Smith off to strong start

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
10:30
AM ET


At 3-0, the Knicks have been the biggest surprise of this young NBA season.

But the biggest surprise within the biggest surprise may be this: J.R. Smith has been one of New York's best all around players early on.

Let that sink in for a second.

J.R. Smith, the same guy who's admittedly never met a shot he didn't like and has driven coaches nuts with his decision-making, has been one of the Knicks' best and most efficient players.

He's second on the team in Player Efficiency Rating, a metric used by ESPN's John Hollinger to measure a player's per-minute performance.

Through three games, Smith's PER is 20.3, second only to Carmelo Anthony's 24.0.

Last year, Smith's first in New York, he turned in a 15.27 PER. The league average in 2011-12 was 13.50.

So, what's the difference between this season and last for Smith?

"He's more under control," Mike Woodson said after Sunday's win over Philly. "Shooters are going to take some bad shots. That's just the nature of our game. I don't mind that, as long as he is defending and doing the necessary things to help us win."

So far, that's exactly what Smith has done.

The Knicks' sixth man is handing out a career-high five assists per 40 minutes and hauling in a career-high 7.4 rebounds per 40.

In the teams' season-opening win over Miami, Smith had six assists to offset a poor shooting night (3-for-11).

In the back-to-back against Philly, the shooting guard had 37 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists. He shot 50 percent from the floor (15-for-30) and made six of nine 3-point attempts. And one emphatic dunk.

It seems funny now, but Woodson actually had to yell at Smith to shoot the ball early in Sunday's game.

"I've been asked so many times not to shoot," the nine-year vet said with a smile. "It's kind of weird."

Smith hasn't been great on shots inside the arc (10-for-28) and he's still taken some head-scratching attempts, especially from the top of the key, where he's 1-for-4.

But he's knocked down all five of his attempts from the right wing/baseline and he's been fantastic from behind the arc, converting 61.5 percent of his attempts (8-for-13).

Clearly, Smith has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Knicks' emphasis on ball movement and finding the open shooter.

But he's also been sharing the ball, as evidenced by his career-high 21.8 assist ratio, a measure of the percentage of a player's possessions that end in an assist.

"He's so locked in and focused this year," Tyson Chandler said. "He's a different player. He's really matured and he's really buying into what coach is preaching, and it's been a big help."

Given Smith's history of up-and-down play, it's fair to wonder how long this will last.

The 27-year-old signed a below-market deal with the Knicks over the summer with a player option for next season, so he's looking at a big pay day if he can turn in a big season.

Stay tuned.

Question: What are your early impressions of Smith? Are you confident that he can continue his strong play?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Carmelo Anthony
PTS AST STL MIN
27.4 3.1 1.2 38.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsC. Anthony 8.1
AssistsP. Prigioni 3.5
StealsI. Shumpert 1.2
BlocksA. Bargnani 1.2