It goes without saying that J.R. Smith has not been the same player in the playoffs that he was in the regular season, when he averaged 18.1 points off the bench and earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Calling him a “no-show” lately would be generous. At least if he were a no-show, his effect on the Knicks would be neutral. Instead, he is starting to outright hurt their cause.
In the past three days, illness has added to insult for the 27-year-old guard. Smith played just under 25 minutes in the Knicks’ Game 3 loss on Saturday, then missed practice Sunday and Monday with what the team termed an “illness.” It is unclear what type of illness he has. So far, it does not appear Smith has been subjected to any Luol Deng-type spinal taps.
No one is questioning whether Smith is injured, just as very few people doubt that Bulls guard Derrick Rose really is hurt. Kenyon Martin has also joined Smith on the sideline due to illness the last two days. But like Rose, who has not played since tearing his ACL more than a year ago, Smith is starting to hear murmurs that health might not be all there is to the story.
Rumors of Smith dating Rihanna and spending a night on the town prior to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals are low-hanging fruit. Smith’s poor play predates that night, as Smith has been off his game since he was suspended for Game 4 of the first round. As Frank Isola of the New York Daily News notes, Smith has spoken to the media twice in the past week and has not tweeted since May 6, despite previously active Twitter fingers. (He is the type who tweets #greatmorningworld every day, for instance.)
Knicks coach Mike Woodson has not been shy in recent days of saying Smith would sit if other bench players are playing better. Proven shooters have gone through cold spells before and have snapped out of it when the time was right. Mike Miller was basically out of the rotation for the Heat last year, having missed 12 of his last 13 threes, before going 7-for-8 from beyond the arc in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Miller was not in ideal physical shape, either, so there is hope for Smith.
Then again, everyone knew what the issue was with Miller. His body was basically broken. With Smith, we know he is struggling and that he is not feeling well. His relative silence, however, makes us wonder what else is keeping the Knicks’ X-factor from being all he can be. If the public is in the dark, the Knicks had better have some inkling, for their part. If they do not figure it out soon, Smith won’t be the only Knick feeling sick to his stomach.