J.R. Smith Is No Ying To Carmelo’s Championship Yang

New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith
New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith
May 18 2013 Indianapolis IN USA New York Knicks guard JR Smith 8 reacts to losing to the Indiana Pacers in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Indiana defeats New York 106 99 Brian Spurlock USA TODAY Sports

Prior to last season, the New York Knicks hadn’t won the Atlantic Division title since 1994. Pat Riley was their coach then and not yet a LeBron-wielding mastermind with the fashion grace of a Wall Street Sith. The times were very different but it looked like New York might be back to its winning ways.

Except looks, like the health of J.R. Smith’s knees, can be deceiving.

The 2012-13 Knicks, though the league’s oldest team on the record books, were built for the age of instant gratification. They were meant to win last year and no more. Hall of Famer Earl Monroe said as much: “This team wasn’t built to be winning a championship for next year. Not when you’re getting guys 38, 39, 40 years old. This is for this year.”

That’s why folk are predicting the team will fall from grace to somewhere in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. And it’s why losing against the Indiana Pacers in the second round was such a morale poison.

Worse still: keeping Carmelo Anthony from chasing warmer waters, like his contemporary LeBron James, depends too much on the emotional whirlwind that is J.R. Smith. Perhaps it worked for Dennis Rodman when he had Jordan, Pippen, and Jackson keeping him in check. But no one, not even the stern-faced Mike Woodson, seems to be able to get through to the fiery shooting guard. Perhaps enough to get him to dedicate himself during the regular season ― as winning the 6th Man of the Year award proved―but not enough to be the ying to Anthony’s yang.

The NBA jury says that Knicks management had no idea Smith needed off-season knee surgery. And this after Smith had signed a four-year deal. Recovery time has the Knick’s No.2 scoring option missing at least the first two weeks of the season along with all of training camp. Now management has revealed that they’re imposing their own playing sanction on Smith who suspended the terms of the NBA’s anti-drug policy.

Not good news for the Knicks, and not good news for Carmelo Anthony’s confidence in either moving part.

Anthony himself has a very flawed game but it certainly isn’t helped by having another high-volume, streaky shooter who is too inefficient for his own salary base playing alongside him. Both play at a near-identical PACE (J.R. Smith is at 92.07; Carmelo Anthony is at 92.00) which gets put to shame by even notorious stoppers of play like Dwight Howard.

For such a high usage rate (35.3%), Anthony also has a subpar in-game impact of a 15.1% Player Impact Estimate (PIE). Josh Smith, another inefficient forward, for example, has a usage rate of 26.6% (almost ten percent less) but impacts the game at 12.3% PIE.

Smith isn’t as bad on this end but his numbers also reveal that he’s a bit too rough around the edges. He has a usage rate (26.4%) that is almost as high as that of James Harden (28.9%) but has a smaller impact on the court than Harden, obviously (11.9% to 14.9%), and doesn’t do much better than fellow bench stalwart Jarrett Jack who is used up less (21.1%) but has about the same PIE (11.8%).

Carmelo knows that his championship window is closing. And the complete disregard to professionalism displayed by J.R. Smith, along with their on court, crippling similarities, might be too much to keep the aging star in New York.

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Bogar Alonso
Bogar Alonso is a dedicated student of the hardwood, soccer pitch, boxing ring, and tennis court. He is a regular NBA contributor to XN Sports. His work, involving more than just sports, has appeared on The Creators Project, A&E Networks, XXL Magazine, and others. Follow Bogar on Twitter @blacktiles