Should NY Knicks Be Starting Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith at Shooting Guard?

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterOctober 10, 2013

BOSTON, MA - MAY 3:  Iman Shumpert #21 and J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks  react during a time out in the 4th quarter as they defeat the Celtics 88-80 in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Maybe it's a motivational tactic—or just a ploy to drive in-house competition. I can't think of any other reason why Mike Woodson would consider starting J.R. Smith.

But that's what the man says—the starting 2-guard spot is up for grabs, with Smith and Iman Shumpert the top two candidates. 

Mike Woodson sounds like the starting shooting guard job is there for J.R. Smith to win.

— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) October 9, 2013

I think we'd be here all day before coming up with reasonable logic behind that. 

Last year, the New York Knicks were able to do something no team has been able to do—they maximized Smith's talent. He finished with career highs in minutes, points, rebounds and, to no surprise, shot attempts. And in the process, Smith helped the Knicks win 54 games and earn a No. 2 seed in the playoffs. 

They put him in a role where he'd have a green light and freedom—not to carry the team, but to lift it.

And he won an award for it. The NBA recognized J.R. Smith as the best sixth man in the league—why on God's green earth would anyone want to change it?

While Shumpert has been active this offseason, looking to build upon his strong performance in last year's playoffs, Smith has been out after undergoing surgery on his knee. 

A few months after the procedure, it was announced that Smith had failed a drug test. But good news everyone—it was only his third.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 3:  J.R. Smith #8 and Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks celebrate against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2013 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOT
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

I can tell you one thing—Smith won't be starting against the Milwaukee Bucks on opening night or in Chicago on Halloween. He's been suspended for the first five games of the regular season after his latest slip-up.

It just seems like a weird time to suddenly change his role and hand him a promotion—especially considering Woodson has preached accountability ever since taking over the job. 

But this isn't about punishing Smith for his behavior. At this point, we know who he is—the type of guy who's going to smoke some weed, cruise around in a $450,000 tank and party with rock stars after signing a contract.

And that's OK. Not everyone is born with that Derrick Rose-like discipline and work ethic. It just highlights the one quality that makes Smith an unattractive starting option—his instability. 

It's what's kept him from ever commanding that lucrative deal. With Smith, you just can't be sure what you're going to get—not just off the court but on it. 

With a volume-scoring, low-percentage attack, he has a style of play built for the sixth-man role. It's easier to manage a player like Smith off the bench, when you can wait and get a feel for the game before letting his recklessness dictate its flow. 

With Shumpert, even a bad day won't hurt the team, while a rough stretch from Smith can bury it before halftime. 

Think about it like this: Shumpert is the dark, hovering cloud who sets the tone to start the game, and Smith is the guy who makes it rain off the bench. 

The fact is, if the Knicks start Smith at the 2 and Andrea Bargnani at the 4, it will be Shumpert who becomes the team's top bench scorer. And at this point in his career, scoring isn't Shump's core strength.

The Knicks need that firepower off the bench that Smith is capable of providing. When Carmelo Anthony takes a seat to start the second quarter, it's Smith who has to be the guy to keep this team above water, considering the other $100 million man on the roster isn't able to fulfill his duties. 

For what it's worth, Shumpert looked fantastic in the preseason opener (7-of-7, 18 points) and appears physically stronger in both his upper and lower body. Now in year No. 3, the typical season a player breaks out of his shell, Shumpert seems prepared to take on broader responsibilities. 

This final starting guard position should be based on individual strengths and team needs. And given the strengths of each candidate, the Knicks need Shump to start it off and Smith to close it out.