J.R. Smith began the 2013-14 season on the New York Knicks' bench. Smith missed training camp and the first five games of the season recovering from knee surgery, then serving a suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy. When he returned, he looked rusty to say the least, and while he got better each month of the season, there were plenty of twists, turns, bumps, hills, slopes, plateaus, valleys, and gorges along the way.
By Jonathan, AKA Stingy D
How can you ever know what to expect from JR Smith? I asked myself just short of four jillion times, and came up with: good grief, I got no i-freaking-clue. Certainly it will end up being respectable, if a bit wild. Right!? After BASE jumping out of the playoffs we signed the reigning Sixth Man of the Year to a max-allowable two year deal (player option for the third, naturally). He proceeded to immediately undergo knee surgery to fix a lateral meniscus AND a patella tendon. WTF, breh? After that he went out and got john-blazed, and bone-thugged Rihanna, blazed again and rounded things out by getting his Lil' Bro a hilariously undeserved roster spot, so they could blaze together.
Ultimately I felt a little gun shy about what JR was gonna do this season, but I was still packing heat. We'd all expected a slow roll out of the gate, given the surgery and suspension. Of course he had his naysayers, but he proved that he could stick to the script and fill his role adequately, if not exceptionally, in 2012-13. He certainly seemed to respect Coach Woody, and seemed poised (ha) to remain a key cog in the wheel. All told, we figured to certainly have a solid enough rotation player, who will actually win us a couple games. He'll have his occasional bouts of petulance, but he's got chops and stones, if not brains or heart.
What J.R. Smith Did Well
As mentioned, J.R. Smith got better each month of the season. Coming off off-season knee surgery and a five-game suspension, Smith rang in the season with a combined 44.9 TS% over November and December. But as the calendar turned to the new year, Smith brought his FG% over 41.5% or higher each month and his 3P% over 39%. By March and April, J.R. vaguely resembled his 2012-13 form in which he was a fairly reliable spot-up shooter and a force driving to the rim and setting up teammates. According to Synergy, Smith shot 42.6% from deep on spot-up jumpers, averaging 1.17 ppp, 29th best in the league. And, to J.R.'s credit, spot-up shooting was his most frequent type of play on offense, even beating out his beloved isolations.
As is his wont, Smith's aggressiveness in all things "not shooting" -- rebounding, passing, defending -- came and went. But, at his best, Smith was a solid rebounder on the wings -- he averaged 4 boards per game -- and a crafty ball-handler in the pick-and-roll (3 dimes per game). According to Basketball-Reference, Smith only totaled a 111 defensive rating, but when engaged, he did a passable job sticking to his man, which was a stand-out accomplishment on a team rife with defensive collapses.
Unfortunately for the J.R. and the Knicks, his best stretch came in April, in which he averaged 23.4 points, 49.6% FG, 46.3% 3P, and 4.4 rebounds per outing, his TS% rising to 66.6% (THE DEVIL!). By this point, however, the Knicks were hardly in the playoff race, and J.R.'s production was going to waste.
What J.R. Smith Didn't Do Well
It's been well established that J.R. Smith is not the most complete player in the NBA, to put it mildly. However, here are a few things that stood out for our beloved Earl in a bad way this past season. (All of the following data comes from Synergy.)
J.R. ran isolations on 20.4% of his plays, behind only spot-ups as his most favored play this season. Unsurprisingly, those isolations were not very fruitful. J.R.'s 0.72 points per possession (PPP) on isolations ranked 162nd in the NBA. He also shot 32.8% from the field on such plays, including a paltry 21.2% from behind the arc. However, if J.R. was bad on isolation plays, he was downright awful in transition, where his 1.03 PPP ranked 218th in the association. He also drew shooting fouls on only 6.4% of his transition chances, which is actually less than the 7.9% of isolation plays on which he drew shooting fouls. The good news is that Smith's PPP both on isolations and in transition were his worst in the last five seasons and were likely depressed by his terrible start to the 2013-14 season. Hopefully a rededicated J.R. Smith can turn it around next season and make this year's isolation and transition numbers seem like a bad dream.
To choose one moment as JR's most memorable is to miss the forest for the trees. The man appears to always be in the middle of some inexplicable drama. There's a reason for that. JR Smith is from the future, an evolved spacetime where any and all events affecting any and all consciousness are perceived simultaneously by all, a world without mystery, without chance.
We see this in the NBA today. "Instant" replay lets us kill the flow of the flowiest game and spend 5 minutes ensuring there's 3.1 seconds left in the half rather than 2.9. The Heat will win because Lebron's the best. The Spurs will win 50+ games until 2020 because Duncan/Parker/Ginobili will be the first Big Three to continue playing at a high level after passing the Big Four-O. The Knicks will fail to seriously contend for any sustainable length of time because Dolan. Deron Williams will have ankle problems. Paul George will have woman problems. Same as it ever was. C'est la vie.
Randomness is endangered, if not extinct. Everything happens for a reason. JR is here to remind us of the glorious limitlessness of life's bounty once the sterility of reason is renounced.
Last June, three weeks after receiving a $17M extension from the Knicks, he took advantage of an option in NBA contracts and received more than half the total value of the deal in one lump sum ($8.974M). Three weeks later, he bought a $450,000 Gurkha and cruised the Meatpacking District. And why? According to his Twitter, "Im at #War with all #HATERS." Smith later denied owning the vehicle. Probably so the Haters will think the war is over. The war is never over.
That wasn't even JR's most memorable Twitter moment. His rules regarding women (including "9x of 10 I don't want her anyway! Why her when I can have my pick of the litter! #ThinkAboutIt.") belong in the historical canon with the Magna Carta and Martin Luther's 95 Theses. He threatened to get his "street homies" to "put #Detroit on smash" after Brandon Jennings pointed out what humanity had long suspected: that Chris Smith, JR's little brother, had no business on an NBA team. The Knicks gave Chris a $490,000 guaranteed contract, or the price of a Gurkha and a night's worth of parking tickets and towing costs in the Meatpacking District. When the Knicks finally cut Chris Smith, JR Instagrammed "You know the sad thing about betrayal? It never comes from an enemy." At least he still considered the Knicks not his enemy. In a Happy Gilmorish twist at the last Players Championship, the PGA had JR run their Twitter game during the tournament.
Smith looking sub-par the first few months of the season was not surprising, given a career of consistent inconsistencies and that he was recovering from off-season knee surgery. His athleticism was obviously off-key. Sometime in January, though, that sweet-as-Jewish-wine game of his started singing again. JR was feeling good, so JR was playing good. When all is well, JR is free to be JR. When JR is JRing, he wants the world to dance with him. Can't dance with your shoes on, world.
JR Smith is Kevin Bacon in Footloose, trying to bring some shine to a weary world. The rest of us have a choice to make. Do we drop our eyes from the unmistakable joy and randomness of JR Smith? Do we point fingers at a man who goes 10 for 22 on three-pointers in a single, critical game-taking 10 in the fourth quarter alone-and condemn him for not "playing the right way"? Or do we thank the stars for He Who Is At War With All Haters, for reminding us that every moment should be lived, experienced, and valued as memorable?
The Knicks’ future with JR Smith remains a bit cloudy. Assuming JR opts into the final year of his contract, he’ll be due $12,382,125 over the next two seasons. That’s palatable for a player of JR’s ability, but his destiny is tough to ascertain without a coaching staff in place. Mike Woodson believed in JR’s ability to help the team win games, and Earl rode that faith to a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2013. Will NY’s next head coach be as willing to build a connection with the notoriously tough-to-reach wing?
I think JR stays with the Knicks for the duration of his contract. While his deal bites into the cap room for the heralded ‘15 free agent class, it’s difficult to imagine the Knicks finding a suitor willing to give up an attractive expiring contract for JR. Smith’s own contract includes a 15% trade kicker, so whoever trades for him will have to be willing to accept a salary jump. I’m also not certain anyone on the roster loves being a Knick more than he does. Between his close friends on the roster and his love for the city of New York, Smith has a lot going for him in orange and blue.
Same, my man.
Smith remained a polarizing figure in his tenth season in the NBA. At his worst, he was defensive sieve and unconscious chucker, hurting the team with careless play and on-court antics (see: shoe untying). However, he did improve as the season went on, and his play was strong towards the end of the year, even though the Knicks' playoff hopes were fading, which cannot be pinned solely on one player.
In the end, J.R. finished the year averaging 14.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game on 39% shooting from three-point territory -- not bad. But how much can we applaud a guy who had a -1.0 net rating on the floor?
A big ole average C for J.R. Smith.