes per game.
What really makes the deal a coup for the Knicks is its length: just one season. Jackson probably would have foregone even using the mini mid-level rather than cutting into 2015 cap space, but he managed to avoid that by getting Smith to agree to just a one-year deal. Considering Chris Kaman got almost $10 million over two seasons, Smith signed one of the better valued contracts of the offseason thus far. Smith’s main deficiency is his inability to stay healthy, as he has only played more than 56 games in a season twice.
With his good shooting touch from the outside, Smith should be able to play the high post in the triangle and provide good floor spacing. Not known as a defensive player, he somewhat mimics the skill sets of Andrea Bargnani and, to a lesser extent, Amar’e Stoudemire. In that same interview on Monday, Jackson said he envisions both Bargnani and Stoudemire as players who would play center. At 7-foot-, Smith would appear to fit into the same category.
But with the presence of Samuel Dalembert as the team’s best rim protector, and the recent signing of Cole Aldrich, it will be interesting to see how the Knicks decide to split up their big-men minutes. Bargnani and Stoudemire (and even Smith) have a history of missing games, so perhaps this won’t be an issue. But it certainly won’t be an easy situation for Derek Fisher to manage. Perhaps Jackson is committing to playing Carmelo Anthony at small forward, but then that would mean the Knicks have three players in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway, Jr. to split shooting-guard minutes. Smith and Cleanthony Early can also back up Melo at the three. And don’t forget about Wayne Ellington, either.
The Knicks’ roster is taking shape, and we’ll see how much more Jackson can shape it and how Fisher can coach it into a winning team.
Jackson said some more about the roster during the interview, and here are the highlights:
– Reference was made to having to play an athletic guard at the two who can defend to make up for the defensive liabilities of Jose Calderon. The Knicks’ defense this upcoming season could be a big problem if serious minutes go to Calderon, Hardaway, Jr., Anthony, Bargnani and Stoudemire. Fisher will have his work cut out for him.
– Jackson did mention he has a lot of faith in Calderon to run the triangle and get the offense running smoothly.
– Jackson mentioned that Dalembert could make up for some of the rim protection the team will lose with the trade of Tyson Chandler, but he can only play 20-25 minutes per game. That means the rest of the center minutes will go to Smith, Stoudemire or Bargnani. We’ll see if one of those three can even cut into Dalembert’s share.
– He also stressed how important it is for everyone on the team — especially Carmelo Anthony — to buy into the system, because the triangle will only be effective if everyone is working properly.
– He brought up Early, and how the fact that he is older and more ready physically to play in the NBA was a reason they decided to sign him.
– He mentioned Shane Larkin as being a good perimeter shooter. If he can be consistent from behind the arc, combined with his defense and quickness, Larkin should be able to claim some rotation minutes.
– Jackson spoke about both Shumpert and rookie Thanasis Antetokounmpo as high-energy defenders who can make an impact.
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