For JR Smith, It's Now or Never to Succeed with New York Knicks

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For JR Smith, It's Now or Never to Succeed with New York Knicks
Matt York/Associated Press

It's tough to say without smiling crookedly, but this Phil Jackson triangle offense might actually help lift J.R. Smith's game.

It better for Smith's sake. I'm not sure how long he'll last under Jackson after the All-Star break if the New York Knicks have broken down, again, and Smith's shot chart looks like a worn-out dartboard. 

The window of opportunity is closing for Smith in New York—the opportunity to prove he's more than just a streak scorer or unpredictable microwave.

Cue the triangle, the last real hope for curing his erratic offensive attack.

On paper, it's a system that should play right to Smith's strengths and hopefully minimize his weaknesses as a shot-selector. 

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The triangle emphasizes ball movement and off-ball player movement—two motions that don't occur when Smith or Carmelo Anthony are sizing up their men before falling back into long, two-point hero shots.

Instead of heavy one-on-one action, something Mike Woodson's offense often called for, the triangle should result in a lot more catch-and-score chances.

And only seven players in the entire NBA averaged more points per game shooting off the catch than Smith did (6.8) last season, according to NBA.com. He hit a rock-solid 45.6 percent of his spot-up jumpers and 46.5 percent of his spot-up threes, which ranked No. 4 in the league behind Kyle Korver, LeBron James and Stephen Curry

On the other hand, Smith hit just 33 percent of his pull-up jumpers, a shot he's gone to frequently despite his poor conversion rate. 

If the triangle works according to plan, we'll hopefully be seeing less play off the dribble and a lot more shooting in rhythm. 

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Maybe the intensified competition at the 2-guard position in New York will also provide some additional motivation. Tim Hardaway Jr. isn't a rookie anymore, while Iman Shumpert will be targeting a bounce-back season.

All three should be competing for minutes, or even a starting position, something Smith has expressed desire in winning, under new coach Derek Fisher. 

Outside of his experience, Smith's underrated passing might actually give him an edge in the triangle. His lack of willingness to give the ball up is another story, but in terms of hitting the open man, he's the superior passer on the depth chart. 

Smith averaged a career-high three assists last season, while Shumpert dished out only 1.7 a game and Hardaway struggled as a creator and ball-mover. 

Everything seems lined up for Smith, between the new coaches and system, an incident-free offseason and a heavy workload that's up for grabs. 

But he's running out of chances to shine in a featured role. Where else could he pose as a No. 2 option for a marquee franchise?

He probably won't get another opportunity as good as this one, assuming he values the spotlight.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Ironically, the Knicks need Smith just as much as he needs them. They were 18-12 last season when Smith shot over 45 percent. When he didn't, they were 16-28. 

The Knicks won 54 games in 2012-13 behind Smith's 18.1 points per game—a career best. That was before he shot 28.9 percent in a second-round series playoff loss to the underdog Indiana Pacers

He's been the team's X-factor, which for the Knicks is far from ideal considering his inconsistent approach. But they've been desperate. With the Knicks paying Amar'e Stoudemire $20 million a year, they don't exactly have the flexibility to go out and make seamless roster upgrades. 

However, Stoudemire's contact, as well as Andrea Bargnani's, comes off the book next summer, when the team is expected to hit the reset button. And it would be hard to imagine management including Smith in its long-term plans if he implodes under Jackson next season, though it would likely require a trade to move him, given Smith's 2015-16 player option.

For what it's worth, he's been saying the right things this offseason. 

"Be a leader," Smith said in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley at his foundation's annual golf fundraiser. "We've got so many younger guys around. A lot of the older guys left within the last two years. So be more of a leader and help out."  

Begley thinks Smith has the experience to take on a leadership role in Year 11. 

Entering his final NBA season under 30 years old, this could end up being the most important one of Smith's career—one that could make or break his team's season and ultimately his individual value across the league. 

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