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What’s Happened To J.R. Smith?

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For perhaps the first time in his career, J.R. Smith looks like he’s lost confidence in his jump shot. Unfortunately for the Knicks, it’s occurring right when the depleted side needs him the most. After a perplexing performance in Boston on Friday night in which he attempted just one field goal (a miss), Smith got the start against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, and despite a much more aggressive approach – he had two attempts at the basket within the first four minutes – he just could not find buckets consistently.

Smith ended the evening sitting on the bench, and was just 1-of-8 from the field, for two points.

Head coach Mike Woodson, a staunch Smith supporter who regularly plays him in crunch time this season in spite of the players’ struggles, benched Smith for the entire fourth period against the Hawks. Woodson said after the game that he’s going to need Smith to pick it up sooner than later.

“Timmy was playing good basketball, so I decided to go with Timmy and Iman [Shumpert],” said Woodson. “I need [Smith] desperately to pick it up and play.” 

Entering Friday’s game, Smith, who underwent knee surgery this past off-season, before completing a five game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, was averaging 11.6 shots per game, and shooting a dismal 33 percent from the field. Smith says he can’t pinpoint if the delayed start to his season is contributing to his current struggles.

“I don’t really know,” said Smith. “As long as I’m out there I’ve got to be able to contribute to the team. If I can’t contribute, I shouldn’t be out there.

“I’ve struggled with my shooting before, but not to this magnitude. It’s just a shooter’s slump. I’ll get out of it one way or another.” 

Over his past five games his numbers have dipped to 5.6 points per game, on 25 percent shooting. It’s clear to all watching that the guy who has never met a shot he didn’t like, is struggling with his confidence.

“It happens,” said Carmelo Anthony. “It’s basketball.” 

Smith is looking to recapture the form that led to him being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, helping the Knicks win 54-games and the Atlantic Division crown. It seems like that player hasn’t been seen since last season’s playoff series against the Boston Celtics, and that ill-timed elbow to Jason Terry’s face.

If the Knicks are going to turn their season around and get back to playing ‘Knicks basketball’ as Woodson likes to call it, they will need Smith to step up and be the second-scoring option the team had in mind when they gave him the three-year, $18 million deal this summer.

“I need him to score, and I think he knows that,” said Woodson prior to the Hawks’ game. 

So how does Smith snap himself out of his funk and get back to his old self?

“We gotta’ work through it,” he says. “Every day at practice, after practice, before practice. Just shots. Shots. Shots. You’ll shoot yourself out of it eventually.” 

Mike Woodson and the Knicks can only hope he does.

Image via: Howard Simmons, New York Daily News

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