Ball Don't Lie

J.R. Smith is a Knick, and he might actually work out there

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

Former Hornets, Nuggets and Chinese Basketball Association scoring guard J.R. Smith has apparently chosen the New York Knicks to play with once the CBA's season ends and his free agency allows him. And why not? With an attention-starved Kardashian attempting to shoehorn her name into the Jeremy Lin nuttiness, and Sarah Palin (out of Republican presidential candidates to troll) posing with a Lin/Knicks T-shirt, it's only right that the best available free agent should want to sidle up with the NBA's biggest story.

(Courtesy twitter.com/TheRealJRSmith)

The knee-jerk response falls in line with how most still view the Knicks -- as an offense-only outfit featuring big scorers in Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, helplessly hoping on defense. The problem with that is that it's the team's offense that has failed them this season. Entering Friday night's game against the New Orleans Hornets (are there any crummy teams left for Jeremy Lin to play?), the Knicks are 24th in offensive efficiency, but sixth overall in defense. The offense dipped and the defense improved a bit when Stoudemire and Anthony sat out a series of games over the last two weeks, but the pattern has sustained throughout New York's 15-15 start.

So, yes. Another me-first chucker bent on firing at the rim incessantly can … help. When was the last time that happened to New York?

Landry Fields, New York's current starting shooting guard and Lin's best mate, hasn't been terrible in his role. He plays good defense, helps with the New York ball movement that often doesn't end with anything despite the well-meaning passing, and he's hitting for double-figure points per game. He doesn't shoot well from behind the 3-point arc or at the line, and defenses can slide off of him to help with Anthony at his favorite triple-threat spots, or Lin and Stoudemire in the pick and roll.

With Smith out there? They'll have to pay attention, because he'll take a 30-footer. Literally. He will take a shot from six feet behind the arc. They'll go in, sometimes, too.

For a below-average offensive team, though, there will be plenty of hungry mouths to feed. Both Anthony and Stoudemire, honestly, have tried to play unselfish and sound offensive basketball this year, but old habits (mainly ones that end with long 2-point jumpers) are hard to break. Tossing Smith into that mix is a bit much, especially when all three are the types that will take a one-on-one shot after not touching the ball for a while to, as the announcer will likely put it, "get themselves going."

This makes Smith, a scoring sixth man if we ever saw one, an obvious candidate to come off the bench. He's used to this, and this doesn't mean he should be precluded from ever sharing the court with Lin, Stoudemire and Anthony, but his placement on the bench allows for New York's miserable second unit to try and stay above water while the team fights for a playoff spot. Toss in Steve Novak's emergence, and we might have something here.

Smith doesn't always come through with the most cerebral brand of play, sadly by choice, but he'll have more pressure on him in New York despite his franchise player status in China and the literal title aspirations his Nuggets teams had in Denver. The onus is going to fall on Mike D'Antoni to work things out, and he's had successful (with Tim Thomas) and unsuccessful (Anthony, Shaquille O'Neal, Jalen Rose) turns with offensive-minded late-season additions that dot his coaching career.

The Knicks need scoring, though, which is news to those who don't pay attention to per-possession stats. And if you have to explain it to your friends, just point out that the team's third-fastest pace makes their 13th-ranked points per game look more palatable than it is, once you take in the team's 20th and 26th ranking in field goal and 3-point percentage. Actually, that was a little long-winded. Do NOT explain it to your friends like that. Just tell them to pay attention to all the shots Iman Shumpert misses. The Knicks are on national TV enough, including Friday night. They'll figure it out.

As it is with any coach working out of Madison Square Garden, D'Antoni will have quite a lot to work with and a lot to work through. On paper this could work. When it comes time to trade long jumpers early in the shot clock? This might be a different story.

And, at the risk of sounding like yet another Jeremy Lin obsessive, he'll have to dominate the ball more than ever. The only way this group works is with a strong hand out front, making decisions. This'll be a tough one for Lin, especially as someone with just 602 career minutes to his name.

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