New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith is the NBA version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Equal parts dynamic offensive force adept at shredding opposing defenses and lackadaisical chucker whose reckless play can sink his team.
The Knicks' chances of advancing in the postseason will depend on which J.R. shows up.
"Good J.R." is fully engaged on both ends of the floor. He helps out on the boards, makes the proper defensive rotations and demonstrates restraint with his shot selection.
When focused, he is a dependable second scorer for the Knicks, capable of carrying the team for stretches when Carmelo Anthony is on the bench or not hitting his shots. J.R. has the quickness to drive to the basket and the athleticism to create his own shot with the shot clock running down.
The Knicks have turned to him in crunch time and, more often than not, he has delivered. J.R. drained two game-winning buzzer-beaters in December (seen below).
Smith played the best basketball of his career down the stretch of the regular season. His success was predicated on his ability to apply pressure on defenses by aggressively driving the ball to the basket.
Over the final 18 games of the regular season, Smith averaged 23.2 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc. He attempted 6.9 free throws per game over that span, which would have ranked eighth in the league over the course of the season (via ESPN.com).
Tommy Beer @TommyBeer
Over NY's first 62 games this season, J.R. Smith averaged 3.0 FTA & 5.7 3PTA per game // Over the final 18 gms, he's avg 6.9 FTA & 4.7 3PTA4/18/2013, 1:14:04 AM
The Knicks won 16 of 18 games during J.R.'s hot streak—including 13 in a row—and New York was without the services of Carmelo Anthony and/or Tyson Chandler for several of those contests.
The Knicks' success was closely related to Smith's efficiency all season. New York went 32-10 when J.R. shot at least 42 percent from the field. There was a significant difference in J.R.'s offensive and defensive ratings, shooting percentage and +/- in games the Knicks won and lost, as seen below via NBA.com.
As Knicks fans know, "Good J.R." can turn into "Bad J.R." without a moment's notice. Smith followed up a strong start to the season with a dismal January, during which he shot 36.6 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from downtown. Not surprisingly, the Knicks had their worst month of the season, losing 6 of 13 games.
"Bad J.R." launches three-point shots early in the shot clock and pounds the ball into the ground for several seconds before taking a contested fadeaway jumper from just inside the three-point line. He continues to bomb away when the shots are not falling, instead of attempting to get easy baskets around the rim.
When Smith's shots are not falling, he loses focus in other areas of his game. The shooting guard is late on defensive rotations and turns the ball over more frequently, prompting a reaction from Mike Woodson like the one seen in Smith's tweet below.
JR Smith @TheRealJRSmith
That #WhatTheHellYouDoingLook http://t.co/fNjIjA5i1/11/2013, 5:34:18 PM
"Bad J.R." makes controversial or insensitive comments on twitter and is inclined to lose his temper on the court. The Knicks were cruising through their first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics when Smith elbowed Jason Terry in the jaw in Game 3 (seen below).
Tommy Beer @TommyBeer
Over his last 11 playoff games (dating back to last yr), J.R. Smith is 50-for-163 from the floor (30.6%) & 13-for-60 on 3's (21.6%). Yikes.5/12/2013, 3:28:59 PM
Smith was ejected from the game and suspended for Game 4 of the series, which the Knicks lost in overtime. Then he stoked the ire of Celtics and Knicks fans by saying that the series would have been over if he had played in Game 4.
J.R. shot 20-45 (43.5 percent) in the first three games against the Celtics. Since his return to the lineup, he has been dreadful, and the Knicks' offense has followed. He has knocked down a dismal 27.5 percent of his shots (19-69) over his last five games.
His scoring average dropped from 18.1 during the regular season to 13.8 in the playoffs, and his shooting percentage plummeted from 42.2 to 33.9 from the field and 35.6 to 27.9 from downtown. Below is his shot chart from the postseason, via NBA.com.
Smith's playoff difficulties date back to the Knicks' first-round loss to the Miami Heat in the 2011-12 season when he connected on 31.6 percent of his shots and just 17.9 percent of his threes.
The Knicks have struggled to score with their two leading bucket-makers in a slump (Anthony is shooting 39.1 percent from the field and 29.5 percent on three-pointers in the playoffs). New York has cracked the 100-point mark once in nine playoff games and totaled just 71 in their Game 3 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
New York trails Indiana 2-1 in a best-of-seven series. The Pacers held opponents to league lows in field-goal and three-point percentage. If the Knicks are going to score enough points to advance to the next round, the "Good J.R." better show up in Game 4.