In an ESPN Insider series projecting the top performers for the 2013-14 NBA season, analyst Bradford Doolittle has New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith as the No. 7-ranked shooting guard in the league.
Smith is the lone Knicks player to crack the guard rankings, and the front court players will be ranked throughout the rest of this week.
The sixth-ranked shooting guard in the 2012-13 season, Smith is listed behind Dwyane Wade, James Harden, Manu Ginobli, Kobe Bryant, Bradley Beal and Louis Williams, who rank first through sixth, respectively.
It’s a bit of a surprise to see Smith rank so low, especially given his productivity last year and the unproven talent positioned ahead of him.
Of course Wade, Harden and Bryant are names you would expect to lead the rankings; for the past two seasons, Bryant and Harden have been ranked among the top four in the league, while Wade finished third last year.
The more questionable selections are that of Ginobli, Beal and Williams.
During the NBA Finals, Ginobli’s inconsistencies were glaring. At times, it felt as if the former San Antonio Spurs star was not even on the court. And in the last two years, he was not even ranked among the top 10 shooting guards.
The same sort of sentiment goes for Beal and Williams, neither of whom finished in the top 10 at their position in terms of scoring output. Understanding this ranking is a forecast for the coming season, there is not too much evident to support their sudden emergence into the top five at their position.
One reason Doolittle cites for Smith’s ranking is the injury concern. Writes Doolittle:
When healthy, he’s one of the most explosive bench scorers around, though his streakiness means sometimes his impact affects the wrong team. Nevertheless, on a Knicks squad strapped for shot creators, he’s in a perfect situation for his skill set. Smith, believe it or not, decreased the frequency of 3-point shots taken in relation to possessions used last season, which undermined his winning percentage. However, Knicks fans will take whatever regular-season performance they can get if he can only translate it to the postseason.
Rounding out the top 10 is Danny Green, Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin. Green showed his skills from long range during the Finals, while Ellis and Martin, both of whom landed with new squads this offseason, are proven scorers.
Some question absences in this list include Klay Thompson, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson.
Thompson is a young, budding 3-point specialist who grabbed some attention at the start of the post-season, and last year averaged almost 17 points per game.
Crawford has been a top 10 shooting guard each of the last two seasons; as has Johnson, who may see more opportunities to score with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett now members of the Brooklyn Nets.
So yeah, while the rankings to encompass some truth, they are a bit questionable to say the least.
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