J.R. Smith proved his worth throughout most of the 2012-13 NBA season by averaging 18.9 points per game, enough to take home the Sixth Man of the Year Award. The scoring punch he gave the New York Knicks off the bench was irreplaceable…or was it? Smith’s postseason was unspectacular to say the least. It seems inevitable that he will at least test free agency come July, and most New Yorkers would agree that he probably wore out his welcome.
1. MOST IMPORTANTLY – HIS MINUTES IMPEDE ON THE PROGRESSION OF SHUMP
Nothing should be more important to this team than seeing Iman Shumpert out to his full potential. The Knicks showed every bit of their age throughout a roller coaster season of injuries, re-injuries, and extended shooting slumps (cough! cough! Jason Kidd!). While the veteran based, win now method proved to be successful in hindsight, the playoff roster age of 31-plus years must be addressed. Shump showed that he can be a force offensively in the postseason, regaining his three-ball, throwing down one of the nastiest dunks of the year, and even stepping in to the J.R. role rather handily in the Knicks fateful Game 6 against Indiana last night. Having Smith on the floor not only takes shots away from Shump (and everybody else in the arena for that matter), but also forces Shumpert to play more time at the three, away from his natural position. Remember, he wasn’t able to improve his offense last offseason while rehabbing his ACL, so a summer’s worth of jump shots could make his game even more lethal. Everyone knows of his defensive tenacity, but we won’t get to see him evolve into one of the league’s best defenders if he’s often being subbed out for the offensive minded Smith.
2. HAS HE REALLY MATURED?
It was a nice story for most of the year. The new mindset that Coach Mike Woodson instilled in Smith was touching enough to make most fans laugh off the “You trying to get the pipe?” moments and non-stop partying, but his actions in the postseason were downright inexcusable. The fact that anyone has to even question if you’re playing the game hungover is suspicious and the disrespect he showed to Jason Terry and the Celtics may even be worse. If you thought you should’ve been out playing golf, go out there and prove it J.R.. Don’t waken a sleeping giant and then no-show a couple of close out games. Smith seemed to turn a corner throughout the season, but the most important time of the year showed the worst of his behavior.
3. HIS PRESENCE ENCOURAGES ISO-BALL
Isn’t one ball stopper enough? A bad shot from Melo is probably better than a good shot from most others, but the same doesn’t apply to Smith. Despite having a breakthrough statistical year, Smith showed no progression in passing the rock. His 2.7 assists per game were the second highest total of his career, but it took him a career-high 33 minutes, over five more per game than his second highest season, to get that done. The Knicks offense was at its best when the ball was flowing in the two point guard set, and Smith’s presence takes a passer away and replaces it with someone carrying a career average of 2.1 assists. The numbers say it all.
4. HE’LL BRING A HEFTY PRICE TAG
Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract is currently eating more salary cap than Eddy Curry is burgers, so it’s going to be tough for the Knicks to do anything too major this offseason. Brandon Jennings will be the prize guard come July, and will probably set the market with a near-max contract. Come to think of it, these two would be as perfect of a match as you can make for locker room negativity. It would be worth the price of admission just to see who could get up the most shots on a game-to-game basis, while nursing hangovers. Anyways, I digress. New York can only offer Smith a maximum of 4 years and $24.8 million, which could be blown out of the water by any number of teams with cap space. For the $2.8 million he made this year, we were willing to put up with his shenanigans, but the more that price goes up, the less patience will be had.
5. NO-SHOW? NO THANKS
The bottom line is you can’t perform like that in the postseason and expect to get paid. In the NBA, you earn your stripes in the playoffs, and for the most part, Smith shrunk in the moment. He’s certainly not the only reason why the Knicks were sent packing before most planned for them to be, but Melo had no support offensively, which was J.R.’s sole purpose in their success. Against Indiana, Smith averaged 12.7 points on 38% shooting from the field. His performance was purely unacceptable and shouldn’t be rewarded.