Houston needs J.R. Smith.
Obviously, this is not a plea for a trade to the Rockets but a place to magnify Smith’s career season that should result in serious All-Star consideration.
On January 17, the TNT crew will announce the starters for the midseason showcase. The Eastern Conference starting five will most likely feature Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Kevin Garnett. Coaches around the league will pick the reserves and when examining the numbers, Smith is a clear candidate for a spot.
“I think he is playing at a high level,” 10-time All-Star Jason Kidd exclaimed. “He should be considered and he should be on that team. Hopefully we can continue to keep winning to help his case.”
Let’s assume the coaches will vote four forwards/centers and three guards to fill the Eastern Conference roster. The most likely candidates at this point are: Kyrie Irving, Monta Ellis, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Deron Williams, DeMar DeRozan, Arron Afflalo, and Joe Johnson. Paul George could be voted a guard or forward as he has played both positions this season.
As mentioned above, Smith is enjoying a career year by averaging 16.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game off the bench. Over his last 10 games, the 8-year pro is posting 21.6 points and 5.3 boards each outing. Smith is New York’s second leading scorer next to Anthony and the Knicks have relied on his explosive playmaking abilities throughout a climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“I think he is in the running,” head coach Mike Woodson explained. “I mean, I think he has put himself as a Sixth Man candidate as well as an All-Star guy in the East. He’s played at that level and we’re sitting at the top of our division and you should be talking about that – absolutely.”
What separates Smith from the rest of the candidates are his two game-winning buzzer beaters with Anthony out of those games to go along with some impressive defensive statistics.
On December 5, Smith buried a fading jumper from the left wing to hand the Knicks a 100-98 victory in Charlotte. Anthony was forced to the leave the contest with a lacerated finger and Smith rose to the occasion to save New York on the road. 11 days later, Smith demanded the rock as the Knicks faced a 97-97 tie in Phoenix with seconds left on the game clock. The New Jersey native dropped the 21-footer from the baseline to provide a stirring victory for New York without its MVP candidate and Raymond Felton in the lineup.
Smith is the top rebounder at the shooting guard position in the Eastern Conference. He also leads the East 2-guards in steals per game at 1.30, a slight edge over the projected starter Wade.
In the latest NBA standings, the Knicks are 24-13, directly behind the defending champs in the East and two games ahead of Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead. All the injuries to New York’s key players have placed a significant amount of responsibilities on the shoulders of Smith. Woodson has used him at the point guard position due to Felton’s absence and he’s defended some of the elite wing players in the league while Iman Shumpert continues to rehab.
Obviously, the coaches will decide the final rosters but Smith is a deserving candidate. It’s difficult to project or predict the mindset from coaches around the league as to who will make the final cut. He’s in the conversation for an All-Star nod and his impactful play on both ends of the floor over the last couple of months is a main reason New York is considered an Eastern Conference contender.