J.R. Smith: New York Knicks coaching staff must tighten the leash on sixth man


New York Knicks fans, including myself, have this love-hate relationship with Knicks’ sixth man J.R. Smith.

By that I mean they hate every single shot Smith forces up, but when he makes them, they love him.

But something has to be done about Smith’s care-free offensive performances. If Mike Woodson and the Knicks coaching staff don’t reel Smith in and do it soon, it will be the rest of the Knicks teammates who ultimately pay the price with another early playoff exit.

Mar 4, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Marreese Speights (15) and small forward Luke Walton (4) in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff basketball is different. Teams defend better. With that being said, Smith cannot be permitted to continuously take the Knicks out of their rhythm offensively by not only continuing to force up bad shots, but continuing to pass up open looks so he can jack up a more difficult shot.

Woodson, like most head coaches, likes to throw the word accountability out there, but now is the time to practice accountability instead of continuously preaching it.

Smith is a scorer and a pretty darn good one at that and scorers need to shoot the ball, but there is a difference between getting shots within the flow of the offense and doing what Smith does on a nightly basis.

When Smith was playing his best basketball of the season, up until the All-Star break, we saw a lot of Smith fitting into what the Knicks were trying to do as a team and as a result he was being mentioned in Sixth Man of the Year talks. That hasn’t been the case as of late.

The past three games have been perfect examples of how Woodson needs to tighten the leash on Smith.

There was the 5-of-13 performance against the Washington Wizards, the 5-of-18 performance against the Miami Heat and the 6-of-17 performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What all of these have had in common has been Smith holding onto the ball more than usual and forcing up questionable shots that the Knicks don’t need. The ball movement stops when it hits Smith’s hands, and that is not a recipe for beating good teams.

To his credit, Smith is contributing in other areas, including rebounding, but if Woodson can’t reel him in before the playoffs begin, other teams are simply going to allow Smith to shoot the Knicks right out of games, especially with the volume of shots he takes per game.

Sunday against Miami, the Knicks blew a lead partly because Smith was 5-18 from the field, but he also went only 3-14 on his 3-point attempts in 36 minutes. He is a veteran so he should know by know that when he is struggling, it isn’t good for the team to keep chucking up three’s with a hand in his face. There are better options than being selfish and trying to get his jumper going.

Then on Monday, Smith did his best to try and erase what was a great comeback by the Knicks as several times with the Knicks attempting to take the lead or extend their lead to two possessions, Smith continued to take bad shots early in the shot clock, when there were other options to be had.

Woodson, Smith’s biggest supporter could be seen numerous times during the Cleveland game glaring at Smith as he tried once again to shoot the Knicks out of a game.

If Woodson had any hair, Smith would have turned it all grey by now.

I like the way Smith has bought into playing defense and being part of team success, but that hasn’t been the case the past 10 games or so.

Then there is the continued lack of professionalism Smith has shown his entire career.

Apr 26, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson talks with New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) after a foul call during the first half. The New York Knicks defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 104-84 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

One of your best players doesn’t need to be getting in continual Twitter battles with fans over his poor play. Instead he needs to act like a pro and figure out ways to help his team win games. When he starts talking about fans mothers on Twitter, he doesn’t just make himself look immature, but represents the team that pays him in a very poor fashion.

The biggest question is why isn’t Woodson holding Smith accountable for selfish offensive play and lazy effort defensively? He seems to do it with anyone else.

Smith is a big part of why the Knicks will or will not have success the rest of the season. Production from him means that much.

But Woodson is a part of the problem also.

Smith continues to get major fourth quarter minutes, often playing the entire fourth. If he is shooting well and playing unselfish basketball, then that is fine as he needs to be out there. But when he’s not and reverts to the old J.R. who is lazy defensively and forces up shot after shot, then there are better options including Amar’e Stoudemire, who rarely gets minutes down the stretch of games.

You can make the case that Smith is the Knicks X-Factor the rest of the season. However it’s not just about shooting the ball and putting up big scoring numbers. Smith has to do a better job of understanding score and situation and making the smart play often goes a long way in winning games instead of forcing up a contested shot.

For Smith to have a positive impact on any Knicks success, Woodson is going to have to find a way to reel him in and hold him accountable.

If he doesn’t, it could turn into another early summer in the Big Apple.

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