PROVIDENCE - Mike Woodson is going to give J.R. Smith a chance to go from Sixth Man of the Year to the Knicks starting shooting guard this season.
Woodson said Iman Shumpert "has the jump" on Smith right now. But Woodson wants to see how Smith plays when he returns from offseason knee surgery before making a decision.
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"I told him in his exit meetings if you came back this year with the attitude that you could possibly win a starting job, why not grant him that opportunity," Woodson said before the Knicks defeated the Boston Celtics, 103-102, in their preseason opener at Dunkin Donuts Center Wednesday night. "That's not to say he's going to win it. It frees him up to maybe expand his game and be better for our ballclub."
Perhaps Woodson is trying to motivate Shumpert, an improving third-year player who already sounds and seems motivated. Shumpert was 7-for-7 shooting, including 3 of 3 on three-pointers to finish with 18 points in 25 minutes off the bench Wednesday night. "I just want there to be a new scouting report on me," Shumpert said. "I'm going to establish a new scouting report."
Shumpert started all 45 games he played last year but continues to fight through injuries.
Woodson revealed Shumpert had soreness in his surgically repaired left knee over the summer, and it slowed his development. Shumpert said he took three to four weeks off, but his knee is fine now.
Last week, Shumpert hurt his right shoulder and missed two practices and the contact part of another. "When his shoulder went out the other day I was like 'Damn, well, here we go again,' " Woodson said.
Woodson said because Shumpert missed part of camp he started Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt Wednesday night. Smith hasn't participated in practice, yet he could be the regular starting shooting guard.
This is a dramatic change in Woodson's thinking from last season when he was so adamant that Smith would come off the bench. On some nights, Ronnie Brewer or James White started instead of Smith, who averaged 18.1 points in 80 games en route to the top reserve award.
"Let somebody else get the sixth man if he deserves to get that starting job," Woodson said. "Last year was last year. The only question I have: Are you going to start the game with the mindset of defending too? I know you can score. I know Iman can defend. He's still searching for his offense.
"You can go back and forth with it but I'm going to let them two fight it out."
The competition may not come until the last week of October or into the season. Woodson hopes Smith can return for the final preseason game Oct. 25. But Smith will be suspended the first five regular-season games he can play in for violating the league's anti-drug policy.
So Shumpert may start at shooting guard for at least the first five games.
"If he stays healthy then Iman has the jump on J.R.," Woodson said. "If that's the case he can be starting come opening night. If J.R. comes back and is able to take it from him then, hey, nothing is set in stone with our team."
Shumpert, a tenacious defender, displayed some of his offensive abilities when his knee got stronger last season. He said he would be more aggressive this season whether he starts or comes off the bench.
"I'm expecting big things out of him," Woodson said. "He knows what I want. It's just a matter of him staying healthy."
Notes & quotes: Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points, including the game-winning jumper with 8.2 seconds left. Metta World Peace had 13 and Andrea Bargnani 12 in their Knicks debuts . . . Woodson said Kenyon Martin, who has been held out of most of the contact parts of practice, probably won't play in any of the three games on this trip.