After re-signing Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks needed more depth up front, and Jason Smith provides that. At 7'0", 240 lb. he can easily slide in and give the Knicks frontcourt minutes.
Through six years in the NBA, Smith's basic stats are pretty unimpressive: 16.7 minutes, 6 points, 47.2% FG, 3.5 rebounds. 0.7 blocks per game. He's also been fairly injury prone and bench-bound for most of his career, with just two seasons in which he played more than 60 games. This past season with New Orleans, Smith started 27 of his 31 games, averaging 9.7 points, 46.5% FG, 5.8 rebounds, and .9 blocks per game in 26.8 minutes, before losing the season to knee surgery to repair loose cartilage.
Part of what makes Smith intriguing is he's unlike the Knicks' other two center prospects, Samuel Dalembert and Cole Aldrich. While those two are defensive-minded, glass-cleaning fellows, Smith is more offense-oriented and less of a rebounding, shot-blocking hound.
Since their careers and average playing times greatly differ, here's a look at Dalembert, Aldrich, and Smith's career per-36 minutes stats:
Notice that Dalembert and Aldrich are pretty similar in every category, while Smith is certainly the outlier. He shoots more often -- at a lesser percentage -- and averages more points, but fewer rebounds, blocks, and turnovers.
And it's Smith's offensive game that sticks out and may earn him rotation minutes. While shooting below 50% is never a good mark for a seven-footer, Smith hardly ever shoots from the typical spots of big men. This past season with New Orleans, Smith was even more perimeter oriented than before. His percentage of shot attempts from 0-3 feet was just 17%, the lowest of his career, while his percentage of attempts from 16 feet to the three-point line was a career-high 61.3%. It paid off as Smith shot 47.4% from 16-3pt, the second-best mark of his career. According to NBA.com/Stats, Smith was third in percentage among centers who took at least 100 shots from 16-24 feet, behind only Al Horford and Chris Bosh.
To learn and confirm Smith's offensive habits, I talked to Rohan, editor of The Bird Writes:
SD: The last four seasons, Smith has taken a majority of his shots from 16 feet to the 3-point line (according to Basketball Reference) and hit them at a solid clip (46% over 4 years). Are the pick-and-pop and mid-range jumper his bread and butter, or was that just his role within the Hornets/Pelicans' offense?R: The mid-range jumper probably is Smith's only plus NBA-level offensive skill. It obviously wouldn't be a great idea to have it be a go-to play, but it's a great option late in the shot clock and on broken possessions. Smith has good hands on the pick and pop as well, which somewhat mitigates the fact that he absolutely can't put it back down on the floor again if he's closed out effectively. I wouldn't at all be surprised if he could add a similar, related play to his arsenal -- something like a quick back down and fadeaway against smaller defenders -- but his lack of dribbling ability probably curtails any significant potential for offensive growth here.SD: Additionally, he doesn't do a lot of scoring around the rim. Obviously, the low post is part of the Triangle offense. Do you believe Smith can function down there or will he struggle if he's not utilizing his jumper?R: He's not the strongest player with his back to the basket, so I'm not sure he'd be a great fit for the central pivot of the triangle obviously. I do think that with his floor stretching ability though, he could play the role of the weak-side forward depending on exactly how Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson are planning on deploying it with this incarnation of the Knicks.
Take this video (please excuse the quality) as an example of Smith's prowess shooting jumpers. It's not quite a Triangle play, but it has many similar qualities.
Smith begins the play in the high post as Anthony Davis occupies the opposite high post. Jrue Holiday dumps the ball into Davis, then cuts to the wing, faking a hand-off. On the opposite end, Smith sets a screen for Al-Farouq Aminu who cuts down the lane, looking for a pass from Davis. When that option is denied, Davis dribbles over to Smith, sets a screen and gives him a hand-off, opening up a nice 18-foot jumper for Smith.
As seen, the post action, cuts, and hand-offs all resemble something that would be run in the Triangle, and it's feasible that Smith could function in the Knicks' offense in a similar way.
Here's an example of a more typical way Smith earned his points. Just a simple pick-and-pop.
But if you're unimpressed by scoring against the vaunted defensive combo of Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, here's another example -- again, just simple pick-and-pop action -- against a more reputable defense.
The video isn't the most exciting, but this is more or less Smith's offensive game. As our friend Rohan told us, Smith isn't great in the low post, and he can't really put the ball on the floor. If the midrange jumper is open, though, Smith is taking it. Check out his shot chart this past year in New Orleans:
That's 173 shots in that outer midrange region to 109 in the other, closer distances. His percentages aren't bad, either -- 50.7% in those outer distances. Midrange jumpers and deep twos aren't exactly the favorite shots of modern offenses, but in the Triangle, Smith's ability to can those looks could be helpful. Whether he's acting as a center or power forward next to guys like Dalembert or Aldrich, Smith can space the floor, stretch a defense, and potentially open up other looks on the perimeter or inside.
However, don't expect Jason Smith to be launching from beyond the three-point line much. His attempts from downtown were in single-digits his whole tenure in New Orleans, and last year he didn't even take a shot from beyond the arc. Similarly, as previously mentioned, he's not the type to hang around the basket much. In New Orleans only about a fifth (21%, to be exact) of Smith's shots came from that 0-3 feet. His 56% mark around the rim this past season did not rank him high amongst other centers. (NBA.com/Stats lists shot distances from 0-5 feet instead of 0-3 feet, making Smith's FG% drop even lower to meager 50%. Only nine centers in the league finished with a lesser accuracy.)
Nonetheless, Smith brings a different dimension at center than anything else the Knicks have on their roster. Though he's not the prototypical big man, and he probably won't defend or rebound like Sam Dalembert or Cole Aldrich can, his skill set can still be useful. His accuracy from the midrange is not unlike Andrea Bargnani's (another candidate to get minutes at center this season), except Smith is still a better rebounder and overall defender. If he can space the floor, hitting jumpers from the high-post or in pick-and-pops, he figures to be a useful piece on a team with a lot of good shooters.