The Knicks have cemented a losing record for the first time in three years, but there have been some bright spots, like Carmelo Anthony's all-around greatness, Amar'e Stoudemire's recent resurgence, Tim Hardaway Jr.'s solid rookie season. These things have all been discussed, though, as we try and combat the gloom that suffocates this team.
A less-frequented discussion point has been our friend J.R. Smith. Fresh off a blazing 29-point outing in which he canned nine of his 12 three-point attempts in a win over the Sacramento Kings, let's take a look at Smith's monthly splits, via his profile on ESPN:
Notice that as the months have passed, Smith has seen a continuous uptick in points per game and a general increase in field goal percentage. Though there's a slight dip from 43% FG to 41.7% FG from January to February, he was still above 40% overall and his 3P% increased, so he can be forgiven. Smith's True Shooting percentage has been affected by his abnormally low free throw percentage this season, but in March, the Knicks' winning-est month of the season, Smith's TS% is up to 58.9%. That's the 17th best TS% in March of guards who play 25 minutes per game or more.
This encouraged me to do some snooping. How much are the Knicks affected by Smith's performances? The idea is a fairly obvious one -- most teams do benefit when a player does well. But Smith's knack for being an X-factor for the Knicks is well known, and when he plays well, it affects the Knicks more than others.
For instance, of the Knicks' top five scorers -- Anthony, Smith, Andrea Bargnani, Stoudemire, and Hardaway Jr., in that order -- Smith has the second highest net rating, behind Anthony only. The same holds true focusing only on Knicks wins. And of those five players, Smith has the highest on-court offensive rating in wins, topping even Anthony.
But herein lies the problem with J.R. Smith: advanced stats (like the "ratings" discussed above) often look at a player's long-term effect on the floor, whereas J.R. Smith is never consistent enough to continuously produce good things on the court. Instead, Smith is better analyzed by his Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde style of play. Bad J.R. Smith -- aka Mr. Pipe -- doesn't help the Knicks very much, but Good J.R. Smith -- aka Dr. Earl -- does indeed help the Knicks.
Smith's scoring production doesn't necessarily impact the outcome of games as much as I would've thought. I went through his game logs and tallied the numbers of wins and losses the Knicks have had when Smith scored 15 or more points and was surprised to see they only had a 12-16 record. Rather, Smith is best analyzed by his efficiency. In games Smith has shot 50% or better from the field, the Knicks are 11-8, which isn't mind-blowing, but a .555 win percentage would put the Knicks in the playoffs right now. In games Smith has shot 40% or better from beyond the arc (with a minimum of four attempts), the Knicks are 16-12.
Smith doesn't shoot these numbers often, but it's indicative of the effect he can have on the team when he does. Check out his splits in wins vs. losses (via his ESPN profile). The numbers are almost identical, except that he's far more efficient in wins:
When Dr. Earl is out to play, he's playing the type of game we all like to see from J.R.. According to Synergy Sports, Smith has three types of offensive plays he goes to most often: a spot-up jumper, an isolation, or acting as the pick-and-roll ball-handler. The latter two don't work in Smith's favor: he averages just .72 and .71 points per possession, respectively, when running those plays, and he shoots just 32.7% and 38.6% from the field, respectively, during those plays. However, when he acts a spot-up shooter, he's highly efficient. He averages 1.14 points per possession when he spots up and he shoots 42.3% from the three-point range on spot-ups.
His better shot selection can be seen in the games' outcomes. According to NBA.com/Stats, of Smith's percentage of made field goals, 53.3% are assisted while 46.% are unassisted. The former suggests more spot-ups while the latter suggests more isolation plays. However, in Knicks wins, Smith's percentage of assisted made field goals jumps to 58.1% while his unassisted made field goals drops to 41.9%. In Knicks losses, those numbers are both around 50%.
Each night, Smith still has his fair share of contested-step-back-jumper-time-to-drink moments. However, as this season has progressed, Smith has actually done his part in trying to play more efficiently. Though the Knicks only have 30 wins on the season, many of those have coincided with a good night from J.R. Smith.