New York Knicks: Why J.R. Smith Will Be the Team's X-Factor in 2012-13
That's fair enough, considering that these three players make up the bulk of the Knicks' salary and are the team's most important players, but there are still some other guys on this roster who could have a big say in what the Knicks achieve in 2012-13.
One such player is J.R. Smith, who is now a familiar face on a newly revamped bench that Glen Grunwald and the front office have built over the summer.
The former Nugget joined the team in the middle of last season after playing ball in China for the first half of the year, and was instantly made a key rotation player under Mike D'Antoni and eventually Mike Woodson.
This offseason, with Smith hitting free agency, the Knicks were worried that he could be heading out of town, because frankly, he could have garnered a lot more than his player option of $2.4 million out of the open market.
In the end, Smith rejected this option, and re-signed with a 20 percent pay raise instead. This will keep him in New York for $2.8 million next season, and possibly longer with a player option for a second year.
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Now that he's signed and back to work, Smith is set to once again play a huge role for Woodson's Knicks, though it's not necessarily the role that he wants to play.
Whilst Coach Woodson is adamant that Smith is best suited to playing the role of a sixth man, J.R. feels he is good enough to start in the NBA:
"I would prefer to start. I would rather be a starter. My goal was to come in here and be a starter, and play with those other four guys on the floor. It is frustrating after a while that people see me as a sixth man, sixth man, sixth man, when you believe you're a starter. But at the same time, you have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside." (via ESPN)
Though Smith is obviously disappointed with Woodson's choice to utilise him as a sixth man, his last line shows that he's perfectly able to accept his current role, and rightly so, as he can still have plenty of impact embracing the idea of coming off the bench.
Smith will be leading the way for the oldest bench in the NBA, and as the youngest player on the unit by some distance, will be tasked with providing the bulk of the energy.
As a player with as much athleticism as any in the NBA, it should be easy for Smith to capitalize off the passing that veterans Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni will provide him with, as well as the floor spacing that comes with also having Steve Novak in the game.
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Cutting it short, having Smith on the bench is putting him in a position to succeed.
That said, Smith's consistency, shot selection and defense have been questionable, to say the least over the years, and have held him back from making good on the All-Star talent he clearly possesses.
Under Woodson last season, Smith made strides in all of those aspects, but if he can continue to improve, the Knicks will suddenly look like a very deep team indeed.
If STAT and Melo can mesh together in camp, opposing defenses will have enough trouble trying to contain the Knicks, but once you add a smart and consistent J.R. Smith to the mix, the offense will be nearly unstoppable.
When Smith is going well on offense, the Knicks tend to be too. Last year, the team went an astonishing 14-3 in games that Smith shot over 42 percent from the field, so his play clearly has a bearing on how well the team performs.
Conversely, when Smith shot less than 35 percent, the team lost 10 of 13 games, as Smith's poor shot selection was only an obstacle for the rest of the offense.
Smith's reckless shooting at the expense of his team has been a problem for the entirety of his eight-year career, and he's yet to find a coach that has been able to fix his issues.
In Woodson, however, Smith may just have joined forces with the man who can finally make Smith the positive x-factor that he can be in the NBA.
Last year, Woodson was tough on Smith, but earned his respect, and transformed him from a defensive liability to a borderline force on that end of the floor.
One of Woodson's biggest priorities in camp this year will be to instigate a similar change in Smith's offensive game, which can and will pay dividends for the Knicks next season.
To this point, no coach has succeeded in the colossal task of making Smith a smart offensive player, but based on what we saw last season, Woody could be the man to finally crack the code.
So far in preseason, we've only seen Smith in one of the Knicks' two games, but the little we did see was encouraging.
Against the Wizards, Smith made eight of 11 field goals for 20 points, and also made six assists in a well-flowing offense. As you'd expect when Smith plays so efficiently, the Knicks won.
Whether the improvements are permanent or not, Smith's performance will leave a big imprint on the Knicks' season, but whether those imprints are positive is up to him and the coaching staff here in camp.
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