New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson sits atop a raging inferno every night, but even he can't find a spark for struggling gunner J.R. Smith.
He doesn't even know if that spark will ever come this season.
"J.R. has had his struggles," Woodson said. "I don't think he's still 100 percent. I don't know if he'll ever be this season based on the surgery he had this offseason."
Smith had both a chipped patellar tendon and a torn meniscus repaired in his left knee this summer—a week after signing a three-year, $18 million deal to stay in New York. A streaky contributor throughout his 10-year career, he's seen far more downs than ups over his first 16 games of 2013-14.
He averaged 18.1 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting while taking home Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2012-13. This season, though, he's failed to reach 18 points in all but two games and shot 40 percent or worse from the field 11 different times.
Never a strong defender to begin with, he's looked a step slow at that end of the floor. He's making just 1.7 trips to the foul line a night, which pales in comparison to the 3.9 he made last season.
While Woodson said there's a medical reason behind Smith's struggles, he's not extended the spark plug any excuses.
"I still expect him in the minutes he plays, he's got to contribute more," Woodson said.
Smith made three starts and saw 33.1 minutes of floor time in his first seven games. He's managed just 28.3 over his last nine while serving strictly in a reserve role.
The frustrations are clearly catching up with him:
J.R. Smith tried to use Kirk Hinrich as a human shield. Just tossed him near Dunleavy.— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) December 12, 2013
I'm not sure that Smith at his best could help cure what's plaguing these Knicks (6-15). He's not the only one responsible for New York's 24th-ranked net rating of minus-4.3 points per 100 possessions. There are volume shooters and part-time defenders all over this roster.
But I have seen enough of the bad Smith to know that he's certainly not helping things.