“My goal was come in here and be a starter and try to play with the other four guys on the floor,’’ Smith told Marc Berman of the Post. “As of right now we’ll see how up in the air it is. The last seven years coming into camp, I knew I was going to be Sixth Man. It’s a different approach this year. It’s better to think of it like that.’’
These stories were accompanied by a certain amount of panic. It doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s not like he’s trying to become the team’s driver.
The reason Smith made sense last year as a midseason acquisition, and again this summer, is that taking all of his tendencies into account- shooting whenever being the most-cited one- he’s still a valuable basketball player.
Smith, despite a significant shooting slump relative to his career marks last season, checked in with a PER of 15.2. That’s down a bit from his 16.4 a season earlier, but right in line with his career mark.
Now, 45 players started at least 40 games at guard last season. This isn’t just shooting guard, but point guards as well. Smith, at 15.2, would have ranked 24th, or right in the middle. The guy he’s ahead of, Ray Allen, is the guy who is supposed to make the Heat extra-unbeatable this season, remember? Also, Allen is well over a decade older, coming off of surgery, and still not 100 percent healthy.
Should Smith reach his 18.1 PER, his career-best from back in 2007-08, he’d be playing at a level reached by just 11 NBA guards last season. Only three of them were shooting guards: Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant and Joe Johnson, whose 2011-12 PER was 18.4.
So let’s leave aside the reality that Ronnie Brewer, for his defensive skills, still posted a PER of 12.3 last year. That’s a lot of ground to make up on Smith with his defense. And on a starting unit missing good perimeter shooters, the 36.7% three-point shooter (Smith) figures to make more sense than the 24.4% three-point shooter (Brewer). The Knicks can take greater advantage of Brewer’s defense next to Steve Novak on a second unit.
Let’s also leave aside the fact that Iman Shumpert, when he returns, has similar liabilities to Brewer, and will be recovering from a significant knee surgery.
In other words, there’s a good argument for Smith relative to the roster. But don’t lose sight of the fact that for $2.8 million this year, the Knicks kept a shooting guard who performs at a pretty high level for the position, period.