J.R. Smith can fly high, but his wings are made of wax and tattoo ink.
Last year's rookie sensation, Iman Shumpert, is rehabbing a knee injury and isn't expected back until January at the earliest, according to the New York Post.
But just because J.R. Smith is the best player at the position, does that automatically mean he should be named the starter by default?
Unfortunately, with Shumpert sidelined, the Knicks would have to sign a starting shooting guard, and the remaining pool of options at the 2 is decidedly shallow.
Thankfully, an angel came down from heaven on Tuesday in the person of Ronnie Brewer.
David Aldridge of NBA.com reported Tuesday morning that the Knicks had agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the former Chicago Bull. After Brewer's $4.3 million option was not picked up, he hit the open market, and the Knicks snagged the strong defender for the veteran minimum of just over $1 million, according to early reports.
While the deal has not yet been completed, Brewer gives the Knicks a tremendous option at 2-guard. While he lacks the shooting prowess of J.R. Smith, he plays good defense, doesn't turn the ball over, has a successful track record as a starter and comes at the right price.
Brewer played in all 66 games last season, starting 43 of them. He averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and just 0.9 turnovers in 24.8 minutes. Brewer also started 209 games for the Utah Jazz from 2007 to 2010.
With Brewer expected to compete for the starting job with Smith, last year's sixth man, who will win the positional battle?
Here are five reasons why J.R. Smith shouldn't be the starter.
'Timeout. You're gonna let me start? Seriously?'
Smith has never started more than 25 games in a season, with the exception of his 56 starts way back in the 2004-05 season, his rookie campaign. Since the 2007-08 season, he has started a grand total of 25 games.
He has never averaged more than 27.8 minutes per game in any season, either.
As MSG's own Alan Hahn opined on Twitter:
Regarding SG options, wouldn’t it be best to find someone with starting experience / talent so JR can keep his sixth man role?— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) July 21, 2012
A minute later, Hahn added this:
JR said himself he wants to play “wherever J-Kidd is” and it seems a given Kidd will back up Felton. Food for thought.— Alan Hahn (@alanhahn) July 21, 2012
With Ronnie Brewer now in the mix, the Knicks have a starting option who can contribute offensively when needed, in addition to providing strong defense on every possession, and Smith can maintain his established role of providing offense off the bench.
Plus, a second unit featuring Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith is an intriguing prospect for any coach.
'I'm surrounded by four defenders? I'd better shoot it!'
In the first round of the playoffs against Miami, the Knicks desperately needed J.R. Smith to get hot and hit his shots, especially after losing Iman Shumpert for the series to a knee injury.
But Smith could not hit his shots. In fact, he couldn't have hit the ocean if he was riding on a dolphin.
Smith started poorly and then got worse. His totals from the field in the five-game series were as follows: 7-of-17, 6-of-11, 5-of-18, 3-of-15, 3-of-15. That equals 31.6 percent shooting from the field.
And his numbers from three-point range were even worse: 3-of-8, 1-of-3, 0-of-5, 1-of-8, 0-of-4. That's just 17.9 percent on three-pointers. Smith's career average is 36.9 percent.
With Smith jacking up so many shots and using such questionable shot selection, the offense that could have been provided by Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire was drastically hampered. The Heat decided to let Smith continue chucking up bricks while denying the ball to the Knicks' marquee scorers.
And somehow, the game in which Smith scored just seven points in 36 minutes while committing five fouls, the game in which their key shooting guard went 3-of-15 and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, that game was the one the Knicks actually won.
Confetti floated down from the MSG rafters to commemorate the first playoff victory for the Knicks in 11 years. It ended a record-setting losing streak of 13 playoff games. And it was no thanks to J.R. Smith.
Against Miami, Smith averaged 35 minutes per game, but contributed only 12.2 points to go with 3.8 personal fouls and 2.2 turnovers. Suddenly, the Knicks were watching the second round of the playoffs on TV. That cannot happen so swiftly next season.
That is textbook form, with eyes closed for good measure.
Last season, Smith shot 40.7 percent from the field, his lowest total since shooting 39.3 percent in 2005-06. He averaged 34.7 percent from three-point range, his second lowest mark since his rookie year.
Those aren't good indicators for a shooting guard.
He also averaged the most personal fouls per game of any season in his career (2.49), although this coincided with his best season for steals per game (1.5).
Perhaps we can chalk it up to his tumultuous stint in China during the lockout. Or maybe once he got to New York he just missed his pet panda, Brad Garrett (yes, really).
Regardless, it hardly seems that Smith's performance last season merits a promotion to the starting five.
Knicks fans occasionally wanted to do this to John Starks.
One of the good things about coming off the bench is that you can provide a spark. The coach can ride a hot hand. If you're shots are falling, you stay in and get fed the rock. If you're throwing up bricks, you can go sit down and drink some Gatorade.
Starters are different. Starters must offer consistency and balance.
When Smith earned the nickname "J.R. Starks" (as tweeted during Game 4 against the Heat by senior writer for ESPN, Don Van Natta Jr.) it was not meant as a compliment.
It's safe to say that both Smith and Starks subscribe to Wayne Gretzky's famous adage, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." Then again, neither Smith nor Starks are the best to ever play their sport.
J.R. Smith is Longfellow's little girl with the curl. When he is good, he is very good indeed. But when he is bad, he is horrid.
Smith's erratic play is an emblem for feast-or-famine offense. If he's hot then he'll keep shooting, but if he's cold, he'll keep shooting to warm up!
Meanwhile, $40 million of offense stands in the frontcourt in the persons of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Mike Woodson cannot (and hopefully will not) abide ball-hogging and poor shot selection from his starting shooting guard.
This is what Walt Frazier terms 'matador defense.'
When Smith was originally signed by the Knicks in February, SI.com blogger Zach Lowe pondered the drawbacks to having such an electrifying shooter on a team. Smith does so many of the things that cause coaches to lose sleep.
These include not only his careless ball handling, risky passes and poor shot selection, but also the lackluster defense that gives too little hustle, too many reach-in fouls and too many attempts to steal cross-court passes.
Lowe noted Smith's "gambling on defense, the out-and-out wandering on defense that causes him to lose track of shooters."
There is little room for such form on Mike Woodson's roster, and even less room for it among the starting five.
Lowe continued, "There must come a point at which you put so many subpar defenders on the floor that Chandler can no longer save you, right?...In Anthony, Stoudemire and Smith, the Knicks have accumulated three of the league’s shakiest defenders, all with different but glaring flaws."
Fortunately, with the acquisitions of Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby, the Knicks defense has been greatly improved in both the backcourt and the frontcourt.
With Mike Woodson preaching a defense-first mindset to his squad, not to mention having a prolific scorer like Carmelo Anthony in the starting five, Woodson should lead with a strong defender and consistent player like Brewer at the 2-guard.
Then he can bring his scoring specialist and experienced sixth man, J.R. Smith, off the bench.