Jason Smith: A Knicksplainer

Photo by Chase Thomas
Photo by Chase Thomas

Yesterday, the Knicks signed former New Orleans Pelicans big man Jason Smith to a one-year, $3.3 million contract using their taxpayer mid-level exception. Smith has long been a useful player, but has battled injuries throughout his career. A knee injury wiped out his 2008-2009 season entirely and he’s played just 122 games over the past three seasons.

Having said that, given the wages some folks are netting, he’s worth taking a flyer on for a year at that price. At the very least, Smith is going to play decent defense and help to protect the rim. The Knicks fatal flaw last season was their inability to stop opposing teams, and he should help there. Offensively, his good mid-range jumper should make him a workable fit in the Triangle Offense.

If I was coaching–and I’m not, obviously–Smith would be the guy I play next to Stoudemire. Unlike Bargnani, Stoudemire does serve a purpose in the Triangle. He’s the only Knick besides Carmelo who can consistently get you a basket in the low-post. But he’s so bad defensively that he needs to play alongside a center who can compensate for at least some of his deficiencies.

Enter Smith.┬áHe isn’t amazing on defense, but he’s solid enough. And he’s an okay enough defensive rebounder to where teams wouldn’t consistently be getting put-backs on account of Stoudemire’s lapses. Offensively, I really like the fit with them playing together. One of the hallmarks of the Triangle is how it creates high percentage looks off double-teams. For all his faults, Stoudemire is a strong post player who will probably draw an extra defender in certain situations.

Assuming he’s willing to pass out of it —and after last season, that might be a big assumption–Smith fits in nicely as his front court mate who can hit mid-range jumpers off the catch at a relatively high percentage. Of course, it’d be more useful to have a big who would be able to space out at the three point line, but that isn’t the kind of offense the Knicks are going to be running.

Smith should compete for a rotation spot right away. Because the Knicks will be using an offense that historically has featured two big men, there may be minutes for Smith at power forward. His aforementioned mid-range prowess will allow him to play with guys like Cole Aldrich or Sam Dalembert and still maintain workable spacing on offense. His versatility to play both spots probably alleviates any need for Andrea Bargnani to step on the court.

Phil Jackson’s offseason has been a good one, I’d say. His hands have been tied in terms of what he can do, but he’s still found ways to add pieces that fit the scheme he wants Derek Fisher to implement. Smith definitely works in that regard and having him on a one-year deal protects the Knicks in the event that he gets injured again.

There has been speculation about the Knicks maybe pursuing Shawn Marion, but with Cleanthony Early playing well in summer league and poised to grab a rotation spot, it probably makes more sense to shore up the front court. They could’ve done a lot worse with the taxpayer mid-level than Smith. He’s a useful two-way player, which is exactly what the Knicks need right now.

Competency. This is weird. Going to take a while to get used to it, amirite?

Pelton Rates Free Agent Destinations

Over at Basketball Prospectus, Kevin Pelton looks at potential landing spots for free agents in the summer of Lebron. It’s definitely worth a read, but here’s the money quote:

So what did the Knicks lose to get the room to sign two players? Jordan Hill’s three-year projection is for 10.6 WARP; he’s not Brandon Jennings or Ty Lawson, but he does figure to become a useful player. The way I valued the 2011 swap, it cost New York 0.4 WARP, and the 2012 pick only cost them 0.7 WARP. The difference is enough to drop the Knicks below Miami in this analysis, and it stands the potential to be a disastrous trade if the 2011 and 2012 picks are in the lottery, but if New York is successful in free agency it will barely miss them at all.

Based on talent, cap space, and draft picks, NY looks like a middle-of-the-pack destination for marquee free agents. We have cap space aplenty, but are likely to have a woefully thin roster going forward. That’s hardly a bombshell for Knickerblogger regulars, but the details make for an insightful read. So check it out.

Pelton’s analysis raises a couple of interesting questions for Knick fans.

1. Will Knick fans support a non-LeBron rebuild?

What if unassailable intelligence–I’m talking Peter Vescey-level sources here–confirmed that Walshtoni knew all along that LeBron would never leave CLE? LeBron was always a myth intended to make cap management easier to swallow. The real plan A has always been, let’s say, Nash, Lee (or Boozer), and Dalembert at reasonable prices. Would Knick fans riot? Either way, it’s possible that the wisest play for Donnie Hoops is a combo of second-tier free agents (at second-tier prices), trades, and low-cost picks rather going for LeBron, Bosh/Johnson, and eight D-Leaguers.

2. What subjective factors will play the biggest role in free agent movement this summer?

Pelton’s analysis looks at talent, cap space, and draft picks. He (wisely) stays away from subjective factors. Yet, we know those can “tip the scales” at times. (Who thought Turkoglu would go to Toronto?) Even with LeBron, Walsh must still find talent at a discount (or at least without a premium). But how?

Coach D’Antoni – All else equal, he’s probably NYs biggest intangible asset. That’s not without caveats though. If I’m guaranteed 1-7 in the rotation, I prefer D’Antoni to Spoelstra, Del Negro, or [insert new NJ or LAC coach] for the same money. If I’m the 8th/9th guy in the rotation, maybe I’d rather play for the minimum somewhere else since I might never see the light of day. (D’Antoni’s a pair of glasses away from being a Larry Brown-level diva.)

Unsettled rotation – Although portrayed as a weakness, I see this as an asset in the market. No starting spot is guaranteed. Add in D’Antoni’s penchant for unorthodox lineups, and NY can look solely at talent regardless of position. That’s a flexibility few other teams will have.

The brand – It is easy for New Yorkers to overstate people’s desire to live, work, and play in the city. However, many commentators oddly dismiss the strength of the “Knicks” brand outright. When companies rank the world’s best brands they’re essentially looking at a brand’s marginal ability to attract resources. Some brands are better than others, even after prolonged underperformance. Take Alabama football. Five years ago Bama was losing at Hawai’i. Now, Alabama is football royalty again and in on every top recruit. It doesn’t take as much to revive some brands as others.