Some NBA players are made for bench roles and some are made to start. J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks is best suited coming off the bench. But with the Knicks down Iman Shumpert for the next few weeks as he recovers from a knee sprain, Smith will likely take over at the starting small forward position even though he shouldn’t.
First of all, nothing about starting dictates how many minutes per game a player gets. Starting point guard Pablo Prigioni only plays 20.5 minutes per game while Smith averages the second most minutes per game on the team at 32.5. So why reward Smith, who has had a terrible season and has severe issues with keeping his head in the game, with a starting nod? I’d be fine with increased minutes, but a starting spot is a big reward for a player like Smith who has previously voiced his desire to start.
Second of all, Smith plays best when he feels he has something to prove. If he is in the starting lineup, he will think he has achieved head coach Mike Woodson‘s seal of approval. With nothing to prove, he will have no ability to control how much he shoots or how terrible his shot selection is. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of player is as good as they come in the NBA when performing at his best. And Smith performs best when he is coming off the bench. In 11 starts this season, Smith is getting 6.5 more MPG than in his 35 games off the bench. His scoring average goes from 12.4 PPG off the bench to 14.7 as a starter, but his field goal percentage drops from 41 percent to 34.5 percent as a starter and his three-point percentage goes from 38.4 percent off the bench to 36 percent as a starter.
However, it seems like this is a lose-lose situation as giving the starting spot to a player like rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. over Smith would have irked the veteran considerably. I’m not sure which of the two is worse here, but Woodson would be foolish to start Smith and not Hardaway Jr. or even Metta World Peace. Add this to the list of things the Knicks do wrong.