Chris Smith has already faced NBA-quality competition.
The New York Knicks currently have 20 players in training camp. The problem is that the NBA only allows you to roster 15 players. Someone is going to be left out in the cold, especially if the Knicks continue signing veterans from the goodwill pile of free agents.
After luring Rasheed Wallace out of retirement, the Knicks are reportedly in discussion with swingman Josh Howard (per Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York). Signing Howard would mean that none of the youngsters in training camp would make the regular-season roster.
These players include Mychel Thompson (five games of NBA experience), Chris Copeland (journeyman of European leagues) and undrafted rookies Oscar Bellfield and Henry Sims.
But the two toughest cuts the Knicks will have to make would be John Shurna and Chris Smith.
John Shurna, Forward, Northwestern
John Shurna is Steve Novak 2.0. ESPN's Jared Zwerling referred to Novak as "Shurna's almost mirror image." I guess all lanky, white forwards look alike to him.
Novak sang Shurna's praises when he spoke to Zwerling:
He's done a great job at camp. He's approached it the right way. He's got a motor on him. He just moves, moves, moves, always trying to get open, always trying to wear the defense down and he shoots the ball so well. I'm obviously biased, but I feel like there's a place for him somewhere. I hope this year with us. He's going to be able to play for a long time.Chris Chambers/Getty Images
...I think he definitely is stronger than he looks, and he gets his hands on rebounds and stuff like that. He's a good player. There's a spot for him, there's no doubt about that.
That is high praise indeed, and if Novak was the coach or GM, it sounds like Shurna would have a roster spot on lockdown.
As a senior at Northwestern, the 6'9" Shurna shot 44 percent from three-point range. He averaged 20 points in 37.3 minutes per game, while chipping in 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals.
He even won a dunk contest in high school.
A second forward off the bench who can knock down long-range jumpers could be a real asset for the Knicks. They will get a good look at him early this preseason as Marcus Camby is nursing a sore calf and Rasheed Wallace is not yet fit enough to play.
But the Knicks are still pursuing veteran free agents to add to their frontcourt, so it's too bad the team probably won't have room for Shurna once the regular season begins.
Chris Smith, Guard, Louisville
Chris Smith was signed by the Knicks to a non-guaranteed contract. His older brother—Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith—was delighted to hear that Chris landed a job after not being drafted, because he no longer has to pay for his little bro's college tuition.
Should the Knicks sign another veteran or take a chance on a novice?
As J.R. told Ian Begley of ESPN New York: "'I paid for my brother to go to school for the last five years. Now, he's off my books and on somebody else's, so I'm happy,' he said with a laugh."
Chris Smith has talent but limited experience. He posted impressive numbers with the Manhattan Jaspers and was a valuable contributor for the Louisville Cardinals after transferring.
Unfortunately, the Knicks' difficult decision about the young guard became substantially easier this week, as the team announced that Chris Smith "will have surgery on his left patella tendon Thursday and will be out three to six months" (per Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York).
It is devastating news for the rookie. J.R. called it "frustrating." Chris described it as "heartbreaking."
It will be a long road to recovery for Chris Smith and he is unlikely to see any playing time in the NBA this season. If his recovery takes the full six months, he will be ready to return just as the NBA and D-League regular seasons conclude.
The long-term question remaining is whether or not the Knicks will retain him in their organization once he is healthy.
The Knicks could choose to sign Smith to the Erie BayHawks, their D-League affiliate, and seek to develop him there. If he recovers quickly, he could be ready to take the court sometime in January.
If signed to the BayHawks, Smith could hone his craft and get ready for NBA competition in 2013-14. That is the best-case scenario for Smith to stay with the Knicks.
The organization has shown they are willing to retain injured players, as they have done with Baron Davis, although he has 13 seasons of professional experience whereas Smith has none.
But cutting J.R.'s little brother outright might upset the Knicks' temperamental sixth man. After all, the Knicks should bear in mind that J.R. is not the most rational individual. He accrued over $1 million in fines during his stint in China in 2011. He also had a pet panda named Brad Garrett.
Who can say how J.R. would react if the Knicks cut his injured brother loose? Perhaps this is why the Notorious B.I.G. advised to keep family and business completely separated. That rule is indeed underrated.
The Knicks will have to deny the injured Chris Smith a roster spot, but cutting ties with him completely could have a disastrous ripple effect on their sixth man.
The 15th Roster Spot
Ultimately, any one of the youngsters could contribute to the Knicks roster, similar to the impact that rookie Josh Harrellson made last year.
But the Knicks seem hellbent on adding another veteran power forward to the roster instead of taking a chance on a youngster. Right now, the only true power forwards they have are the 40-year-old Kurt Thomas and the 38-year-old Wallace. The remaining forwards are all wings and stretch 4s.
Whether they come to an agreement with Josh Howard, can look past Chris Andersen's legal troubles or are able to convince Kenyon Martin he's not going to get more than the veteran's minimum from any NBA team, the Knicks appear ready to cut a half dozen inexperienced ballers from their training camp roster in order to add even more experience to their frontcourt.
But it will be particularly tough to let John Shurna and Chris Smith go, for very different reasons.