J.R. Smith: From Sixth Man to Sit Man? Woodson should bench him if he can't snap out of slump soon

J.R. Smith leaves the court during a timeout

J.R. Smith leaves the court during a timeout in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers. (May 5, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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J.R. Smith is in a deep, poorly timed shooting funk, but it could always be worse, as John Starks knows too well.

So how does the author of the most infamous shot-missing meltdown in Knicks playoff history think Smith should find his way out of his slump?

The same way Smith always does: Keep shooting.

"He has the mentality that no matter how many shots I miss, I know the next one is going to fall," said Starks, who in Game 7 of the 1994 Finals shot 2-for-18 in a 90-84 loss to the Rockets. "You have to have that mentality."

Starks spoke before things got even worse for Smith in Game 2 against the Pacers on Tuesday, when he shot 3-for-15 in a 105-79 victory, an outing that led coach Mike Woodson to say he would consider using Smith less if this keeps up.

As he should. Yes, Smith deserves props for a season in which he was the Knicks' second-leading scorer, won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award and was lauded for showing newfound maturity off the court.

But let's be clear: We are talking about J.R. Smith here, not Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant or LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, established stars who deserve to play their ways out of any slump.

Smith's most recent body of work has not earned that sort of consideration, and Woodson should act if he continues to be a drag on the offense. He is shooting 26 percent from the field since his one-game suspension against the Celtics.

Smith did not stop to speak to reporters after practice Thursday, but Anthony did, and he was asked several times about Smith. What has he told him?

"Just relax and play ball," Anthony said. "Don't try to put so much pressure on yourself to go out there and make something happen. Just let it happen, let the game come to you."

And, most importantly, this: "Keep shooting the ball, because we need him to shoot the ball. We need him to make shots."

Anthony said Smith has acknowledged being "in a little slump." But Melo said he does not believe in such things.

"If you tell yourself you're in a slump, you'll be in a slump," he said. "I'm just trying to keep him upbeat, keep him positive because he's a big part of our team . . . I don't think he will be in a so-called slump much longer."

Woodson did not reiterate the benching threat he issued on ESPN Radio Wednesday, but he did reiterate his belief in his mercurial guard. "Eventually he'll break loose and when he does he'll be back to J.R. again and that's going to help us even more," Woodson said.

Probably so -- eventually. But there is no time to wait now. The Knicks and Pacers are about to play a best-of-five series, with as many as three of the potential five games in Indiana.

Smith began the postseason universally hailed by fans, but the relationship has frayed. At best there have been nervous murmurs in the Garden when he gets the ball, at worst, boos.

Complicating matters have been reports of a busy social schedule. Most recently he was seen about town with the singer Rihanna.

What does Anthony say about all that? "I don't want to speak on that," he said. "To me he's focused now. When he's here, he's here. Whatever he's doing in his spare time he does in his spare time. My thing to J.R. is I want him to remain positive regardless of what's going on off the court, what's being said about him."

Starks had reason to believe things would turn around if he kept firing in that long-ago Game 7. Before he went 0-for-11 on three-pointers in the finale, he had been 5-for-9 in Game 6.

"J.R. is the kind of guy who plays with a lot of emotions and he's a shooter and a scorer, and I was the same way," Starks said. "I just wanted to put the ball in the basket, and he has the same type of mentality."

Starks, who won the Sixth Man Award in 1996-97, said that while he might have been a better defender than Smith, "He's a much better scorer than I was. I can honestly say that."

Honestly, it's time for him to prove that again, starting Saturday night.

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