In the offseason, J.R. Smith, who was coming off a career year as a Knick, received a hefty contract. He was set to make just over $5.5 million this year, and he got job security with a third year player option. Fast forward several months, and it’s debatable whether or not the Knicks should’ve given that contract to a streaky player who has off-the-court issues.
While he made valuable contributions towards the end of the Knicks run this year, including a game where he set the Knick franchise record for three-pointers made, his overall season was not nearly as successful as his last.
In 2012-13, Smith was an offensive playmaker, not just a shooter. He temporarily transformed his game, and scored efficiently. With co-star, Amar’e Stoudemire out with various injuries that season, Smith had to be the “Robin” to Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks “Batman.” He was a perfect fit for the role, and excelled when called upon. According to NBA.com, Smith shot slightly over 29 percent of his shots from the paint in New York’s 54-win campaign. That number decreased drastically to just below 20 percent this season.
The fact that Smith had a better all-around scoring season back in 2012-13 is no surprise based solely off of those numbers. Not only was Smith putting up more shots in the paint than he ever had before, but he was getting to the free throw line at a career-high rate. That was arguably the biggest part of his game last year, and often the most overlooked.
In the eighty games he played in 2012-13, J.R. attempted 311 free throws, an average of 3.9 per game, and he made 76.2 percent of them, which isn’t phenomenal, but is a respectable rate. It was by far the most free throws he has ever attempted in a season.
This past season, in only six less games, Smith attempted just 138 free throws, an average of 1.9 per game, and he made just 65 percent of them. It was an abysmal mark, especially for a shooting guard. To put into perspective, center Marcin Gortat shot about four percent better than Smith. Gortat is a career 67.3 percent free throw shooter. Without a doubt, Smith’s ability to take, and make, free throws at a decent, yet consistent, rate was propelling the Knicks to wins, and has been something they missed this past year.
Partially due to his lack of shots taken in the paint, Smith’s two-point field goal percentage was the second worst mark of his career (43.6 percent), which was only better than his rookie season in New Orleans.
In a season where nearly everything that could’ve went wrong for the Knicks did, it is truly unfair to put the blame entirely on one person. One thing that is for certain though, is that the missing presence of the Sixth Man of the Year J.R. that New York saw two seasons ago prohibited the Knicks from unveiling their full potential as a team.