- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson said Wednesday that there is an open competition for the team's shooting guard spot between reigning Sixth Man Award winner J.R. Smith and third-year guard Iman Shumpert.
Woodson said Shumpert has the edge in the competition right now because Smith is still rehabbing from offseason surgery on his left knee and is expected to miss most of the preseason.
The coach, however, will keep an open mind about the position.
"I'm going to let [Smith and Shumpert] fight it out," Woodson said.
The coach had ample opportunity to start Smith last season. Instead, Smith came off the bench in all 80 games he played.
But Woodson changed his mind entering this season.
"I want him to be past that Sixth Man," Woodson said. "Let somebody else get the Sixth Man if he deserves to get that starting job. Last year was last year."
Smith thrived off the bench last season for New York, averaging 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and playing an integral role in the Knicks' regular-season success. But he struggled mightily in the playoffs, making just 33 percent of his field goal attempts.
Woodson said he talked to Smith about the possibility of starting at the beginning of the preseason.
"Why not grant him that opportunity?" Woodson said. "That's not to say he's going to win it, but I'm not telling him he's not going to start. ... [Starting] frees him up to maybe expand his game and be better for our ballclub. I don't know, but we'll see."
Woodson also revealed Shumpert felt soreness in his surgically repaired left knee in the offseason and came into training camp a bit out of shape.
Shumpert, who underwent ACL surgery on his left knee in April 2012, said the soreness he experienced over the summer was expected.
"They just don't want to speed me up [to make sure] I don't hurt it," he said.
Shumpert also said he'd be fine with starting or coming off the bench for the Knicks, who are coming off a 54-win season.
"As long as we win, I'm happy," Shumpert said after the Knicks' 103-102, preseason-opening win against Boston on Wednesday night. "I just want there to be a new scouting report on me. I'm going to establish a new scouting report."
Shumpert, animated on the floor all night, poured in 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting in 25 minutes.
"Iman's just playing. There's nothing to prove to me," Woodson said after the game. "In fairness to J.R., too, J.R. is a big part of what we do. He's going to be right in the mix as soon as he comes back from his injury, so it's going to be competitive in terms of everybody getting minutes."
The Knicks' shooting guard competition might remain open early in the regular season if Smith can't take the court during the preseason. He hasn't resumed running at full speed. Woodson hopes Smith can be back on the floor shortly before the regular season.
Once Smith is deemed healthy enough to play by team and league doctors, he will serve a five-game suspension for violating the NBA's anti-drug policy.
"I like to think he's learned his lesson," Woodson said. "Hopefully it's a learning curve for him that he'll be better for it."