Monday, May 12, 2008

Player Report Card: J.R. Smith

(Boulder-CO) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is not a better suited nickname for a player in this entire league than “The Prodigy” for J.R. Smith. Freakishly athletic, prototypically built, and brimming with confidence are the three best ways to describe Smith who, at times, leaves us all gathering our mandibles from off the floor. Before we get into the deeper analysis of J.R., I feel it’s only fitting to review some of the more spectacular moments from J.R.’s season.

The music in this first clip is NSFW, but the footage (minus the opening scene from a previous season) is comprehensive for the 2007-08 season.

Here is J.R. setting a franchise record for three-pointers made in a single half while scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies:

And here is J.R. scoring a career-high 43 points against the Bulls, who conveniently traded Smith to Denver for Howard Eisley. Thanks, Chicago!

I think I speak for all of us when I say, "WOW!"
And when you read how this young player progressed over the course of this season I think you'll agree that the upside on Smith is still worth the set backs (including the tragic death of friend Andre Bell before the start of this season) he has endured up to this point in his life.
For starters, J.R. Smith recorded the most 20+ point games of anyone in the league not to be one in a single game this year with 13 separate such occasions and from that point there is a plethora of good things to illustrate about "The Prodigy". He finished 16th in treys made league wide while shooting a career-high 40.3% from behind the arch while also leading the Nuggets in adjusted field goal percentage (57.8).
AFG% measures shooting efficiency by taking into account the total points a player produces through his field goal attempts. The intention of this adjustment is largely to evaluate the impact of three-point shooting. For example, if Kenyon Martin has 3-5 FG, all two-point shots for 6 points, then his AFG% = [(6/5)]/2 = .600. Meanwhile, if J.R. Smith is 2-5 FG, but his 2 FGM are both three-pointers for 6 points, then his AFG% = [(6/5)]/2 = .600 too despite making less attempts.
But whats more than all that statistical jargon is how J.R. progressed from the early season dog house into Denver's prime time scoring option off the bench over the course of this season. J.R.'s numbers started out very modest in December with a line consisting of 7.9 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists while only seeing a shade over 14 minutes per game and a ton of George Karl's backside while players like Linas Kleiza and Eduardo Najera saw action. But, when LK went down for over a week with an ankle sprain that took him around a month to fully recover, J.R. pounced on his opportunity to prove to George Karl he was capable of helping this team.
And you have to give Karl credit in this regard for giving J.R. that chance. He could have easily given up on 'The Prodigy" while letting him rot at the end of the bench, but no, he turned back to J.R. and J.R. did not disappoint. His numbers jumped up to 15.4 points over the course of March and April while also posting over two rebounds and two assists.
Now here is where it gets tricky...
For every time that J.R. displayed maturity and poise in one aspect of his game. On some night down the road he would do something completely ridiculous to nullify that warm and fuzzy feeling. For instance, he would display fundamental principles on the fast break by passing the ball early and looking to get it back one night and then try to force it later in the game or, gasp, even worse. Same principle applied when in some cases he would let the game come to him instead of firing up heat-check after heat-check. With J.R., you just couldn't be sure what decision you were going to get from one situation to another, but overall this season proved to me that things are indeed getting better with this young talent.
Overall, I give J.R.'s final line of 12.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists a B-. The B was earned for areas of continued maturation, the seizing of opportunity, and character resiliency. The minus is there to remind us there is still a long way to go with "The Prodigy". Hopefully, Nuggets brass will see things the same way and match any 2.3 million dollar qualifying offer that comes J.R.'s way to keep him in the Mile High.
Go Nuggets!


Unknown said...

Hey Nugg Doc...I guess I am more of a pessimist than you. Stats don't lie, but they also don't always tell the story. Defensively, as athletically gifted as he is, Kobe toyed with him. As would, and did, any number of other players. I just don't know if he has the mentality, smarts, bball IQ, whatever you want to call ever be a well rounded player. To me, even a B- says he is more or less above average which would be a C!!,,,in his overall package. That being said, I have had absolutely no use for J.R. in the past. Now I have a little use for him>>>keep knocking em down Doc.

Monty said...

"Kobe toyed with him."
Seriously? Is that the standard we're holding folks to? I'm not saying his defense doesn't need improvement, but it's right there.
There are maybe two guys in this league that can "adequately" guard Kobe Bryant, and on of them is Ron Artest, who I'm fairly certain is bi-polar.
JR is sick, sick, sick-nasty. I'm buying a jersey.
I know we need to bring in some more "high-character" guys to this team, but he's one that I don't want to lose.