J.R. Smith is an enigma. He's an absolute character who New York Knicks fans love on and off the court but often get frustrated with because of his borderline immaturity and tendency to take too many shots. However, he's one of the most explosive players in the entire NBA. He has the ability to single-handedly lead his team to victory and has unlimited range. Despite being known as a top level offensive player Smith has only started 130 of the 538 regular season games in his career. Smith believes it's time for that to change and is now hoping to be named the Knicks starting shooting guard.
J.R. Smith has averaged 12.5 points, 0.2 blocks, 1.0 steals, 2.0 assists and 2.9 rebounds over 24.2 minutes per game over his eight year career in the NBA. Despite his scoring ability and high energy effort Smith has only started 24% of his games in the NBA. Smith's downfall is that he's such a streaky player. When he's hot opponents are in huge trouble because he can score points in bunches. On the other side, when he's cold he's very cold and his short memory doesn't prevent him from continuing to launch shots when the ball is in his hands.
When Smith signed with the Knicks following his stint in China, the team established his role as sixth man and scorer off the bench. It took time for him to adjust despite having virtually the same role he had thrived in as a Denver Nugget. Eventually Smith settled in and fans started to look at him as one of the top players on the roster despite coming off the bench.
After re-signing with the Knicks this off-season rumors claimed the Knicks had promised Smith a starting role with the team and even showed his importance to the franchise by giving his brother Chris a shot to make the squad as well. However, entering the 2012-13 season, Smith is finding himself in the same frustrating position of being overlooked for the starting job.
He thought this was his time. He believed the coaching staff would finally give him the nod. With Iman Shumpert out with an injury, Smith should have been written into the starting five immediately right? After all, his the only competition is Ronnie Brewer. Even still, Smith will be kept in his role off the bench.
According to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com, Smith would have prefers a role in the starting five instead of coming off the bench.
"I would prefer to start. I would rather be a starter," he said. "My goal was to come in here and be a starter, and play with those other four guys on the floor. It is frustrating after a while that people see me as a sixth man, sixth man, sixth man, when you believe you're a starter. But at the same time, you have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside."
Entering previous seasons, Smith knew he'd be the sixth man. This year was suppose to be different. With Shumpert out, the starting gig is between Smith and Brewer. However, Mike Woodson hasn't decided who will be the starting shooting guard yet.
Brewer is a better defender but is a guy who scores off movement and offensive rebounds instead of creating with the ball in his hands. Smith is a very talented offensive player who can catch and shoot as well as create his own shot off of the dribble. He's also an underrated defender who improved in that area under Woodson's watch.
The Knicks would benefit by having a shooter like Smith in the starting five. He'd give them the ability to capitalize more on penetration and kick-outs. When either Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire drive to the rim or draw double teams in the post, Smith would be lethal from beyond the arc.
You'd think that with the benefits Smith brings to the court, and the fact that Brewer had to have minor knee surgery after signing with the Knicks late this off-season, he'd already be named the starting shooting guard. However, despite wanting to be the starter Smith knows there are more important things than starting the game.
"Finishing a game is way more important than starting a game," he said. "When you're in there with the final ticks of the clock, you know the coach has trust in you and believes in you."
Smith realizes how much the Knicks value him even if he doesn't get he opportunity to start. He is loved by the fan base and enjoys living the city life. He also has a special relationship with coach Woodson. All of that combined with the fact that the Knicks have created a very deep and talented roster was the reason Smith agreed to return to the Knicks this off-season despite receiving higher offers to play elsewhere.
"I wanted to show that it's not all about the money; it's more about winning," he said. "I've been in this league going on eight years now and I haven't won anything, along with Melo, Amar'e and all of us. I think it's sacrifices off the court, as well as on the court, that have to be taken personally."
Defense could be the key determination on who starts. While Brewer is not the scorer Smith is a wonderful defender. Brewer was an elite defender with the Chicago Bulls and with a Woodson is just as much of a defensive minded coach as Tom Thibodeau is. That could give Brewer the edge over Smith. Smith will have to show Woodson that he's continued his growth on the defensive end and has become more than a scorer.
Starter or sixth man, Smith is sounding like a much more mature player than he was in the past. Perhaps his experience of playing in China during the lockout and learning under coach Woodson has made him a more accountable and responsible player and person.
That alone seems like even more reason why he is ready for the starting role. However, if it doesn't happen it doesn't happen. Smith being named a starter or not for opening night won't make or break the Knicks season. The truth is, starters are only the guys who stand on the court during tip off. If fans want to see who the valued players on any roster are all they have to do is watch the last several minutes of the fourth quarter of a game. That's when the coach closes his rotation and only plays his go-to guys. Make no mistake, Smith is one of the Knicks go-to guys.