Thursday, April 5, 2012

Asian America's Team: The New J.R. Smith


The current Knicks team is mostly new pieces and rookies outside of Landry Fields and Carmelo Anthony -- one of the new additions is J.R. Smith. For those who don’t know, J.R. spent the first half of the season playing in the CBA, which is the professional basketball league in China. He was one of the few NBA players who decided to take the guarantee of a paycheck instead of patiently waiting for the NBA lockout to end. As it turned out, these players may have made the wrong choice as none of the players with signed contracts in China could be released before their season ended. J.R. Smith thus missed half of the NBA season, but he returned from China with the advantage of being able to choose his destination.

J.R. Smith has always been viewed as one of the most talented and athletic players in the country ever since he entered the league with the Hornets. There were eight high school seniors taken during the first round of the 2004 draft, J.R. Smith was the seventh high school student (18th overall) taken behind the likes of Dwight Howard and Josh Smith. Fellow GCAS writer Jonathan Mok would say that J.R. Smith’s immaturity over the years was due to the lack of going to college first, and in this case I would agree with that assessment. J.R. has been far from mature since the get-go, and even though his talent is undeniable, his mental mistakes have caused multiple benchings through the years. I have even labeled J.R. Smith one of the dumbest players in the NBA in terms of basketball IQ.

I still remember watching a playoff game between the Lakers and Nuggets in 2009. During the game, J.R. Smith was making good choices and playing quite well, which forced Jeff Van Gundy to give him a new nickname in disbelief; for the rest of the game, JVG referred to J.R. as “Smithy” because he was finally taking the right shots and not just relying on his athletic ability. Unfortunately this only lasted a single game, and eventually the Nuggets lost the series.

When I heard that the Knicks were considering using the rest of their mid-level exception to sign J.R. Smith after his time in China, I hated the idea. I didn’t understand why a team that already struggled with managing a volume shooter like Carmelo would even consider bringing in a black hole like J.R. Smith. Also rumors were flying around that J.R. Smith was constantly fined in China for missing practice -- a sign that he had still not grown up. With these stories came videos of J.R. Smith dropping 50 and 60 points in back-to-back games, which just confirmed my belief that he would take every and any shot available.


Now I can admit that I was completely wrong. Maybe that trip across the Pacific was exactly what J.R. Smith needed. I don’t know how it happened, but I think it is safe to say that “Smithy” is back and here to stay. J.R. has filled in as a backup -- sometimes listed as the fifth guard on the depth chart -- yet he has not complained once. His stats are lower across the board, but he continues to work hard, especially on the defensive end. With the injury to Jeremy Lin, Smith has even adapted to running the point. He's turning down bad shots and creating better shots for players like Steve Novak. Ironically his shooting percentage is down this year, but that will change once he feels more comfortable in this offense. The Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith combo gives the Knicks one of the best defensive backcourts in the league, and the numbers don't lie with the two of them combining for three steals a game.


If the Knicks expect to make a strong push towards the playoffs, they will need J.R. Smith to help carry the load. Without Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire, there are few guys on this team that can create, yet that has never been a problem for J.R. So as much as I have enjoyed watching Smithy defer to his teammates for better looks, it might be time for him to start calling his own number.


Next Asian America’s Team topic: Last Push for Playoffs



Photo and videos courtesy of the NBA, Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images, and YouTube

6 comments:

"As it turned out, these players may have made the wrong the choice as none of the players with signed contracts in China could be released before their season ended."

*the wrong choice

Be careful what you wish for.

^Thank you for catching that, much appreciated.

Alby, at this point I'm just desperate to make the playoffs, since we already traded our first round pick to the Rockets...

agreed, wish we got matched up with the Magic in the playoffs. Anything can happen I guess, just have to play well down the stretch.

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