Why J.R. Smith Is Critical to NY Knicks' Continued Success in 2012-13

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Why J.R. Smith Is Critical to NY Knicks' Continued Success in 2012-13
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's hard to claim an NBA offense that has averaged the third most points in the league (102.3) and features the league's second most potent player (Carmelo Anthony, 26.3 points per game) has problems.

But a once over of this NY Knicks roster shows Anthony surrounded by a bunch of limited, one-dimensional offensive players. Except for J.R. Smith that is.

The Knicks employ a host of shooters (Steve Novak, Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace), a distributor who scores when needed (Raymond Felton) and a few players collecting paychecks on the defensive end (Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer).

Outside of Anthony, the team lacks a consistent offensive threat capable of shouldering the load on his off nights. Smith has all of the tools to be that dependable second option. He's a legitimate three-point shooter (46.3 percent in 2012-'13) with the handles to break down his defender and the strength and athleticism to finish his drives.

But Smith's career has been marred by an  almost unmatched by his NBA peers.

The 2012-'13 season has been no different.

He began the year by connecting on 46.6 percent of his field-goal attempts and 53.1 percent of his three-point tries through the year's first 10 games, a stretch that saw his team go 8-2. But in his past three games, he's converted just 25 percent of his field-goal attempts and 22.2 percent of his three-point looks (according to ESPN's Mark Simon). The Knicks have lost two of those three contests.

J.R. Smith's never strayed too far from jaw-dropping plays. But Knicks fans wouldn't mind seeing more highlight-worthy passes like this nifty dime to teammate Tyson Chandler.

Because of his clear talent, New York fans want more out of Smith. Because of the club's lack of a consistent scorer not named Anthony, the Knicks need more out of Smith.

So the question for Knicks fans becomes how likely is it for Smith to find the consistency that eluded him over his first eight season in the league.

History is clearly not on his side. He hasn't shot above 44 percent since the 2008-'09 season. His career player efficiency rating of 15.3 has hovered around the league average mark of 15 and peaked at 18.1 in 2007-'08.

But the 2012-'13 season has seen some changes in Smith. He's hesitated to throw up the bad shots of seasons past. During his recent three-game rough patch, he's battled for better looks. After attempting just 27 percent of his field-goal attempts from inside the paint over his first 10 games, he's bumped that number up to 43 percent in the past three.

With Anthony and those Knicks shooters surrounding him, he shouldn't be forced into those ill-advised looks that have restricted his effectiveness over his career. New York has the potential to create the offensive spacing most coaches only dream about.

The Knicks will go as far as Smith can take them. If this season has truly seen a renaissance in the Big Apple, perhaps this is the year that he and his teammates finally realize their vast potential for greatness.

All statistics used in this article are accurate as of 11/26/2012.

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