The Knicks were always going to have some growing pains this season. They have a new head coach in Derek Fisher, a new grand overlord in Phil Jackson, and a new offense in the triangle, which most of the players have never run before. But one player who seems to be picking up the new system quickly is J.R. Smith, who drew praise from his new coach, per ESPN New York:
Fisher said his decision to start Smith over the other candidates at shooting guard had to do both with injuries to Hardaway Jr. (hip) and with Smith’s impressive play in training camp.
“J.R. has been consistent in practice, his work ethic has been great,” Fisher said. “He’s picking up the system as well as you possibly can expect a guy in the first week or so.”
The words “J.R. Smith” and “great work ethic” don’t often appear together these days. After winning Sixth Man of the Year in 2013, he was more notable last season for repeated shoelace-untying offenses that resulted in his being fined $50,000 than for his play.
Fisher’s comments seem like a vintage Jackson tactic, publicly praising a player for behavior that’s unusual but that he’d like to see more often. For Smith’s part, he says it’s going to be a process for the Knicks to learn the triangle:
“It’s going to take a few months,” Smith said after the Knicks’ 20-point loss to Boston in their preseason debut. “Over the course of the year, understanding where everybody is going to be, [understanding that] ‘some like it here, [some] like it like that.’ It’s going to take awhile.”
The new system is one reason it’s difficult to predict a playoff run for the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony should thrive in the triangle, but it’s going to take a while for everybody to learn, and even then, they probably don’t have the talent to compete. Still, if the system motivates Smith to play more like 2012-13 J.R. Smith and less like 2013-14 J.R. Smith, so much the better.