Today, the Knicks are in position to win the franchise’s first division title since 1994 and still have a chance to win 50 games for the first time since 2000.
For that, Smith deserves an immense amount of credit, and – despite the recent struggles of the Knicks – deserves serious consideration for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award.
At 40-26, the Knicks are 5 1/2 games behind the 47-22 Los Angeles Clippers, so giving the award to Jamal Crawford makes some sense. And yes, Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors has put together a very impressive campaign as well.
But Crawford has the benefit of playing with Chris Paul, a floor general who is a far superior talent than Raymond Felton. Paul makes the game easier for everybody, and that includes Crawford – though he does play a bulk of minutes as the team’s lead guard with the second unit.
Still, Crawford shares time on the floor with both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, two bigs who attract attention on the interior and help keep opposing defenses honest. That’s not something that Smith has.
In Oakland, Jack has the benefit of playing with two All-Star caliber talents in David Lee and Stephen Curry and a prolific shooter in Klay Thompson. Jack is the team’s fourth-leading scorer and isn’t counted on in the same nightly manner as Smith.
Smith, on the other hand, is not only enjoying the best season of his nine-year career, he has emerged as the best two-way player of the group and is an irreplaceable part of coach Mike Woodson’s rotation.
At 16.8 points per game, Smith is the second-leading scorer on the Knicks and the only player on the entire roster who has appeared in all 66 games this season. Without him, there is simply no telling where the Knicks would be right now.
Smith actually averages slightly more points in losses (17.3) than he does in wins (16.6). But that often comes out of necessity, as Smith looks for his offense more when his teammates struggle. His shooting, rebounds, assists and steals are higher in wins, and his turnovers are lower.
In short, when Smith is a complete player, the Knicks have a better chance of winning.
Yes, his shot selection often is as questionable as some of his Twitter antics (Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2). But if there is one thing that can be confidently said about Smith is that he is among the Knicks – along with Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd – who bring their full effort every single night.
And again, it should be noted that he is the only one who has brought that full effort every single night this season.
With the Knicks having gone just 22-21 since beginning the season 18-5, Woodson has come under scrutiny for his return to isolation-heavy basketball. The understanding between Smith and Woodson, however, is that if Smith gives full effort on the defensive side of the ball, he will have the opportunity to take and create his own shots on the offensive end.