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2013-14 Season in Review: J.R. Smith

by Charlie Widdoes

Statistically Speaking: Played in 74 games (started 37), averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.

Year in Review: When the Knicks announced that J.R. Smith would need three to four months to recover from mid-July knee surgery, high hopes for the season took a big hit. Looking to build off his success in 2012-13, Smith instead was limited in training camp and spent the beginning of his second full season in New York playing catch up. 

After a preseason in which many key veterans nursed various ailments while Mike Woodson attempted to sort out a working rotation, Smith made his regular season debut following serving a five-game suspension. Shuffling into and out of the starting lineup, he was still working his way into form – during a nine-game losing streak that started two games after his return, he shot 34.1 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from 3.

But – surprise! – his legs got stronger and the Knicks’ second-leading scorer from the previous year (18.1 PPG) began to find his groove. The calendar turned to December, and he was looking more explosive and getting more lift on his jumper. 

Slowly but surely, the team jelled and Smith’s shooting efficiency steadily improved, as evidenced by his true shooting percentage – which takes into account the value of 2-pointers, 3-pointers and free throws – from month to month (Knicks record in parentheses):

November (2-11): 41.8%

December (6-9): 48.2%

January (10-6): 52.0%

February (2-11): 51.6%

March (11-5): 57.6%

April (5-2): 66.6% 

Season Highlight: On January 11, the Knicks traveled to Philadelphia and Smith's season was at a crossraods. He was struggling with consistency, shooting just under 30 percent from the field over his previous three games, and averaging just over two assists during that time.

But against the Sixers, Smith turned in a performance that showcased the variety of ways he can impact a game. He was locked in, economical with his actions and committed to making the right play on each possession. His pass-first approach netted six assists, one shy of his season high. As he let the game come to him, Smith connected on 5-of-8 field goal attempts (including 3-of-4 from 3) en route to a game-high +20 rating on the night.

Looking Ahead: Smith's season arc confirmed two things we probably already knew: 1) he can really shoot and, 2) his team really counts on him to shoulder a significant scoring load behind Carmelo Anthony. Despite the slow start, Smith managed to finish fifth in 3-point percentage among all players who averaged at least six 3-point attempts per game. He's in elite company on that list, in terms of both volume -- an indication of ability to create his own offense -- and accuracy. 

His importance to his team can also not be understated; when he was at his best, so were the Knicks. Over the season's final 22 games, once he was inserted into the starting lineup for good, Smith hit his stride and, not coincidentally, the Knicks racked up a 16-6 record. His per-game numbers during that time -- 18.1 points, 43.2 percent from 3 on just under nine attempts -- were right in line with his peak performance from the year before. 

As we look ahead to next season, it's clear that a healthy training camp is paramount for the dynamic shooting guard. For the team to reach its goals, Smith needs to take pressure off Melo and his other teammates by spacing the floor and slashing to the hoop. As long as he's healthy and comfortable with his role in a new system, expect his strong finish to carry over into next year.