Will J.R. Smith Overcome Maturity Issues, Live Up to Contract with the Knicks?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 5, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 18: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks looks to pass the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 18, 2013 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You may not find a streakier player in the NBA than J.R. Smith. Not knowing what you're going to get from him on a nightly basis is part of the reason why teams have been hesitant to offer him long-term deals. 

If there was a team out there willing and desperate enough to give Smith four more years, it would be the Knicks, who've been hampered in free agency thanks to the near $100 million they're paying Amar'e Stoudemire. 

But expecting Smith's maturity to change after handing him roughly $25 million would be irresponsible.

However, that doesn't mean this was a bad move for the Knicks, which, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola, completed the deal with Smith on Thursday morning. 

I have a strong take when it comes to J.R. Smith, his fit in New York and why both parties needed to get this deal done.

The Knicks simply couldn't afford to lose their clear-cut No. 2 scoring option.

And J.R. couldn't afford to end up in a place like Phoenix after getting a step closer to being recognized as a winner as opposed to a scorer.

Smith is what he is—erratic, volatile, unpredictable—but he could also potentially be the most potent scoring force on the court.

The maturity issue is a fixed variable. It's not changing. It can be managed and channeled but not eliminated. J.R. is going to be J.R. We're still going to see step-back 22-footers and booty pictures on his Instagram feed. 

When it comes to Smith's maturity, everything revolves around timeliness. There are good times to screw up and there are bad times. 

In 2012-13, Smith picked the worst possible time to let his immaturity break through.

Maybe it's luck. Maybe the Knicks just have to cross their fingers and hope that J.R. gets locked in at just the right moment.

Smith found the zone in March and remained inside it for a good month-and-a-half. He was putting up big-time numbers consistently—the kind of numbers that exceed a second scoring option's expected output.

With Smith on fire, the Knicks had moved back into the second spot in the East after finishing the regular season strong. Look what Smith had done in March and April:

Regular Season

 2013     Games  PPG  APG RPG Field-Goal percentage Three-point percentage
April 8 22 2.4 6.6 .483 .40
March 18 22.1 2.8 6 .442 .345

And then the playoffs hit, and Smith just absolutely lost it. One elbow to Jason Terry's dome, and the zone that Smith had been in had completely evaporated.

Upon returning from what would be a costly one-game suspension, the touch Smith previously had was no longer available. 


 2013 Games   PPG APG   RPG Field-Goal percentage  Three-point percentage 
Round 1 5  15.2  1.4 4.4   384 .333
Round 2 6  13.5  1.3 5 .289 .231

Late against Boston and throughout the Indiana series, Smith's shooting woes had detrimental effects on the team.  

But what if Smith's hot streak was flip-flopped with his cold streak? What if he got hot in May instead of April?

When Smith is hot, it takes a boatload of pressure off Carmelo Anthony. A good day for Smith usually means an easy one for Anthony. 

But not knowing when Smith is going to light it up or stink it up comes with the territory of having him on your team.

It's not the off-court maturity issues I'm worried about with Smith. It's his on-court maturity— managing his shot selection, decision-making and temper. 

If Smith can control these three things when the Knicks need him most, he'll end up justifying the deal he was given. When Smith is hot, he's worth a lot more than $6 million a year. If you can get him to average 22 a game in May and June instead of March and April, we probably won't be talking about his maturity issues. 

Knick fans and teammates just have to hope his maturity holds up when the stakes are high. Let him get kicked out of a game against the Bobcats in December or shoot 4-of-19 against Atlanta in January. 

But not in the postseason. And I'm not sure there's any way for us to predict it or for Smith to prepare. I just think we need to sit back, take a deep breath and hope for the good J.R. on that particular day.


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