Last night J.R. Smith was simply fantastic for the New York Knicks. The top candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award dropped 32 points on the Boston Celtics, leading the Knicks to a 15 point victory.
We are all used to seeing Smith put up erratic performances. One night he can go 0-10, only to torch the opposition for 40 points the next one. His scoring ability is unquestionable, as proven by his 17.1 points per game off the bench this season, but he is not always reliable.
To understand why Smith’s performances are rather inconsistent, you only have to take a glimpse at the kind of shots he generally takes. He is shooting just over 40% from the field this season, and around 72.2% of his shot attempts are either mid-range jumpers or 3-pointers.
Last night Smith refrained from taking too many ill-advised jumpers and instead played more to his strengths. His shot chart explains itself:
Throughout the night, Smith attacked fearlessly the paint and stayed away from jacking up jumpers as much as possible.
So let’s take a look at what sparked the big night for the 27-year-old.
Smith had a huge first quarter. In only 5:38 minutes of action, he scored 10 points, shot 3-3 from the field and got to the line where he converted on four of his free throw attempts. Two of his baskets included a pick and roll with Kenyon Martin, which forced the Celtics to switch. Smith went on to beat his man off the dribble, scoring with ease.
Now, every shot that he took was far from perfect, but it wasn’t necessarily his fault. Several times during the game, the Knicks offense broke down, as Pablo Prigioni failed to find or create a decent look for his teammates. As a last resort, the ball found itself in Smith’s hands, only giving him enough time to create some space and get a shot off. Some of the shots he hit, others he missed, but the point is that most of those shots were a result of the Knicks offense breaking down, and not poor decision making on Smith’s part.
Throughout the game, Smith attacked the paint, consistently beat his man off the dribble and was simply unstoppable. He did not settle for jumpers and Boston paid the price. Over a fourth of Smith’s offensive possessions this season are in isolation, where he ranks top 50 in the league. Last night he showed just how lethal he can be one-on-one, scoring almost at will.
An aggressive J.R. Smith is what the Knicks need to make this a successful year. He is a solid spot-up shooter, but he needs to continue attacking the basket because that’s where he truly excels.