“Get chicks or die trying.” Does that famous scholarly quote not ring a bell? Don’t worry if it doesn’t come to the forefront of your mind, the deep quote was penned by Mr. Earl J. Smith Jr. himself in his 2004 high school yearbook. The infamous quote, in a nutshell, can sum up JR – intriguing.
Whether it’s his $3,000 room service bill while playing for Zheijiang in China or his soap opera relationship with Rihanna in the midst of the Knicks' 2013 playoff run, the one thing you can always count on with JR is that there will never be a dull moment.
Unfortunately, Smith plays his game on the court like he lives his life off the court – sporadic and unpredictable. He is an unbelievably talented offensive player and can do things that even other NBA level players can only dream about.
The Jekyll and Hyde JR Smith can give you a Broadway-esque performance one night and then fail to show up the next three. And frankly, he has failed to show up for the 2013-2014 season.
Riding the coattail of his Sixth Man of the Year award, JR was supposed to take the next step forward in his career and become a franchise player. Instead, just the opposite happened. He has been the center of the franchise disaster that is the New York Knicks.
I still believe JR has the talent and the ability to turn not only the Knicks around, but also his career. It’s going to take a lot of work and some honest look-in-the-mirror humbling, but it can be done.
Let’s take a deeper look into what the primary causes for Smith’s deficiencies are and what he can do to remedy the problems in order to rectify his career.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH JR SMITH'S OFFENSIVE GAME?
There is no debating that JR Smith is having a disappointing season. If you want to debate it, save your breath. JR currently ranks 121st out of the 122 NBA players that log what is considered significant minutes. Who is the only player below him you ask?
Our friend and poor shot selection/volume scoring poster boy, Brandon Jennings. JR is currently shooting an ice-cold 38.9 percent from the field and is also the proud owner of the second worst points per possession at 1.06. Basically, what those stats are showing is that if you are the Knicks' opponent this season the defensive game plan is simply ‘let JR Smith shoot.’
So what is wrong with JR’s offensive game? What happened to last season’s version – the dynamic, microwave offense Sixth Man of the Year JR Smith?
First off, I want to get this clear: JR Smith is an extremely talented basketball player with incredible ability on the offensive end. His shot is smooth and pure, he’s got a quick release, the ideal release point, and optimal amount of explosion in his jumper. As far as his mechanics are concerned, he’s flawless.
However, that being said, JR’s basketball IQ is not anywhere near the level it needs to be at. That is the main source of where all his problems stem from. And what could end up being the difference between a long and productive NBA career or becoming another Darius Miles; flash of brilliance that’s out of the league as quickly as he entered.
JR Smith’s three main deficiencies are shot selection, shot volume, and inability to make teammates better – all byproducts from a lack of basketball IQ.
JR’s shot selection is egregiously bad. He has far too many empty possessions in which he dribbles around aimlessly and settles for his favorite shot, the step-back fade away jumper.
I’ve come to realize, as I hope you have as well, that when it comes to shooting, the less a player is compared to Brandon Jennings the better. Not off to a good start for JR Smith is depending on isolation situations far too often. 21.7 percent of all of JR’s shot attempts are coming purely in isolation situations in which he ranks in the bottom 27 percent of the league shooting an extremely inefficient 28.7 percent.
And anything off the dribble, JR needs to leave in his locker before the game. Whenever JR attempts a jump shot off the dribble he is shooting 30.6 percent and ranks in the bottom 22 percent of the league. That puts him behind Dallas' Jae Crowder. And if you’ve ever seen Jae shoot a jumper you know exactly what I’m talking about.
JR Smith is a volume scorer. I don’t know if hanging around Carmelo Anthony too much is rubbing off on him, but his amount of shots per minutes played is far too high. Just for the record, have you ever heard me talking about a volume scorer being a positive attribute? No! Watch LeBron James, he is the epitome of efficiency.
JR is currently averaging 18.2 shots per 48 minutes. Nearly every other minute that JR is in the game, he’s hoisting up a shot. And I realize his role as a sixth man is to be instant offense immediately off the bench, but he needs to be instant efficient offense as opposed to shooting his team out of any offensive flow that they are currently in (if that is even possible with the Knicks).
And that tends to be the problem: JR has been successful in the past as an electric score-in-bunches type of player. However, that type of play eventually ends up in forcing too many shots instead of letting the game come to him.
More often than not, small sample size success leads to long-term failure.
One of the greatest attributes a player can possess is the ability to make teammates better and generate wins for his team. It’s a stat that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score and is even overlooked by all the analytical stat guru’s.
That’s why I took the liberty of creating the stat of true significant winning percentage. It measures the player’s true impact on a game. Significant impact is recorded if a player logs 26 minutes or more in the game.
To get the percentage, take the number of significant impact wins divided by the number of significant impact games a player plays in and you get his true significant winning percentage.
True significant winning percentage = significant impact wins (26+ minutes) / significant impact games played (26+ minutes)
This weeds out the players like Robert Horry (seven rings) and Tom Heinsohn (nine rings) from being all-time greats. Sure there is still a dependence on teammates (like any stat in the NBA) but it depicts a more accurate account of a given player’s true impact. JR’s true significant winning percentage this season? 34.2 percent.
Let’s compare that to another top sixth man in the league, Manu Ginobili. His true significant winning percentage, 64.2 percent.
Compound this stat with JR Smith's +/- of -81 (a metric that looks at how a team performs with a certain player on the court compared to how they perform with that certain player off the court) ranking him 319th in the league, and you will see why teams aren’t exactly lining up to acquire JR at the trade deadline for a playoff run.
WHAT SHOULD JR SMITH DO TO REMEDY THE PROBLEM?
From birth JR Smith was bound to shoot the perfect jump shot. A basketball hoop was placed in every corner of his house and by the time JR was three he was consistently knocking down free throws.
His father, Earl Smith, relentlessly taught JR the pick-and-roll, give and go, and most importantly the importance of a great jump shot. After all, there’s always a spot on the floor for a shooter. Earl knew that and he was going to make darn sure JR did as well.
However, in an article with Grantland, Earl admitted defense wasn’t too high on the priority list. “Defense was the last thing I taught them,” Earl explained, “because you can make it without defense.”
What JR lacks is not the basketball IQ of an extremely skilled and often mesmerizing offensive talent.
What he does lack is overall basketball IQ and how to play in a team setting. Bad habits created at a young age are the hardest to break, no matter what it is. That’s why amazing physical specimens such as Serge Ibaka and Joel Embiid can pick up the game late in their teen years and become extremely talented in a short period of time.
People are often amazed at these type of stories, but simply they don’t have any bad habits to break. They are able to start with a clean slate. That being said, JR’s offensive game can be fixed and he can thrive at a high level in the league for years to come.
The first thing JR is going to have to do is sit down and ask himself the question, “What do I need to do in order to make everyone on my team better first and myself second?” That’s a tough pill for any NBA player to swallow. But it is the key to JR’s longevity in the NBA.
He undoubtedly needs to cut down on his poor shot selection and begin literally shooting to his strengths. His one-on-one mentality not only hurts his team since he is shooting an ice-cold 28.7 percent in isolation situations but it also kills the flow of the offense. JR needs to realize where his strengths are on the court and exemplify those on a nightly basis.
His true strength is in spot-up, catch-and-shoot situations, where he is shooting an efficient 47.7 percent at a 1.3 points per possession clip – ranking him in the top 96 percent in the league.
That’s excellent. That puts him above the likes of superstars Paul George and Kevin Durant.
JR needs to lessen his shots attempts off the dribble, which he attempts 36 percent of the time and increase his spot-up, catch-and-shoot tries that he is only attempting 25 percent of the time.
JR is a very productive corner three-point shooter at 42.4 percent, however, of all Smith's combined shots he is only attempting the corner three at an extremely low rate, 6.11 percent of the time. The catch-and-shoot corner three is analytically the most efficient shot for high-level shooters in the NBA. Kyle Korver attempts it at a clip of 23.13 percent of the time. JR, learn from the best.
Of all the GMs I know and speak with I’ve never heard one of them say they are looking to acquire a volume scorer. JR needs to cut down on his rate of shots attempted per 48 minutes and focus more on getting teammates involved and making others around him better.
That’s what makes LeBron the amazing talent he is and why the LeBron-Durant debate is a joke. LeBron’s ability to make everyone around him better is a skill that is far more transcendent than just being able to score the basketball. He led a cast of Daniel Gibson, Larry Hughes, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the finals for Pete’s sake.
Great players know when the right time is to take over the scoring load, all in the name of raising the level of play of their teammates. In no way, shape, or form am I saying JR is in LeBron’s class, but JR does have the offensive skillset to take over games with his scoring ability. But it can’t be like that all of the time and JR needs to realize that.
He needs to slowly peel away from his habits of always looking out for No. 1 and embrace the team concept. I realize he is at a disadvantage playing in New York with the ultimate ball-stopper himself Carmelo Anthony.
JR is currently averaging three assists per game with a player efficiency rating of 12.08. You don’t even want me to mention some of the players he trails in that category. We’ll just keep it in house with some of his teammates – Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih. Yeah, two names that don’t come to mind when you think of efficiency.
To be honest, JR Smith would be best served in a different organization where structure is much more prevalent – i.e. San Antonio, Indiana, Oklahoma City.
JR Smith is an extremely gifted offensive talent, one of the most electrifying players in the league on any given night. And like the great scholar Peter Parker once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” JR possesses great offensive power and potential, however, he is often his own worst enemy.
If JR can make a progressive effort to raise the quality level of his shot attempts by lowering his isolation rate and increasing his spot-up catch-and-shoot rate, cut down on his overall attempts per 48 minutes and focus more on the overall increased efficiency of the offensive flow, and funnel his efforts towards making teammates better as opposed to ‘getting mine’, he can have a long career ahead of him as a key piece to teams looking to make championship runs.
The three-year-old boy from New Jersey with the pure shooting stroke dreaming of NBA stardom is still alive and well... that is if he makes the necessary adjustments.