Iman Shumpert Injury Gives JR Smith Yet Another Chance to Turn His Season Around

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Iman Shumpert Injury Gives JR Smith Yet Another Chance to Turn His Season Around
David Dow/Getty Images

If the New York Knicks' 2013-14 season has been like a roller coaster, J.R. Smith's individual campaign has been like riding shotgun in Maverick's jet. Goose of course died in that role.

But despite all his problems, Smith will be back in the Knicks starting lineup due to a knee injury suffered by Iman Shumpert:

This stretch can be an opportunity for Smith to redeem himself after a crazy few months both on and off the court.

The season started with a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. From Ian Begley of ESPN New York:

The NBA declined to comment specifically on Smith's violation. According to a summary of the program provided by the league, a third positive test for marijuana results in a suspension that is "five games longer than the player's immediately-preceding marijuana suspension." That is the sole scenario in which a five-game ban is administered.

Upon his return, Smith averaged 11.7 points and shot 32.8 percent from the field in the month of November. 

Then he found the time to get into a Twitter beef with Brandon Jennings over the insinuation that Smith's brother Chris didn't deserve a spot on an NBA roster.

Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn commented on the matter, saying New York should keep "...Smith as far as possible from all computers and smartphones."

December saw the fiasco with his brother come to a head. When the team finally released Chris Smith, brother J.R. claimed it was a betrayal on Instagram.

Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wasn't sure the move qualified as a betrayal:

Last time I checked, watching your brother leave a team he had no business being on in the first place—nearly $500,000 richer, no less—doesn't qualify as "betrayal."

New York did Smith—Chris, not J.R. (that we can prove)—a solid by retaining him past opening day.

Then came January, and with it, more troubles for Smith.

First, it was the shoelace incident. During a Jan. 5 game against the Dallas Mavericks, Smith attempted to untie Shawn Marion's shoes while the two stood next to each other on a free-throw attempt.

The NBA didn't take too kindly to Smith's hijinks, fining him $50,000:

Smith though, seemed to own his antics with pride:

Later in the month, Smith shared his thoughts on defense in what may have been an unintentionally self-deprecating quote. 

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Smith had this to say when asked about defense, "That’s really not my area of expertise. I’m more of a scoring-type player. I’ll leave that to those guys. Whatever they want to do, it’s OK with me. Just let me know."

Perhaps unknowingly, Smith pointed out that he doesn't offer much beyond scoring. And that's not too big a deal when he's on and the team's winning—as was the case last season.

But of course it becomes a problem when his shot is off—as it has been for much of this season. It's during slumps that great players should be able to positively impact the game in ways beyond scoring.

Instead of saying, "I'll leave that to those guys," he should be volunteering to defend, rebound and pass more to make up for his missed jumpers.

That brings us to February, the month in which we have the facemask issue.

After suffering a small fracture, Smith was given a mask to protect his face, but decided to sit out the Knicks last game before the All-Star break because he didn't like the way it felt:

He debuted his new accessory in New York's first game after the break, going 2-of-8 for four points against the Memphis Grizzlies.

That poor performance however was a bit of an anomaly. February has been Smith's best statistical month of the year.

In fact, he's somehow managed to gradually improve his numbers throughout the season amidst the suspension, Twitter war, suspension, betrayal and injury:

Heating Up
J.R. Smith PTS FG% 3P%
November 11.7 32.8% 28.6%
December 12.4 36.8% 39.8%
January 12.9 43.1% 39.1%
February 15.9 45.9% 44.7%
Overall 12.9 39% 37.6%

basketball-reference.com

Shumpert's knee injury will afford Smith more minutes to show off his upward trend.  If he continues on this trajectory, the Knicks could have a shot at the playoffs.

They're currently 3.5 games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but with the exception of February, their play has improved right along with Smith's:

Playoff Hopes?
New York Knicks Win %
November .154
December .400
January .625
February .250

NBA.com

And if moving Smith into the starting lineup helps New York get back on track this month, it could become a permanent change.

In another piece by Berman, Knicks coach Mike Woodson had this to say about the possibility of Smith continuing to start even after Shumpert returns:

There’s a possibility that could happen. When starters get hurt, I don’t normally scale them back because of injury, but it depends on how we’re playing. At this point, it doesn’t matter now who gets hurt, who comes back. It’s about trying to win games. If J.R. is playing well, I might not fool with the lineup.  We’ll play it by ear and see how it goes.

Getting the job as New York's starting shooting guard has been Smith's aim for a while.

Back in October, the New York Daily News' Peter Botte reported that Smith said, "I’ve always wanted to start. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows how I feel about that. I won the Sixth Man last year, so I felt as though there’s nothing left to prove at the sixth-man spot."

This is Smith's chance to seize the position with his actions, not his words.

If the Knicks get back to the winning ways they showed they're capable of in January, and Smith plays well along the way, Woodson may have no choice but to keep Smith in the first five.

And maybe, he can redeem this season the way Maverick redeemed himself after losing Goose.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com and NBA.com and are current as of Feb. 20, 2014.

Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

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