Well, hello all! It's been a little while: I have just recently returned from a short stay in San Francisco. When I'm not researching and discussing the talents of various NBA players, I'm often in rehearsal as a hip hop dancer. Right now I'm in basketball mode, and I'm here to talk about one of my favorite personalities in the NBA. JR Smith is awesome. He isn't an incredibly productive player, relative to the best-known talent in the league. He isn't the type of player a GM strives to build their team around. He is, unfortunately, often misunderstood by fans who interpret his heavily inked frame and oft-slurred speech as indicatory of character flaws. JR has a minor criminal history, mostly due to his several poor decisions made in operation of a motor vehicle. He is a relentless gunner on the court and a shameless philanderer off it. So far I have seen no reason to hold Smith in the negative light that so many paint him in, and I would love to understand what others see when they look at him. I'll begin by explaining my personal view on the mercurial guard.
One of the most endearing qualities about JR is his candor. Smith seems fully aware of his limitations as a player and doesn't seem nearly as arrogant as many hoops fans intimate. I recall in the post-game interview he conducted after his first game as a New York Knick JR said he was surprised that the coach left him in the game down the stretch and said that it was great for his confidence. He rarely sounds to me like a player with an unrealistic image of himself. JR knows who he is.
Smith is a roleplayer; he's a hyperathletic off-guard with shaky handles but a deadly perimeter jumper and no fear of attempting shots. When given a clear, defined role JR can provide a lot of value for a team, which was part of the reason I was such a vocal advocate of re-signing him.
Smith is about average as a passer at this point in his career, despite his longstanding reputation as a selfish player. He is a willing passer, and his sneaky-low turnover rate makes him more useful as a passer than many realize. Smith posted the second-highest assist percentage of his career last season along with his lowest career turnover percentage. He finished in the top 15 among qualified SGs last season in assist to turnover ratio. He isn't a particularly creative passer, but he makes good decisions when moving the ball and tries to make the smartest pass he can as opposed to the flashiest. Credit JR's teamwork with Steve Novak here, but only Monta Ellis created more 3 pointers for teammates per game than Smith last season. I think it's safe to abandon the idea that Smith is a net negative as a passer. He could be more prolific, but for a roleplayer JR has several merits in this aspect of his game.
Smith is a good rebounder for a shooting guard. He finished top 10 in total rebounding rate among qualified SGs last season, ahead of names like Kobe Bryant and OJ Mayo. JR is above average on both the offensive and defensive glass. He doesn't provide extraordinary value there, but he's certainly above average. When fans try and say JR does nothing outside of score, I believe they must be confusing him with noted gunner Nick Young. You'll find Young second-to-last in TRR, despite his status as possibly the most athletic 2-guard in the league today. That is absurd. Luckily, JR's effort on the glass is far more robust.
Smith became an overrated defender among many Knick fans last season, and I'm not entirely sure why. He is not, and never has been, a good defender. Despite his size and athleticism, JR loses track of his man often and resorts to fouls far more than a guard with his talent should. Smith draws charges at a respectable rate and lurks in passing lanes for steals well, but these occasional positive plays hardly make up for his sluggish defense and near-unwillingness to fight through screens. Seriously, watch tape if you can: Smith seems more willing to try and avoid the screen entirely rather than fight through the hit to immediately contest shots. This is especially troubling for our defense, which relies on constant switching. JR is surprisingly a very anemic shotblocker; you'd expect him to be at least league-average on that front but he rarely makes it in time to swat away shots. Most likely because he's so often out of position. There is no way I can describe JR's defense without mentioning his maddening talent at fouling 3 point shooters. It is almost remarkable. JR has really made the "Daggerhand stab into opposing large intestine, then look around as if flummoxed at the whistle" into a true art form. I have watched the defensive efforts of most guards in this league, and I'm thoroughly convinced that none can contend with JR here. Congrats, Earl, you clearly worked to earn this dubious distinction. Despite his various weaknesses on the defensive end of the court, JR still contributes somewhat through his ability to spend small amounts of time checking SFs. One of the Knicks' most productive lineups last season was Shump-Smith-Fields-Melo-Tyson, which both scored and defended well in the short bursts it appeared on the court. Outside of that, Smith doesn't appear in any of the Knicks' best defensive lineups. I don't expect much difference this season.
JR is an enigma offensively. I would think a player with his explosiveness and shooting skill would be a devastating scorer, and in many ways I would be wrong. One of my biggest issues with JR on offense isn't necessarily his shot selection. I'll come back to that. It's his inability to consistently draw fouls. JR Smith should relish contact. He should get into the lane and force defenders to foul or risk him cramming home 2 points all over their head. He does this less often than is acceptable. Smith is well below average at drawing fouls among SGs, posting a free throw rate of .14 (average is .22). This is partly due to his well-documented affinity for the stepback jumper. He has confirmed through his twitter account that his favorite move in indeed the stepback. He plays to avoid contact, and his poor free throw rate is a result. To be fair, it is unlikely the only reason he struggles to draw contact. Smith is a relatively basic ball-handler, with a quick crossover but incapable of getting wherever he pleases on the court. Compare to James Harden, an inferior athlete with a less-savage crossover but the ability to drive past most defenders and draw contact in the lane. When JR does get to the rim, he converts at a respectable 60%. He really would be more productive if the offense utilized his fantastic ability as a cutter more often. As I've stated before, JR has previously led the league in qualified points per possession off cuts. He was playing with Andre Miller then, a more capable passer than Baron Davis and Mike Bibby. With Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton manning the point, JR should be playing on ball far less and exhibiting his shiftiness as a backdoor cutter again. His greatest value to this offense, lies not inside the paint, though.
While JR is a disappointing free throw shooter for a guard, he is a great three point bomber. His pedestrian 3PT% this season belies his fantastic ability to nail the long shot. Don't be fooled: JR Smith is an absolute sniper. This is the one area that truly benefits from his constant gunning. You want JR Smith to take more threes. As long as he isn't in isolation, JR should have a green light to fire any open three he can find. I'm sure most of us are aware that anything above about 32% on threes is a good shot for a team to take. It translates to about 48% on twos, which was league average. Do you see the value of the three pointer here? JR shot 39.5% on spot up threes last season and 40% on threes in transition. The best part: Those are uncharacteristically low numbers for Smith compared to previous seasons. I look for JR to bounce back to more dominant numbers as a perimeter shooter this season, which will do wonders for our offense even before considering the effect on floor spacing.
There is so much more that can be discussed about JR. I didn't spend much time talking about his personal life as I did in my previous entries to keep this brief, but I can't finish this without mentioning his status as something of a Casanova. JR Smith sleeps with many women, and doesn't much try to hide it. He was fined last season for posting a picture of a basketball game he was watching with an exposed Tahiry. He spent time this summer dating and smoking with Rihanna. He tweets at several of his lesser-known partners fairly often. Follow him @TheRealJRSmith if you somehow don't already. It's high comedy, and he's actually a fairly likeable guy outside of the sexcapades. He has an alleged history with the Blood gang that I would rather not delve into, as that is a more complex subject than I'm willing to debate right now. He goes out of his way to hang out with fans and sometimes responds to hate tweets with hilarious comments on the poster's appearance. All in all, JR is a useful player and an entertaining one to follow. I hadn't imagined that the player I so enjoyed watching in Denver would make his way to my team, but I'm glad he did. He's something of an enigma at times, but JR tries hard to be helpful and I can't help but melt for that.
PS - Count me in as one of the people thoroughly disappointed that he changed his twitter bio from "I'm a Hard 8!"