New York has Carmelo Anthony, the biggest star on the team. It has Amar’e Stoudemire, a star in his own right, yet one who is on a quest for redemption. It has Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. It has Raymond Felton, the point guard who’s replacing Jeremy Lin and seeking some redemption of his own. There’s also the injured Iman Shumpert and Corey Brewer, the sharp-shooting Steve Novak and aging veterans Marcus Camby and Jason Kidd to consider.
Then there’s J.R. Smith, the potential key to turning this mess of talent into a bona fide contender. Because as many moves as the Knicks made this offseason, and as confident as they may be, they’re not legitimate contenders, not until they prove they can compete with the NBA’s best on a consistent basis.
While such a task comes down to plenty of factors–such as the chemistry between Anthony and Stoudemire,the ability for New York’s aging athletes to remain healthy, etc.—Smith is a huge, if not the most important, cog in this machine.
Because contending for a title takes depth, the ability for a team to carry on without its stars. And that depth begins with the sixth man.
Yet Smith isn’t exactly content with his role coming off the bench. He wants to start, and he’s let everyone from his coach to the media to the guy who boils hot dogs outside of Penn Station know it.
From Al Iannazzone of Newsday:
J.R. Smith had it in his mind that he would be the Knicks’nstarting shooting guard this season. So Mike Woodson ‘s decision that Smith would remain a sixth man didn’t go over well.
“I think disappointed is an understatement,” Smith said after practice yesterday. “My whole process of getting better this summer and everything I went through was to be in that starting role. It was great to be able to have put all that work in and understand what I can do and my body can withhold without starting. I think it just makes our bench even stronger.”
It’s clear Smith seeks the prominency that comes along with the starting job, but despite the fact that he was hoping to compete for it to begin with, does he really think Shumpert wouldn’t have been inserted back in when he returns from injury? Because regardless of who’s starting at the two-guard spot for the Knicks, he will be.
And does Smith really just want to warm a seat for someone else? Especially when, if he puts his mind to it, he can become a Sixth Man of the Year candidate?
For the Knicks sake, Smith needs to put aside the disappointment about his usage. And for their sake, he needs to have more games like he did in New York’s preseason opener. Smith scored 20 points on eight of 11 shooting, dished out six assists, grabbed four rebounds and one crafty steal in New York’s 108-101 victory over Washington.
Now, clearly the regular season will be tougher, but here we see Smith’s true ceiling, which he has failed to reach during his previous eight season in the league. If he can become a consistent scorer, facilitator and dependable defender, there isn’t a sixth man in the league who would provide a stronger spark.
And that’s what the Knicks need. They need some two-way firepower off the bench. Camby, Kidd and Novak are all solid options, but each is one-dimensional in their own right. Smith, though? He can do everything, when he sets his mind to it.
Which is why New York must hope he continues to remain focused, because of the potential two-way, game-changing impact he stands to have. As head coach Mike Woodson told Frank Isola New York Daily News with regards to his decision to keep Smith as the team’s sixth man, “Hopefully, that parlays into a lot of wins and getting us to a championship round because at the end of the day that’s what we’re in it for.”
And that’s what Smith is in it for as well. Not to start, not to win the Sixth man of the Year award, but to help propel this team to a championship.
After all, in the NBA, it’s not where you start, but where you finish. That’s something Smith, who stands to find himself in the game down the stretch if he plays up to snub, must remember as well.
Because the stronger Smith finishes, the more likely the Knicks are to reach a compelling finish of their own.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.