Smith's love affair with NYC may be coming to an abrubt end.
During last week’s NBA draft, the New York Knicks went in an interesting direction by drafting Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Michigan Wolverines. General manager Glen Grunwald and Knicks’ management had various holes to fill heading into that night and did their best to draft the best player available while also finding the perfect fit for New York.
According to a New York Times report, one of the team’s priorities this offseason is reportedly to acquire a secondary scorer to make Carmelo Anthony’s job a little bit easier. Anthony won the league’s scoring title in 2012-13, but did so while hoisting more than 22 shots per game on average and shooting a sub-par 44.9 percent.
J.R. Smith acted as a consistent scoring option during the regular season but was excruciatingly detrimental in the playoffs, when he shot a miserable 33 percent from the floor and 27 percent from behind the arc.
Smith is a candidate to leave the Big Apple in the coming weeks. He’s an unrestricted free agent after declining his player option for 2013-14, as expected. The Knicks’ selection of Hardaway only made a Smith-New York breakup even more likely, considering the way the two players stack up against each other.
Both players stand at 6’6” and naturally play the 2-guard spot. Smith is a more mature 220 pounds, while the much younger Hardaway is a lean 205.
The guards’ offensive games, when looking at the numbers, are strikingly similar. Both have a tendency to fall in love with the three-ball but are capable of making an impact when putting the ball on the floor. As you’d expect, Hardaway is much more unpolished and incomplete, as he’s six years younger than the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
Last season, perhaps Smith’s brightest in his career, the 27-year-old averaged 18 points per game on 42-percent shooting, including 36 percent from the arc. His decorated campaign was highlighted by a 15-game stretch concluding his regular season where Smith reconstructed his game. He finally used his athleticism to his advantage over an extended period and looked to drive to the rim before jacking a long fadeaway. He shot 51 percent from the field over that time, and only 4.3 of his 17.1 attempts per game were from three-point range. He averaged 24 points in that span.
In Hardaway’s junior and final season as a Wolverine, he put up a 44-percent mark from the field and a 37-percent clip from distance. Like Smith, he rebounded well at nearly five boards per game. It goes without saying that college stats don’t compare pound-for-pound with NBA metrics, but these are a decent barometer for the type of player Hardaway can mold into.
Hardaway hasn’t yet developed the handle that Smith has displayed throughout his nine pro seasons. However, his 37.5-inch vertical and 31.5-inch standing leap are extraordinary marks and speak to the second-generation baller’s athleticism. If he can develop an ability to create his own looks, Hardaway may evolve into a very serviceable shooting guard.
On draft night, the Knicks could’ve filled a need and picked up a backup point guard. They could’ve also added a rebounding and defending big man to replenish the front court. With Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and possibly Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni all declining a New York re-up for 2014, there are glaring weaknesses up and down the roster. Instead, the team selected Hardaway, a player whose game mirrors that of their own second-best scorer—who just happens to be due for a payday this month.
Despite earlier reports of mutual interest on a new deal, by selecting Hardaway, the Knicks very well may have told Smith to pack his bags.
It’s not a difficult stance to defend. Smith is notoriously one of the league’s streakiest players, and his unpredictability—however entertaining—isn’t a ringing endorsement when it comes to long-term deals. The Knicks know just how agonizing the New Jersey native’s downfalls can be. He’s shot them out of series in two consecutive postseasons, the latter of which included photos and video of J.R. washing away his woes in high-profile fashion in preparation for an elimination game against the Boston Celtics.
It may be taken out of the Knicks’ hands at a certain point this month, anyway. The maximum deal they can offer Smith is roughly $24 million over four years, while teams with cap room (think the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, etc.) can offer J.R. whatever amount they please.
It’s tough to envision a Knicks’ rotation in 2013-14 that includes both Smith and Hardaway. A possible solution to the puzzle would be to insert Smith as the team’s starting shooting guard—which is something Mike Woodson and all of Smith’s previous coaches have been wary of—beside Iman Shumpert at the starting 3. Hardaway would then be penciled in as New York’s backup 2.
The issues with this scenario are that (a) the Knicks would be ditching the dual-point guard starting lineups that proved successful last season, and (b) we haven’t even taken into account how Woodson would handle Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani—two defensive sieves—on the same second unit.
With Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the fold for the near future, will the Knicks bring back J.R. Smith?
Before Hardaway was a Knick, J.R.’s return to New York was already in question. Now, with the rookie guard set to start his pro career on Smith’s team, at Smith’s position and in Smith’s role, the questionable Sixth Man of the Year may be facing just one question as New York plans their attack for 2014:
Where to next?
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