JR Smith: Starter?

Pablo Prigioni has back spams and may potentially miss tonight’s game against the Warriors. Were that to be the case, Mike Woodson said he would move Jason Kidd to the bench, allowing him to be used as the backup point guard. This leaves a void in the starting lineup alongside Felton, Shumpert, Anthony and Chandler. Woodson has to make the decision whether he’s going to fill that open spot with JR Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire or somebody else. My advice: go with Smith.

With Stoudemire coming off the bench, as he should be, the Knicks can afford to now insert Smith into the starting lineup. Stoudemire provides that ‘instant offense’ that is often antiquated with a sixth man. A move to start Stoudemire would solve absolutely nothing. It wouldn’t make them better defensively, it would phase Anthony out of the starting power forward spot and it would make moving Stoudemire back to the bench all the more difficult. Given that Stoudemire is no longer a 30 minute player, in Mike Woodson’s own words, the bench role he’s currently been excelling in will do just fine for now.

As for Smith, you could make the argument this move has been a long time coming. With Jason Kidd’s prolonged shooting slump and Iman Shumpert not being confident/completely healthy, the Felton-Kidd-Shumpert-Melo-Chandler lineup hasn’t been as productive as many, myself included, thought it would be. I’m still a believer that a rested Kidd and healthier Shumpert can make this lineup be a great one, but that is a conversation for another day.

If we take to the NBA Stats database, we can pull the Knicks most productive 5 man lineups. Ronnie Brewer’s Knick existence is no more, so we can throw the Knicks most used lineup out. The second most used 5 man lineup, in 210 minutes, is Felton/Kidd/Smith/Melo/Chandler. This lineup has been incredibly productive, scoring 119.4 points per 100 possessions while only giving up 95.

With Kidd being moved to the bench, the five man unit to start the game would have Shumpert at the 2 spot. That lineup, Felton/Shumpert/Smith/Anthony/Chandler has been below average in production, 105.2 points scored/100 possessions, 106.8 points allowed.  However, that lineup has only played 41 minutes together. I truly believe this five man group can be productive. Though the 2/3 spots in the Knick offense aren’t that dissimilar in role, Shumpert has been rumored to be unhappy playing that 3 spot. Moving him to the 2 in more consistent minutes moving forward would do well for his confidence and would hopefully get him going offensively. I like Smith at the 3, a spot he has been productive in this season.

Upon Prigioni’s return, Woodson may decide to re-insert Kidd back in the starting 5. He should still keep Smith as a starter and then put Shumpert on the bench. As I previously mentioned, the Felton/Kidd/Smith/Anthony/Chandler lineup has been phenomenal as the team’s most used lineup on the team, Ronnie Brewer lineup withstanding.  Shumpert on the bench would be a good thing. He could be brought in alongside Stoudemire, providing a solid defensive check on the perimeter to help compensate for some of Stoudemire’s defensive inabilites. Splitting up Shumpert and Felton might also give the second year Knick more freedom to operate with the ball in his hands, rather than just spotting up. I’m not necessarily sold that at this point Shumpert can be an efficient offensive player handling the ball and making decisions, but there are plenty of Knicks folks around the inter-webs that believe the opposite.

It will be interesting to see what Woodson does tonight and moving forward with his starting lineup. I believe JR Smith should be the man inserted into the starting lineup, while Stoudemire sits back on the bench. Stoudemire coming off the bench has been a success, at least offensively, and I don’t see an added benefit of changing his role. Smith has expressed a prior sentiment that he wants to be a starter. Given the Knicks prolonged slump of mediocre play, Woodson would be wise to grant Smith’s wish and insert him as a #Starer alongside Melo at the four.

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