There was a time when it made a certain kind of sense. This is absolutely true.
The thought of J.R. Smith coming off the bench had a definite logic to it, providing the Knicks with some instant scoring, while adding the other benefit of giving the somewhat enigmatic Smith — to put it politely — a reminder that he’d have to earn his minutes. Perhaps a humbled J.R. would be a better J.R.
But with the Knicks increasingly getting off to slow starts, with Amar’e Stoudemire bolstering the scoring for the second unit, is there really any reason to NOT put one of your five best players into the starting five?
The Knicks’ best 5-man unit this season by Net rating according to NBA.com has been Felton, Kidd, Smith, Anthony and Chandler at +24.4, a pretty impressive figure considering they’ve logged 230 minutes together. It also strikes me as kind of a perfect starting five, though if you’d prefer Shumpert to Kidd I’d have no quarrel either. To further the point, Smith’s also a part of the Knicks’ best four lineups by that figure, which measures points scored and allowed per 100 possessions. Now none of this is the end-all, be-all, but it certainly bolsters the pretty obvious case that he’s been one of the most important Knicks all season.
Sure, Smith off the bench made perfect sense in the early days of the season when Ronnie Brewer was making corner threes and playing superb defense, but when you start turning to Kurt Thomas or James White or Chris Copeland or whoever the hell else for a few first-quarter minutes out of some fear that starting Smith will instantly embolden him to take nothing but fadeaway jumpers or wear his shorts on backward or whatever the exact concern is, it begins to make a lot less sense.
Now, I don’t know J.R. Smith, aside from a Twitter feed that keeps me equal parts amused, jealous and mildly concerned, so I can understand that Woodson may have a better feel for his player that makes him far more inclined to keep Smith in the sixth man’s role, as opposed to trusting him with a starting spot. I think we all watch J.R. with that certain mixture of excitement and fear, never quite certain if we’re about to see something sublime, or ridiculous, or sublimely ridiculous. How I feel about Smith varies pretty much possession to possession.
But it just feels time to give it a look-see, to make the not-all-that-crazy gamble to just start one of your best players, rather than one of your worst.
Doesn’t that make a certain kind of sense, as well?