Harris DeckerPlayers play roles on a team. There are positions and then there are roles. There are guys on every team charged with various tasks and the Knicks are no exception. Carmelo Anthony is the closer (although he hasn’t been much of one this year), Iman Shumpert is the defensive specialist (although he hasn’t been much of one this year) and Tyson Chandler is the rebound machine. Each player has his role. Not his position, but his role.
Last night, J.R. Smith did what J.R. Smith is paid to do. He took an open shot. As he stood at the top of the arc with less than 20 seconds to go, he waited. Waited to be given the opportunity to take a would be game winning shot. When that opportunity arrived, he did what he does. He took the shot. Without a defender within 10 feet of him, Smith missed the shot as Tyson Chandler and the entire Knicks bench through their hands up in despair.
I’m here to shift the blame from Smith to Beno Udrih.
In order to understand a play, you have to look at more than just the shot. The role of the point guard is to distribute the ball to open shooters. Udrih’s role in that situation was to set up a play, passing the ball to the open shooter at the right time.
Smith is paid to shoot. Sure, we’d like a player who can think for himself, interpreting the situation and then making a rational decision. As we’ve seen over the last few years, Smith is not that player. He is a shooting machine and for better or worse, that’s what he does on the Knicks.
Udrih made the mistake. Instead of holding the pass from Chandler, he dished it to Smith who instinctively took the wide open shot. Let’s imagine for a second that a more established point guard gets that ball. Any veteran or more elite point guard holds that pass, directing traffic before (likely) passing to Anthony for the potential game winning shot. There’s nothing wrong with Smith taking the shot. There’s an issue with Udrih passing him the ball with the intensity that he did.
It is for those reasons that I blame Udrih and not Smith for last nights errant 3-point attempt.