COMMENTARY | It's been a rough season for J.R. Smith. Things haven't quite gone his way.
Honestly, it's been a steady decline ever since the elbow to the head of Jason Terry in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Bad timing for detrimental play, too, because the only position the New York Knicks have young, potential talent is at shooting guard -- J.R. Smith's position. Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. have both been very impressive, ultimately making Smith more expendable by the game. This doesn't only come because of boneheaded shot Smith took against the Houston Rockets; his play before that wasn't the greatest. either.
Also, Mike Woodson's creepy obsession with Smith has been the catalyst of some bad decisions by coach. Paying Smith 30-plus minutes per night takes away from the starting two-guard Shumpert, and the high-energy rookie Hardaway. Is Smith's play hurting his team and the growth of the Knicks' two youngest assets?
New York's best defensive rating -- opponents points scored per 100 possessions -- comes when J.R. Smith is on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats. However, Smith was never the best defender. His bread and butter comes on offense. When this part of his game isn't clicking, though, which direction do you go?
One way you can go is towards Iman Shumpert, who sports one of the highest defensive ratings on the team, along with a higher offensive rating than Smith. Shumpert found himself and Texas and made all Knicks fans feel thankful that he wasn't traded. If he can remain at a high level, he undoubtedly deserves more minutes than Smith and should be the No. 1 shooting guard on the team.
When it comes to Hardaway Jr., his defense may not be the greatest, but his sweet shot and ability to run the fastbreak much like his father did makes him very valuable. There's not much room to argue his fourth-best shooting percentage on the team at 46% either, compared to Smith's 34%. Yet Woodson continues to be stubborn in his relationship with Smith and play him down the stretch of important games because of his ability to hit a big shot. At the rate this is going, anyone else on the team has the same chance that Smith would to hit a big shot, but Woodson is the one that has to see that. Everyone around him already has.
What does this mean? Do Smith's minutes decrease? As long as Woodson is coach, no. Smith remains above 30 minutes per game for New York right now. Can the Knicks move Smith while he still has value? Hey, it's a possibility. New York's biggest hole is at point guard. The Knicks are overstocked and shooting guard and power forward. Right now, the power forwards can sit back and relax, because the frontcourt depth is needed and no one is taking on any of the outrageous contracts that those players have.
It is a long shot but if I'm the Knicks, I'm getting Raymond Felton back and hoping he plays well enough to dangle him out in the trade market in a package with Smith to obtain a serviceable point guard. Finding a team in need of a backup point guard or some firepower off the bench is always a possibility. The market isn't great, and two players of this caliber aren't bringing you anywhere near the likes of a Rajon Rondo.
But it's more about the team's development and opening things up for everyone else. Defending Smith at this point is becoming difficult. Even if he starts playing great for a couple games, it's only for a few games. Smith's biggest problem has always been maintaining success. The inconsistency of it hurts his team. Woodson's logic is somewhere around playing Smith until he comes out of his groove and plays well. Then, he goes right back into his slump a few games later.
Why even bother with this when you have a rookie whose offensive game is still on the rise and defense that can be lived with? Shumpert's lackluster play early on was also a reason to keep Smith around, but now that he has found his game, things have changed. It is also feasible to think that Shumpert -- as much as he and Smith are friends -- would benefit from moving Smith. More minutes and a bigger role would certainly be just another stepping stone in his development.
It's a long shot, but if there is a deal to be worked out involving Smith, I don't think I'm hesitating. The former Sixth Man of the Year has been only but a shell of that, and it proves the inconsistency he brings.
Steve has experienced all the possible feelings of an overwhelmed fan rooting for the Knicks. He has been a Knicks follower since 1999. You can follow Steve on Twitter @Steve_Scafidi.
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