The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is coming off a 2012-13 campaign in which he averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game with a 17.67 PER. He was a huge asset, especially because of that scoring punch off the bench, his solid perimeter defense and his willingness to crash the boards.
However, you can cross a similar award off the list of possibilities in 2013-14. Kevin McHale and Detlef Schrempf are safe for a little while longer, as they'll remain the only back-to-back winners in league history.
Smith, according to ESPNNewYork.com's Jared Zwerling, "has had patellar tendon surgery and an arthroscopy for a tear in the lateral meniscus of his left knee." The recovery time for such an injury is typically between three and four months, which puts the shooting guard on pace to first suit up in mid-October, at the earliest.
Even when he returns, it might take him a while to find his stride.
The 27-year-old is a notoriously streaky player, one who can just as easily shoot a team into a game as he can knock them out of it. Most of his damage comes from the perimeter, which allows him to fall into the realm of the "shooters."
As revealed by Basketball-Reference, Smith made 62 percent of his attempts right around the basket, but he only had 242 attempts throughout the season. In fact, he converted more looks from both 16 to 23 feet and behind the three-point arc during that 2012-13 campaign.
Like I said: a shooter.
If anything, he'll be more likely to fall into this category next season when he's trying to get back into playing shape and regain his stellar athleticism out on the court. Not being able to explode to the rim will force him into more jumpers.
Shooters typically require rhythm to be most effective. It's tough for three-point marksmen to maintain their shooting percentages without earning consistent playing time, which means that Smith could be less efficient when he takes the court once more. And remember, this is already a guy who has shot 42.6 percent from the field throughout his career.
ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley also provided us with the following insight:
JR Smith battled knee pain in the playoffs, which is a possible explanation for his shooting struggles. (J.R. shot 33% in 11 playoff games).— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) July 15, 2013
If Smith only shoots 33 percent, he's not worth playing. The athletic 2-guard is one of those guys with irrational confidence, and he won't be dissuaded from letting fly if his shots are consistently clanging off the back of the rim.
This would be the classic case of the Knicks needing to protect Smith from himself.
However, who's going to protect the Knicks from themselves?
When I first heard the news that Smith was getting surgery, I was prepared to go all Robin Williams, assuring the Knicks organization and fanbase that it was not their fault. I was ready to say it around a dozen times, even in the face of the dreaded "not you too."
Problem is, the Knicks are actually at fault here. Sure, they didn't know that Smith's knee injuries were so severe, but they were aware there was an injury. Begley also tells us that much:
One more clarification: the #Knicks say they knew about JR Smith's knee condition before they re-signed him to new deal.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) July 16, 2013
There will inevitably be camps who feel as though the shooting guard deceived the team, hiding the truth so that he could make as much money as possible.
Sure, but isn't that his job?
It's the franchise's responsibility to thoroughly check any and all injuries before putting ink to paper, as stated by ESPN's Amin Elhassan:
Folks, you cant get mad at JR Smith...he did what any rational person would do...get paid. Burden is on the team to do due diligence— Amin Elhassan (@AminESPN) July 16, 2013
New York is not in a position where it can afford to bide its time, and waiting both for Smith's injury to heal and for him to regain his full effectiveness qualifies as such.
Instead, the Knicks must try to win now. It may be their last chance to do so with the current makeup of the roster.
Following the 2013-14 season, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire could both choose to opt out of their contracts and hit the open market as unrestricted free agents. There's already been a great deal of speculation that 'Melo will do so and join the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stephen A. says it's 50-50 Carmelo Anthony leaves New York next year and it's 50-50 he comes to the Lakers.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) July 8, 2013
Even if the two most expensive players stay put through the end of their contracts, though, New York's title window is still slipping away. Stoudemire's knees are falling apart, and he's losing effectiveness by the year. The same can be said for Tyson Chandler, whose defense wasn't the same in 2012-13.
Although there are certainly young pieces in place, too many crucial parts of the puzzle are aging. The Knicks' philosophy needs to be "title or bust" during the 2013-14 season, and that means re-signing Smith was a mistake.
Because the Knicks used the shooting guard's Early Bird rights to bring him back, this move didn't necessarily prevent the team from picking up a different player as a replacement. Sure, a veteran scorer might have been more willing to take a pay cut to come to Madison Square Garden if the sixth man were gone, leaving a scoring void off the bench that needed filling.
But that's purely speculative.
In light of the knee injury, was re-signing Smith a mistake?
What we know is that Smith was signed to a four-year deal with guaranteed money, despite his somewhat shaky history and lack of consistency. That was already a risky move, and it becomes even riskier now that he'll be hurting the Knicks' financial flexibility well after this season.
Smith is a luxury item, not a piece you want to build around. And yet, if Anthony and/or Stoudemire leave town early, New York will be forced to adapt and try surrounding Smith with pieces that mesh with him.
It's just not a good situation.
Although the shooting guard could very well recover from his injury quickly—hey, Metta World Peace, the newest Madison Square Garden resident, did just that—and start to play at a high level right away, this was just too risky a signing.
Especially since New York knew what it was getting into.