What is J.R. Smith’s Value To The New York Knicks?


J.R. Smith’s signature move, the step-back jumper, is the perfect symbol to his game.  Smith is unpredictable, but when it goes right, he is glorious.

Unabashedly, J.R. is one of my favorite Knicks in a long time.  I appreciate that Smith lets us see who he really is.  In an age when many athletes try to be politically correct, and rightfully so with how media coverage is, #8 doesn’t care.  He tweets out pictures of girls’ butts, fires back at morons who insult him on twitter, smokes blunts in plain sight on a patio, likes playing basketball with kids, and has the time schedule of a vampire.

Even though I don’t personally know Earl, I feel like I do.

Head Coach Mike Woodson has arguably put more trust in the 27 year old than he has obtained at any other point in his career.  J.R. is playing over 30 minutes a game for the first time ever and running the highest percentage of pick and rolls compared to previous seasons, according Synergy Sports (there are seasons in Denver where the % is similar).   Smith has been a key component to the Knicks’ 37-22 start.

Like Eminem in the final battle scene of 8 mile, I am going to lay out everything you could possibly argue against me.   I’ll get this out of the way.

I can’t deny, going by certain statistics, Smith is having one his worst seasons.  J.R. has the worst field goal percentage since his second year,  his win share per 48 minutes is under .100 and TS% and eFG% are at levels not seen since he was a rookie.

The former Nuggets shot chart is unspectacular at best:

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J.R shoots too many mid-ranger jumpers and it takes him 15 shots to get 16 points.  He is at times a ball stopper on offense and loses focus on defense.

The almost North Carolina Tar Heel has taken the 25th most shots in the final five minutes of games that were within five points.  In those situations, he is 17-55 (30.9%) overall and 6-26 (23.1%) from three.   The overall field goal percentage is fifth worst out of anyone in the top 50 in attempts.

Unlike Clarence, I’m not giving up the mic, I’m firing back.

All of the above is true, it’s the reason he is not a true candidate for the Sixth Man of Year award or an elite wing player.  In the context of this Knicks team, the skill set Smith brings is a necessity.

New York lacks shot creators. — Carmelo Anthony is elite, Ray Felton has his moments and Amar’e Stoudemire is proving to be capable of creating his own baskets, but that’s it.

Steve Novak and Tyson Chandler (Chandler does create shots for others in his role in the PnR) might have more shot attempts on the season than dribbles.  I’m kind of joking, but not totally – would love to see the SportVU numbers on this.  Iman Shumpert creating off the dribble is an adventure and not in a positive way.  Jason Kidd is routinely stopped on 1 on 0 fast breaks — I didn’t know this was physically possible.  Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland must have tried to have sex with Woodson’s daughter (always assumed this would have been J.R).  James White, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin???  Yea, that’s not going to work.

That leaves us with Smith as the next guy in line to initiate the offense, plus create for himself and others.  Best case scenario when building a team this isn’t a role Smith has to fill, but he has done an acceptable job for the Knicks.

Having to play with the ball in his hands takes away from the one part of J.R.’s game that is elite, taking open catch & shoot jumpers.  According to Synergy, when Smith is unguarded he shoots 48.1% with an aFG% of  67.2%.   That is good for 1.344 points per possession.  If you leave J.R. open, you will pay.  This creates spacing the Knicks don’t receive from anyone on the team besides Novak and Melo.

Take a look at the shot locations of Anthony when he plays with Smith verses when he doesn’t:

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Melo transfers about 9% of his shots from mid range to restricted area when Smith is on the court.  The pattern continues with Ray Felton: Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 1.14.49 PM

Felton transfers about 6% of his mid-range shots to the restricted area when Smith is on the court.  The percentage drops, but I would attribute that to the Bulldog lacking Air Bud’s grace around the rim.

When you dive into Smith’s on/off court numbers this season New York is slightly worse offensively.  In February, when the three point shooting completely died, the Knicks offensive rating was 13 points better when J.R. was playing.  His individual on/off offensive numbers look worse because of the insane November of the Felton, Kidd, Brewer, Melo and Tyson group.   The DRtg is just under four points better with Smith on the court for the season.  He is a net positive 1.9.

Smith having a positive net isn’t a one year thing.  For his career J.R. is a net +2.2 and that number includes his rookie year when he was a -6.9 and second year, which was a -4.7.  That is 14,938 minutes played verses 18,756 minutes sat and his teams were better with him participating.

Is J.R. Smith flawed?  Absolutely.

Does J.R. deserve criticism at times? 100%

Are the Knicks a better team with J.R. playing? I don’t believe it can be truly argued against.