1:04 pm Jul. 10, 2012
Two critical components of the Knicks unusually strong bench agreed on Monday to stay in New York.
J.R. Smith, the mercurial shooting guard, agreed to a one-year deal with a second-year player option, at $2.8 million per season. And Steve Novak, whose three-point shooting electrified Madison Square Garden, signed a four-year, $15.6 million contract.
Both deals represent significant value on the dollar for the Knicks, and a better bet than the alternatives at their disposal.
In Smith, the Knicks probably retained their starting shooting guard for next season, at least until Iman Shumpert returns from his knee injury, which he is expected to do in January.
This is far from an ideal scenario--with the other starters, the best shooting-guard fit would have been someone who could reliably shoot three-pointers without taking too many shots. Smith shot just under 35 percent from long distance, which is league average, but flings them up at a remarkable rate.
Smith has had better three-point shooting seasons in the past--in four seasons, he's shot 39 percent or better--so improvement is distinctly possible. And his defense last season was surprisingly stout.
Consider also what the Knicks are getting for their $2.8 million. The Clippers just signed Jamal Crawford, the former Knick, for four years, $25 million.
Now consider that Crawford is five years older. He didn't shoot as well as Smith did last season, either overall or from three-point range. He rebounded at roughly half the rate Smith did, turned the ball over slightly more, and didn't defend as well. He distributed the ball better, but his overall Player Efficiency Rating was almost identical to Smith's, 15.7 to 15.2.
The other shooting guards available were thoroughly uninspiring as well. Smith was both the in-house option and the best option for the Knicks.
As for Novak, that four-year, $15.6 million contract may seem like a lot to give to a player who doesn't do much other than shoot three-pointers. But that skill alone is extremely valuable, and nobody does it better than Steve Nova: He shot 47.8 percent from the field, but most of his attempts came from three-point range--84 percent of them--and he made league-leading 47.2 percent of those three-point shots.
Retaining such a productive player, one who can stretch defenses and create room for skilled offensive players like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, makes all the sense in the world. Doing so without costing the team a chance at other free agents--since Novak was their own player, with early Bird rights restored thanks to a lawsuit from the players' union, the Knicks could sign him without regard to the salary cap--was an even easier call.
The length of the deal is less of a concern with Novak than it would be with nearly any other player. Novak relies less on athleticism than virtually anyone in the league. He is a stand-alone shooter. At age 29, Novak should have plenty of standing-and-shooting years ahead of him.
With Novak and Smith secured, the Knicks are bringing back most of last season's team. The learning curve will be that much less steep for a collection of talent that, too often last year, was less than the sum of its parts.