Knicks Asking Too Much of J.R. Smith

One of the enduring narratives about this Knicks season, that oddly can’t seem to be shaken no matter how poorly it now fits, is the idea that Mike Woodson has some special read on J.R. Smith that is allowing the team to get the “most” out of the enigmatic guard. Over at ESPN New York Jovan Buha passes along some quotes from Woody still speaking to this effect:J.R. Smith, LeBron James

Before the game, head coach Mike Woodson praised Smith’s development and maturation over the course of the season. While previous coaches have been harder on Smith, and less forgiving of his sometimes-questionable antics off the court, Woodson saw the opportunity to coach Smith as a challenge and teaching experience. 

“You view all players differently. You don’t treat them all the same. I just saw something in J.R. when we made the move to bring him over that maybe other coaches didn’t see,” Woodson said. 

“He’s a player that’s been around, but he’s also a player that’s still learning how to accept the role that he’s been put into. … There’s a lot of things we ask him to do, and I still think he’s learning how to do all those things.”

Brian DiMenna

There’s a series of increasingly grating AT&T commercials promoting the idea that more is always better, which may be the case in a wireless carrier, but less so if you’re talking about J.R. Smith.

J.R. Smith is averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game this season. So he must be having a career-year, right? Well, no.

Smith is now shooting just 40% from the field, while averaging a career-high 33.3 minutes per game and taking a career-high 15.3 shots per game. We’re not getting an improved Smith, we’re just getting more of him. Those other coaches Woodson’s referencing saw basically this, they just didn’t see quite so much of it.

I also take some issue with the “he’s learning” aspect of what Woodson is saying. Smith has been in the league nine years. Which isn’t to say he’s old, but he’s not that young either. So it’s mildly unclear what exactly is new about the role he’s playing with the Knicks, unless taking three to four extra fadeaway jumpers per game requires some kind of radical new conditioning of the mind, especially since he appeared to have that particular bit of basketball-ese pretty well memorized.

Of course, of late,  the extra J.R. hasn’t been by design, as New York has had little choice but to cast their lot in with J.R.’s jumper while they wait for Anthony and Chandler to return.

So I’m not even really criticizing Woody for playing Smith excessively — considering I advocated him starting only a week or so ago — because the way the team is built they’ve had little choice but to rely on his ability to score.  Nor am I completely impugning the relative merits of Smith, a player whose skills in the right dose can still be valuable and even thrilling, but I do wonder if a team forced into playing him 33 minutes a night can really find a recipe for success.

Early in the season, the Knicks appeared to have unlocked a new, more consistent Smith, a development that would have legitimately altered their prospects. But they haven’t. Instead of a new, more delicious helping of J.R., they’re just getting a larger portion. And it’s starting to taste terrible.

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