J.R. Smith: Hit or Miss?

Every time you hit a 3, you have to thug it out right?


A few weeks back, Beckley Mason of Hoopspeak wrote a great piece on players that seem to “get it”. The point he hammered home was that once NBA players develop a good level of awareness they are usually able to stay on the court more and essentially maximize their potential.

No one seems to illustrate this point better than J.R. Smith. In all of my time watching basketball, I don’t think I have ever seen a player make poorer decisions on the offensive end than Smith. The  Denver Nuggets wish that he would understand his role and play perhaps like a more explosive Voshon Lenard; but instead he goes through stretches in which he tries to play like Allen Iverson and Reggie Miller.

For the most part, broadcasters have been kind on him during games. The usual comment you get from them sounds like this: “J.R. Smith can shoot you into the game but boy can he shoot you out of it”.  And although that statement is accurate, it fails to do justice to Smith’s play. Far too often we have seen him completely ignore a scorching hot Carmelo Anthony to instead fire up an ill advised contested three point jump shot. The same way fans in Boston used to say that’s just Manny being Manny (in reference to Manny Ramirez’s quirky personality), fans in Denver have grown accustomed to the former Hornet’s play and now accept it for the most part.

What is so frustrating about the Nuggets shooting guard is that he is in fact a spectacular player. He displays terrific explosiveness, decent handles, tremendous shooting range, a solid first step, great finishing ability at the rim and is a great open shooter. Seriously, read that breakdown of his game again and doesn’t it sound a little like Allan Houston?  And yet, look at his production from the past four years:

Season
MPG
PPG
FGM
FGA
FG%
3PT%
2007-08
19.2
12.3
4.2
9.1
0.461
0.403
2008-09
27.7
15.2
5.2
11.7
0.446
0.397
2009-10
27.7
15.4
5.7
13.8
0.414
0.338
2010-11
24.6
11.9
4.1
9.8
0.412
0.377

J. R. Swish (as he likes to call himself) has been a decent shooting guard in his last few seasons, however he does have the talent to be one of the best at his position in the league.  For comparisons sake, let’s have a look at Allan Houston’s numbers at the same point in his career (fourth to seventh NBA season):

Season
MPG
PPG
FGM
FGA
FG%
3PT%
1996-97
33.1
14.8
5.4
12.7
0.423
0.385
1997-98*
34.7
18.4
7.0
15.6
0.447
0.385
1998-99
36.3
16.3
5.9
14.1
0.418
0.407
1999-00
38.6
19.7
7.5
15.5
0.483
0.436
*Lockout season

Although Houston played more minutes and thus took more field goal attempts, we can still compare the shooting percentages. Indeed, the field goal and three point field goal percentages are somewhat similar; however Houston was able to raise his game to another level by his seventh season (1999-00) and show us some great shooting numbers. Also, it’s important that we look at the situations of both players: J.R. Smith has always been the team’s sixth man and thus his role has never really changed, whereas Allan Houston had to adjust to playing alongside Patrick Ewing and then alongside Latrell Sprewell and then without Ewing for stretches as he battled injuries. Hence, the change in roles might have contributed to the variation in his shooting numbers given his lack of comfort with his situation and shot distribution.

Smith on the other hand has kept the same role he has always had since joining the Denver Nuggets in 2006. And yet, it seems as though he has taken a step back these past three seasons as his overall field goal as well as his three point field goal shooting have both taken a slight a dip for three consecutive seasons.

A big part of that stems from the fact that players such as Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Wilt Chamberlain would probably be jealous of Earl Smith III’s (by the way, the only dude in my opinion that can get away with being called Earl and still sound cool is Earl Simmons; better known as DMX) shot selection. He takes a variety of contested shots and always seems overly eager to launch the next one. Smith is a player with tantalizing talent, but until he gets it, he will always be viewed as an athlete that needs to work on the mental aspect of basketball. Until that changes, I think the name J. R. Miss seems more appropriate for the time being.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at Shyne@Sbgorillas.com. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name ShyneIV.

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