Firstly, Happy Offseason!
Congrats are in order to the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs for putting on a great finals, LeBron James on wining his second straight title and Finals MVP, all that fun stuff. We’re a New York Knicks site, though, so we have to remind everyone that the Knicks went 5-1 against those two great teams this season. Anyways, there’s less than a week to go until the draft and soon all the manic excitement of an NBA offseason will be upon us. We’ll continue to review each Knicks’ 2012-13 season until we’ve covered them all, so let’s keep on truckin’ with that.
Earl Smith, Jr. is one of the NBA’s great characters. Jekyll & Hyde types aren’t that rare in sports, but the thing with J.R. is that when he’s Jekyll (is it Hyde? I don’t know, enough with this analogy), he’s quite good. Point is, you’re never sure what you’re going to get from him. Either Good J.R. or Evil Twin J.R. is showing up to the arena that night, you’re just not sure which one. And for that matter, neither does Earl, Jr. himself.
And for most of the season, seemingly about 95% or so, we got Good J.R. Who of course, like most players, isn’t without his faults. Even at his best, as he was this season, Smith is going to take a lot of bad shots. But when he’s going good those tend to go in. That’s partly how he averaged a career-best 18.1 points per game and ended up with a career year, but it all seemed to come together during a transcendent (for him) month of March. Since he’s been in the league, fans, coaches media have been imploring Smith to use his athleticism to become a complete offensive player. Everyone knows he can shoot, and everyone knew he could attack off the dribble, too. It seemed everyone knew this for a long time except J.R. himself. But in March whatever proverbial light needed to be switched on, was.
From February 27 on throughout the rest of the season, Smith averaged 22 points a game shooting 45% from the field with a usage rate of nearly 31%, which was five whole points higher than his average for the entire season. Smith became a versatile, reliable go-to scorer, becoming a main cog on a 54-win team, picking himself up a major individual award on the way.
And yet the entire time, the whole season really, the possibility was always there; at any moment Smith could lose it – either his game, his mind or both – and it was something the Knicks couldn’t really afford given how they were built. There were flashes along the way, for sure. After a hot start to the season, Smith struggled as the ever-difficult step back jumpers stopped falling. There were a few ejections. There was THE PIPE. But to his credit, none of this derailed J.R.’s game completely. That is, until he picked the absolute worst time for it to happen.
The numbers: 80 gp, 33.5 mpg, 18.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 17.6 PER
Career bests in points, rebounds (by a full rebound over his second best), second-bests in assists and PER. Statistically it was J.R.’s bet overall season, even if it there was certainly an air of inefficiency there – it was the most minutes he’s played in a season, by far.
Best moment: These:
And also, as we mentioned, pretty much the entire month of March.
Lowest moment: The Elbow. It seemed to change everything. The Knicks were on their way to cruising through the first round and sweeping aside the aging Celtics, but then Evil J.R.’s music dropped late in Game 3. The Celtics were ready to go and J.R. woke them up. The Knicks eventually survived the newly-galvanized Celtics, but Smith simply couldn’t recover.
And yet the outcry that came after his poor playoff showing may not have been quite as bad if it weren’t for the other stuff. The club appearances before games. The Rihanna crap. The type of distractions that Mike Woodson seemed to help eliminate from Smith’s in-season life. If Smith simply played poorly, I think Knicks fans would have had an easier time forgiving him. But it was like going out with a girl with a promiscuous reputation and having things so shockingly smoothly, only for them to come crashing down sometime right before the wedding. A gut punch, but not an unexpected one. You always knew it could come at any time.
All in all: If you wouldn’t have signed up for this season from J.R. Smith you’re nuts, even with the playoff meltdown. Yes, if the Knicks got Good J.R. throughout the playoffs they might have beaten Indiana, but there’s no guarantee there at all. Their chances of beating Miami were slim-to-none, even if Smith played the way he did in March. The Knicks had their best season in over a decade largely in part to Smith’s excellent season. i don’t really think it was reasonable to expect any more from him.
The playoffs left a bad taste in our mouths, as it should have. Because of it, it’s no longer a no-brainer to bring Smith back. We’ll soon see what will happen with that. Regardless, I think we should look back at Smith’s 2012-13 season in a positive way. It definitely didn’t lack for excitement.