According to various reports, the Knicks have acquired former Nuggets and Hornets swingman J.R Smith. It is believed that Smith will sign for a pro-rated amount of the mini mid-level exception, which is 2.5 million dollars.
Smith has spent the season playing for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in the Chinese Basketball Association. Smith averaged 34.2 points in 32 games for the Golden Bulls. He was one of the few NBA players, along with former Knick Wilson Chandler, that went to China to play during the NBA lockout. Unlike NBA players that played in other countries, players that signed in China were unable to come back to the NBA until their seasons were over in China.
Much has been made about Smith’s behavioral issues that have surfaced throughout his professional career. In spite of those issues, which are legitimate reasons to be concerned about, I think the Smith signing will work out for the Knicks. I think the motivation for playing for a long-term contract will provide Smith with an added incentive to behave while he is a New York Knick.
The addition of Smith will benefit the Knicks in a myriad of ways.
First, the Knicks will get much needed help from behind the 3-point line. Currently, the Knicks are 26th in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (.303). What makes that percentage more alarming is the fact that the Knicks are 3rd in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game (22.5). Adding Smith, a career .370 shooter from 3, will bolster a glaring weakness for this Knicks team. With the presence of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, along with the emergence of Jeremy Lin, there will be plenty of opportunities for Smith to show his aptitude for knocking down three-point shots.
Secondly, the acquisition of Smith provides Coach D’Antoni with more flexibility with his lineups. Due to the various injuries and ineffectiveness of certain players in the rotation, D’Antoni has been somewhat constrained in the variation of lineups that he could put on the floor. With the addition of Smith, it is possible that we might see more opportunities where Anthony gets time at the power forward spot, while Stoudemire plays at the center spot. Acquiring Smith will also allow for Landry Fields to get more time at his more natural position, small forward. This added depth is a necessity in this lockout-shortened season, as many teams, including the Knicks have had to deal with various injuries throughout the season thus far. The more options D’Antoni has available to him, the more lineups he will be able to put out on the court to maximize production and keep players fresh for the playoffs.
J.R. Smith will bolster a bench that has struggled to produce offensively throughout this season. Currently, the Knicks’ bench is producing 26.1 points per game on .399 shooting from the field and .324 shooting from 3-point range. Last season, Smith was 6th in Player Efficiency Rating for all bench players (16.4). That number is higher than all of the Knick guards this season excluding Jeremy Lin (24.2). His ability to create offense is a valuable asset to a team that has struggled to score at various points throughout the season. In an ideal world, the Knicks would look for Smith to contribute 20-25 minutes a game off the bench, and to hit the open 3′s that the Knick guards have been missing all season long. The addition of J.R. Smith will mean less minutes for Bill Walker, and most likely Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert.
While Smith is known almost exclusively for his offensive exploits, J.R. has improved considerably in other facets of the game. Last season, Smith finished 4th in all guards in Total Rebounding Percentage (9.4%), and was tied for 16th in Defensive Rating amongst guards (106).
This move is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the Knicks. If Smith produces, it will provide the Knicks with much needed depth. If he becomes a distraction to the team, the team can simply waive him with no future ramifications on the salary cap.
In order to sign Smith, the Knicks will be forced to cut one of the players currently on the roster. The most likely candidates are either guard Mike Bibby or forward Renardo Balkman. While Balkman would be the obvious choice, releasing Balkman would put the Knicks on the hook for the rest of Balkman’s salary this season, along with next season.
Now, all that’s left is for Baron Davis to get healthy!