Early on in the Knicks' game against the Timberwolves on Dec. 23, Carmelo Anthony was the only one getting it done offensively. While he had nine points in the first quarter, the team's second offensive staple -- the pick and roll between Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler -- wasn't producing points.
So J.R. Smith knew what he had to do upon checking into the game midway through the opening period: make plays. But he didn't do it with his scoring; he did it with his passing. By the end of one, he had three assists and only two points.
"J.R. has an all-around game," Felton said after the Knicks beat the Timberwolves, 94-91. "That's what a lot of people don't realize. They think he can just put the ball in the basket. J.R. can really penetrate, make good passes and create for everybody else. That's only going to make us better."
As it turned out, entering that game, the Knicks were worse offensively when Smith was on the court. When he was playing, they were averaging 100.0 points and 18.2 assists per 48 minutes, but 107.5 points and 23.1 assists when he was not. That's because Smith was being used primarily for his instant offense, not creating offense.
But since the Timberwolves game, with Felton struggling through injuries, Mike Woodson has given Smith more point-guard duties. And guess what? The sixth man has actually been off the charts in pick and rolls, which is exactly what the team will need now that Felton will miss four to six weeks with a broken right pinkie finger.
In the Knicks' first 26 games, Smith ran 5.1 pick and rolls per game. But in their last three games -- against the Timberwolves, Lakers and Suns -- he ran 8.3 per game. And his efficiency was ridiculous, scoring most of his points (16; 6-for-10) in pick and rolls. Overall, including P&Rs where he passed, the Knicks scored 1.32 points per play and shot 70.6 percent. To put that into perspective, Olympian Chris Paul, who has the Clippers off to an NBA-best 22-6 record, leads the league with 1.07 points per play.
"I think it's just unselfishness, understanding that he's drawing two guys and he can find the open guy," Jason Kidd said last week. "He trusts his teammates will knock down the shot. ... I think it makes the game so easy for everybody."
Overall on the season, Smith has averaged 0.90 points per play in pick and rolls, including passes. Among the 56 players who have at least 150 such plays, Smith ranks 38th. In comparison, Felton is 12th and Pablo Prigioni is 25th. So Smith has obviously stepped up tremendously as a playmaker.
In addition, Smith's usage rate skyrocketed from 23.1 percent in the first 26 games to 32.2 percent in the last three -- a number only rivaled by Anthony and Kobe Bryant over the course of the season.
Now, how about that for production -- and performance -- from Mr. Smith?
Research assistance: William Cohen, ESPN Stats & Info
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