When Will Knicks' Assignee Chris Smith Turn the Corner With Erie BayHawks?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Though Knicks' assignee Chris Smith has struggled to make much noise in the NBA D-League, a 28 point performance against the Canton Charge may have been just what the doctor ordered for him to finally get things going offensively.

Carrying over a trend set last year by teams like the Thunder, Warriors, and Rockets, NBA squads are continuing to assign their young guns to D-League affiliates, following a plan dictated by respective game, practice, and travel schedules.

Thus, it's safe to say such prospects who stand a chance of helping the NBA team are often sent back and forth between The Association and NBADL, not kept in the minor league too long. Things used to be different, but with unlimited call-ups and assignments per player now in place, developing a prospect can be done in a variety of ways.

Having said that, the Knicks have opted to keep Chris Smith with the affiliated BayHawks, having not called him back up since the original assignment on November 18th.

On one hand, this means that the injury-ridden New York squad doesn't believe Smith would be of much help at this point. On the other hand, it could also (in addition) mean that the team believes the young gun's development will be best carried out by allowing him to develop a rhythm while staying with Erie for a longer period of time.

To date, the brother of J.R. Smith has played in six games with the BayHawks. Thus far, he owns averages of 11.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Such numbers are respectable for any NBA D-League athlete. There's no denying that. Still, Smith is instead an assignee, and NBA players who don an NBADL affiliate's uniform (more often than not) seem to dominate the competition instead.

Smith is coming off a season during which he was sidelined throughout much of the campaign, and only started participating in scrimmages around spring time. In addition to simply being a rookie, he still has a long road back due to his injury. Package those two factors with being the brother of a prominent NBA player, and there's a chance such pressures could get to a guy rather quickly.

Entering Saturday, the 26 year old's minor league experience had been a rather quiet one. He'd been playing alright, but hadn't exactly broken out for that dominant offensive performance most are accustomed to seeing from other NBA assignees in the D-League. What's more, when Smith has failed to make a worthwhile impact on the game, Erie's coaching staff hasn't hesitated to curb his minutes and/or take him out. He's developing along with the team's other players, and things don't appear to be specifically catered to him.

But with a new weekend of games comes a fresh slate and new opportunities to be had. Players can grab such an opportunity by the horns and make the most of it. That's exactly what Smith went on to do against the Canton Charge.

Finally having that breakout game of sorts, Smith exploded for 28 points on 12 of 16 shooting from the field. Though the now 0-7 BayHawks lost the contest, the young gun's plus/minus was a 0. Ironically enough, that was best amongst Erie's other starters.

The team lost 106-104, which again, for a team that hasn't won a game thus far, is not so bad. Smith was the focal point of Erie's offense and helped keep them in the game throughout. He played well, and poured in the points en route to the type of performance many would expect on a nightly basis from fellow NBA assignees.

And that's exactly what Smith needs to do next. Having a performance like the one he had on Saturday certainly gets the monkey off his back, but now it becomes about putting a string of such games like that together. Smith proved he has the ability to assert himself offensively, but now needs to follow up by doing it on a consistent basis.

Smith is the type of guard that is easy to be confused by. Is he better suited as a one, or a two? Despite having four assists on Saturday, his style of play doesn't exactly scream "playmaker." With that in mind, becoming a more consistent scorer is that much more imperative to Smith proving he has what it takes to compete at the pro level. Doing so will also help him develop an identity other than the one he currently owns for being J.R.'s younger brother.

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