Remember when the New York Knicks started the season with a 21-9 record? Well that team is long gone.
It’s always very interesting to see when the mighty fall from the top of the power rankings in the NBA because there’s an increase in intrigue to see the underdog win for once. That being said, the Knicks are running out of options offensively.
The Knicks are the oldest team in the history of the NBA at 32 years and 240 days old. With brittle bones and old age, injuries are a major breakdown for New York in the second half of the season.
Amar’e Stoudemire is expected to miss six weeks after he undergoes right knee surgery. Carmelo Anthony had fluid drained from his right knee Thursday in New York and didn’t play Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers, which led to a 93-83 loss, or last night in Utah. Tyson Chandler, who suffered a bruised left knee Wednesday, is also day-to-day. The big man also now needs a MRI on his stiff neck. He hasn’t played since a blowout loss in Denver last week.
But there is a silver lining that could save the Knicks season: J.R. Smith.
Even though Smith’s attitude suggests that he could do it alone, he realizes he can’t. It seems for the first time this season, he believes that the Knicks, if they play like a team, can still make a splash in the Eastern Conference.
“We can’t turn the ball over and give up layups,” Smith said to USA Today Sports last Thursday after losing by 15 in Portland. “If we play like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”
It is obvious that Smith will have to shoulder a majority of the offensive load for one of the league’s best offensive teams, but the team can only be successful if he is more efficient from the floor.
Smith is the best bet for the Knicks as they face the bevy of injuries that plagues the roster. In March, Smith is averaging 19.8 points, 3.2 assists, 5.7 rebounds per game yet is shooting just under 39 percent from the floor. Due to his proliferation of play, all of these numbers have steadily increased.
Statistically, Smith is likely to have the best season of his career and the best season he’s had as a Knick. He’s seeing career-highs in points (16.8), assists (2.8), rebounds (5.0), and field goals made (6.1) and attempted (15.3) this season.
The more enthralling part about his great season is that it isn’t simply because of the injuries. Smith is also experiencing a career-high in minutes played per game at 33.2, and even with the vulnerability of the club he still hasn’t started a single game this season. J.R. is being J.R. and the craziest part is that he’s doing it all from the bench. In 603 career games, he’s only started 130.
For a guy that was close to his first All-Star appearance this season, and is in the argument for Sixth Man of the Year, Smith should be ready to take the load for this team. Even though his offense speaks to his ability to run a roster, he’s also at times sported a questionable attitude.
From jaunty jests of joviality that are often mistaken as arrogance to an indifferent insistence about league philosophies, it’s become apparent that Smith just does what he wants. To the casual fan, it’s exciting to see a player that doesn’t care for regulations or the desires of other players. To the front office it becomes a nagging liability.
Aside from being a more efficient basketball player and not being the frontrunner for “Gunner of the Year,” there has to be a certain level of humility from a team leader, and for Smith in this case. Professional athletes are some of the most headstrong people in the world but there has to be a point when it becomes controlled. Smith has not inherited that trait yet.
Although he’s exactly what the Knickerbockers need in terms of a scorer with the absence of Anthony, they also need another leader in the locker room. They need someone to control the media. They need a new-improved J.R. The chances of that truly happening this season may be slim for the 2004 first round selection, but it is worth a shot for however long the Knicks will be held back by injuries.
If Smith continues his augmented level of play, he may solidify his chances as the best sixth man in basketball. That is, however, a very big “if.”
Smith has played arguably his best basketball of the season while his teammates have been out. He’s already had 10 games this season where he’s scored more than 25 points for the Knicks; it would be a good bet to assume he’s still got plenty of fire left in his tank.
His new R&B anthem (performed by Milford Jerome) is already out. No doubt the world tour is coming next.
Has Smith reached his apex as a player?
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