J.R. Smith’s offensive game is explosive in nature, which generally does not mix with a grinding approach by manufacturing points at the free throw line. However, the Knicks' second-leading scorer changed his mentality when Carmelo Anthony was sidelined and he became the primary offensive weapon.
“I’m trying to not rely on my jump shot as much,” Smith explained. “I’m just trying to get to the basket; coach wants me to get to the basket when Melo is out because he was really getting to the hoop. I have made it a point of emphasis.”
Over Smith’s last six games he has hit 33-of-41 free throw attempts for 80.5 percent. His highest output at the free throw line this season over a 10-game span was 38 attempts during the midpoint of the year. The evidence is crystal clear during his last five outings with 7.4 shots at the charity stripe to go along with 21.4 points per game.
“I just noticed I wasn’t shooting a lot of free throws. I generally don’t get to the free throw line that much, so I’m trying something different,” Smith added.
For most of his Smith’s eight years in the league, he has been considered a spark plug off the bench – instant offense. This year for the Knicks, Smith is logging starters minutes and under head coach Mike Woodson the maturation in his game is starting to take shape. The goal is consistency. New York needs a secondary scorer every single night, especially with Amar’e Stoudemire sideline for the next month.
“You have to mix it up a little bit and not just be one dimensional. He’s making his jump shot and when he is not making it, he has to try to get the free throw line to soften the shot up some, so I think he is trying to do a little bit of both” Woodson confirmed.
As MSG analyst Alan Hahn pointed out on twitter, Smith is averaging more free throw attempts than 3-point shots in his last six games. Smith is elevating his game beyond the mixture of elite ball-handling skills, a killer step-back jumper, high-flying dunks, and long rang distance. For a 77.3 percent shooter at the stripe, free throw attempts are easy money. His offensive onslaught places heavy pressure on the opposition, creates foul trouble for the defenders, and generates a nice rhythm if he is struggling to score from the perimeter.
The dramatic increase in free throw attempts is a great sign for the Knicks as they will continue to rely on Smith’s relentless attack down the stretch and into the postseason.