This is a joke, right? The Nets acquired a six-time all star in Joe Johnson to start at shooting guard, paying him max money. The Knicks grabbed J.R. Smith midseason last year from China, and re-signed him for $2.8 million. So who’s been better?
So far, Smith has been playing nearly starter minutes, better than 32 per game, despite coming off the bench. Johnson is playing just under 39 per game for the Nets. And in that time, Smith is giving the Knicks more than Johnson overall.
There’s a slight edge to Johnson in shooting accuracy, 42.7% to 40.5% overall, 36.8% to 36.1% from three-point range. Of course, Johnson is doing that with the Nets’ first team, while Smith has done so often as the primary, and only, offensive threat on the floor at any given time.
Johnson, accordingly, has an edge in assist percentage, 17% to 13%. (Again, who is Smith finding for easy baskets?) But Smith has doubled Johnson’s rebounding percentage, 8.5 to 4.4 percent. And while Johnson has taken good care of the ball, with a 10.4% turnover rate, Smith has been even better, at 8.9%. That’s good enough for seventh-best in the NBA among guards this season.
Add in the defensive edge from Smith (double the steals, greater ability to guard two guards with his quickness) and the reality of Smith outplaying Johnson becomes clearer. Considering that Smith is a bench weapon, Johnson a starter, the difference in records between the Nets and Knicks starts to make more sense.
The Player Efficiency Ratings? J.R. Smith, 14.3. Joe Johnson, 14.0.
And while Johnson is signed for the next four years, and is 31, Smith is signed for this season alone, and is 26. Still, that’s an even bigger advantage than it first appears, since Johnson is signed for cap-crippling money, and Smith, as a Knicks player, can be retained without compromising the team’s cap room, which is largely spent on other players.
Put another way: Johnson is paid like Carmelo Anthony. Smith’s salary is part of what allows the Knicks to employ Anthony, as well as Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
If anything, Smith’s shooting is likely to improve, with both his two and three-point shooting accuracy down from his career norms. The same is true, but to a lesser extent, for Johnson.
Perhaps it is the best way to describe the current state of these two teams, instead of simply looking at the standings, to point out the level of play they are each getting from Smith and Johnson.