J.R. Smith Is Capitalizing On His Strengths

Mar. 27, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) celebrates on the court after shooting a three-pointer against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

J.R. Smith has long been one of the NBA’s most interesting personalities. From his game on the court to his tweet game, you never know what you’re going to get from Smith.

But recently Smith has made some major changes to his game that has helped propel the Knicks to six straight wins and back into a fight with the Indiana Pacers for the 2nd seed in the East.

As Vytis pointed out in his breakdown of Smith’s 32 point explosion against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, he’s much more effective when he’s going to the basket.  And in the last six games, something’s clicked in Smith’s head and he’s been going to the basket much more frequently.

Apart from his recent hot stretch, Smith’s shot selection this season, and quite frankly his whole career, has been extremely questionable. If you’re a basketball fan, you’ve become accustomed to watching him take step back jumpers over two defenders, only for it to lead to a fast-break off a long rebound while Smith walks back to defense. His shot distribution chart says it all.

Smith does not take many shots from the most efficient areas on the floor and takes the large majority of his shots from an extremely inefficient area. When the amount of shots you take from mid-range is nearly double the amount you take at the rim — inefficiency is bound to be the result. Especially when most of these mid-range jumpers are off the dribble with a defender right in his face. Or as I like to call them, Jr-Smith-Specials.

While Smith makes an inordinate amount of these tough shots — he’s shooting 41.1% from mid-range this season — that’s still not good offense. Overall, Smith is only shooting 41.1% and before this recent patch of games, it was below 40%. Truth be told, Smith, while known for his three point shooting, really isn’t that great of a shooter. On spot-up threes he’s shooting 38%, according to Synergy. A decent number, but it ranks only 102nd in the league.

That’s what makes Smith a headache. Not only for his team, but the opposing team as well. You never know when Smith is going to start hitting these crazy shots or when hes going to shoot 5-20 and single-handedly bring the demise of the Knicks. There’s no reason for him to take these kind of shots with the type of athleticism he possesses. While he doesn’t have the greatest of first steps or an elite handle, he has the ability to get to the basket, and get there pretty often. The good thing is for New York and their fans, Smith’s finally started to use some of that talent he has.

In the last six games, Smith’s doubled the percentage of his shots that are coming at the rim. And in return for taking the ball to the basket, J.R.’s shooting percentage has been rewarded, as he’s shooting at a 51% clip over this span. When 37% of your shots are being converted at 64% (what Smith is shooting at the rim during the stretch), your offense is going to be greatly affected by that in a very, very positive fashion. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks haven’t lost during this stretch either.  An efficient J.R. Smith is a helpful J.R. Smith.

Alas, we don’t know if this kind of play is sustainable from such an erratic character such as Smith. It should be stated that the last two games, in which Smith posted 30+ points, were against a Boston Celtics squad without their entire defense in Kevin Garnett, and a hobbled Marc Gasol. And it’s a guarantee that Smith won’t continue to shoot 51%. Also, we’ve seen flashes like this before from him, which is part of the reason he has always been such a pain. But at least for now, we should bask in what is a revitalized J.R. Smith. It is always nice to see a player take advantage of his natural ability, and right now Smith is doing exactly that.

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