Could J.R. Smith, the NBA's Sixth Man Award winner, be spending more time on the bench?
New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson didn't rule out the possibility of cutting Smith's minutes in light of his recent shooting struggles.
"I'll gauge J.R. as we go along and if I feel he's not giving me anything, I could always turn to other guys on that bench," Woodson said Wednesday in an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM's "The Stephen A. Smith & Ryan Ruocco Show."
"I feel good about the guys that come in off that bench, just like I feel good about J.R.," the coach added. "But if he's struggling and I feel the need [that] I've got to pull him, then I will do that as the head coach and then other guys have got to come in and step up and play."
It doesn't appear as if a reduction in Smith's playing time is imminent.
But the fact that Woodson didn't rule it out indicates how much Smith has struggled of late.
He went 3-for-15 and scored just eight points in the Knicks' Game 2 win over the Pacers. In Game 1, Smith missed 11 of 15 shots.
"He's missing shots and he's not playing well from an offensive standpoint," Woodson said of Smith, who is averaging 31.9 minutes per game in the playoffs. "I think he's giving us a lot defensively. And that's why he's staying out there on the floor because he's holding his own defensively and he's rebounding some for us at his position.
"But he is and has struggled offensively. ... We've got to get him out of this funk and get him back to playing like we know he's capable he's playing."
Smith has struggled since coming back from a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in Game 3 of the Knicks-Celtics series.
In the four games since the suspension, Smith's averaging 13 points on just 26 percent shooting. He has missed 18 of 25 3-point attempts during that span.
In three playoff games prior to the suspension, Smith scored 16.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting and hit 31 percent of his threes.
Woodson was asked if he'd hesitate to cut Smith's playing time because he has a close relationship with the player.
"It wouldn't be tough because if he's committed as a player ... he's got to understand, it's coaching and he'll get another shot," Woodson said. "And if he's about team, he'll understand and he'll sit and wait his turn again. And when he gets back in there, hopefully he'll do his thing. We've got a lot of confidence in J.R."
Smith was an integral part of the Knicks' regular season success. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists to help lift the Knicks to their first Atlantic Division title in 13 years.
"I'm not going to kick him to the curb," Woodson cautioned. "He's a big part of what we've don't his season.
"The wonderful thing about J.R. and the beauty about his play this year, even when he has struggled he's always been able to come through in clutch situations, and that says a lot," Woodson added. "He's not scared to take the big shot, he's won games for us this year. So I'm not throwing J.R. to the curb by any means."
If Woodson did choose to decrease Smith's minutes, it's unclear who would step into his role. He could use Jason Kidd as the first player off of his bench or ask Chris Copeland to fill the void. Also, Amar'e Stoudemire is expected to return to the lineup in Game 3.
But none of those players is as versatile as Smith is, when he's performing well. Smith, it should be noted, has a player option in his contract for next season. He is likely to turn down that down and test free agency this summer.
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