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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Opening Tip: Is Melo missing Smith?

By Ian Begley

Every weekday throughout the season, ESPNNewYork.com will tackle a burning question about the Knicks in our "Opening Tip" segment.

Today's Burning Question: How important is J.R. Smith to the Knicks, and to Carmelo Anthony in particular?


Anyone who watched Knicks-Celtics on Sunday knows how much New York missed J.R. Smith. With Smith out due to suspension, the Knicks shot a shade under 29 percent in the first half and scored just seven bench points in the Game 4 loss.

"We missed him," Carmelo Anthony said on Tuesday. "We missed him just being out there on the court with us, what he’s brung to our team this year. No lie, we missed him.”

Anthony might have missed Smith more than any other Knick. He went 10-for-35 on Sunday without Smith, who was serving a one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry in Game 3.

And there's evidence that Anthony's struggles with Smith out were no coincidence.

Statistically, Anthony does not fall off of a cliff with Smith out. His field goal percentage and the Knicks' offensive efficiency remain relatively consistent.

But there are some metrics that show Smith's presence has a positive impact on Anthony.

Plus/minus, though an imperfect measurement, hints at Smith's affect on Anthony.

The Knicks outscored opponents by 237 points when Anthony and Smith shared the floor in the regular season, according to NBA.com.

They outscored opponents by 60 points when Anthony was on the floor without Smith.

Of course, those numbers are also influenced by the other Knicks on the floor, not just Smith and Anthony.

There is also evidence, though, that suggests Smith's presence helps Anthony's shot selection.

Thirty-four percent of Anthony's field goal attempts in the regular season came within five feet of the rim when he shared the floor with Smith, per an analysis run by NBA.com.

That number dipped to just 21 percent when Smith was on the bench.

Forty-four percent of Carmelo's regular-season shots were midrange jumpers when Smith was on the bench; just 35 percent of his shots were taken in the midrange (between 15-23 feet) when Smith was on the floor, per NBA.com.

So Smith's return in Game 5 could provide both a boost to the Knicks bench and a better boundary for Anthony's shot selection.

"It’s very important to have him back," Mike Woodson said of the NBA's top sixth man. "J.R. is a big piece to the puzzle."

A big piece to the Knicks' puzzle, and, maybe, to Anthony's.

Today's Burning Question: How important is J.R. Smith to the Knicks, and to Carmelo Anthony in particular?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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