J.R. Smith is playing excellent basketball for the New York Knicks and is the front-runner for NBA Sixth Man of the Year, but the athletic shooting guard does not deserve a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Smith is averaging career highs in points (16.8), rebounds (5.0) and assists (3.0) while turning the ball over on just eight percent of his possessions, according to basketball-reference.com. He has locked down opponents' primary perimeter scorers, been the primary ball-handler at times and knocked down two game-winners (as seen below) for a Knicks team that at 24-13 is the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
J.R. has been even more prolific over the Knicks' past 10 games, averaging 21.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists during that span. However, his increased production has not translated into victories. The Knicks are 4-6 in their last 10 games.
In fact, according to NBA.com, Smith's scoring numbers and usage percentage (percentage of team plays a player uses while on the floor with a shot attempt, trip to the free throw line or a turnover) have been considerably lower in games the Knicks have won.
That is not to say that Smith is the cause of the Knicks' recent skid or that they are better without him. Rather, it implies that: One, there are players more valuable to the Knick's success than Smith, and two, New York plays its best basketball when Smith plays a prominent, though not necessarily the lead, role.
To the first point, the Knicks' recent struggles have coincided with the loss of starting point guard Raymond Felton, who has missed the last nine games with a broken bone in his right hand. The Knicks defense has sputtered without Felton applying ball pressure at opponents' points of attack.
New York has also desperately missed him on the offensive end. The ball movement which made the Knicks offense so potent early in the season was initiated by Felton in the pick-and-roll and was facilitated by the presence of two point guards on the floor at the same time in Felton and Jason Kidd.
Smith is shooting just 41 percent from the floor and does not create enough shots for his teammates. Though Felton is only shooting 40 percent himself, he has proven to be more valuable because of his ability to get his teammates involved offensively and stop dribble penetration.
Carmelo Anthony, the team's leading scorer and an MVP candidate, and Tyson Chandler, who anchors the team's defense, have also played a greater role in the Knicks' success. As the fourth-most valuable player on his team, Smith does not deserve an All-Star bid.
Another impediment to Smith's selection to the All-Star team is the number of quality contenders. Only 12 players make the team in each conference, and five of those—the starters—are voted on by the fans. The remaining seven players are selected by the coaches.
Voting for the starters closes on January 14. Below are the standings as of January 3, according to NBA.com:
2013 All-Star Ballot | Third Returns
2013 NBA ALL-STAR BALLOTING PRESENTED BY SPRINT EASTERN CONFERENCE
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Mia) 1,151,304, Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 1,054,099, Kevin Garnett (Bos) 390,751, Chris Bosh (Mia) 362,973, Tyson Chandler (NYK) 315,752, Paul Pierce (Bos) 205,096, Joakim Noah (Chi) 158,743, Josh Smith (Atl) 131,508, Anderson Varejao (Cle) 116,166, Shane Battier (Mia) 107,190, Amar'e Stoudemire (NYK) 104,109, Andrew Bynum (Phi) 93,611, Luol Deng (Chi) 90,736, Brook Lopez (BKN) 76,695, Jeff Green (Bos) 62,367
Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 765,077, Rajon Rondo (Bos) 675,822, Deron Williams (BKN) 350,618, Kyrie Irving (Cle) 308,878, Ray Allen (Mia) 232,441, Monta Ellis (Mil) 84,609, Raymond Felton (NYK) 77,123, Jrue Holiday (Phi) 66,514, Jason Terry (Bos) 62,189, Brandon Jennings (Mil) 56,826
Assuming the standings remain the same, the starting five in the Eastern Conference will be LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. The seven reserves will likely include four or five frontcourt players and two or three guards. That means Smith would have to be among at least the three remaining guards.
The other candidates vying for a spot in the Eastern squad's backcourt are Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers, Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks and Paul George of the Indiana Pacers.
J.R. Smith's statistics compared to those of other potential Eastern Conference All-Star reserve, via basketball-reference.com.
Williams is having a down year, shooting just 41 percent from the field and 33 percent on three-point attempts, but he is still the premier player on a Nets team that currently has the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Jrue Holiday is having a breakout season for the Philadelphia 76ers and it will be difficult to keep him off the All-Star team despite his team's struggles. The fourth-year guard is the only player in the Eastern Conference averaging over 18 points and eight assists per game—18.7 and 8.8, respectively.
Kyrie Irving is another point guard on a losing team who has distinguished himself this season. The former Duke Blue Devil is sixth in the league in scoring at 23.3 points per game and is averaging 5.7 assists while connecting on 41 percent of his threes. Irving and Holiday are both having better seasons than Smith.
If the coaches opt for players on winning teams, Paul George and Brandon Jennings will get the nod over J.R. Jennings is averaging 18.5 points, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals for a Bucks team that is the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, and George has an excellent shot at making the team as the best player on a Pacers squad that is 23-15.
There could be an All-Star Game in J.R. Smith's future if his game continues to progress, but the Knicks guard has not done enough to deserve a trip to the All-Star Game in Houston this year.