When Being Unselfish Goes Too Far

J.R. Smith has been mocked and ridiculed again for something he tweeted. After the Nuggets loss to the Jazz in game four of their first round series Smith said that if you play selfish you lose selfish. Of course, everyone, including myself, thought that such a statement was pretty silly coming from a player who I once said was removed from a game due to a sprained shot selection.

The question is what exactly is selfish? You can be selfish on both offense and defense. You can be selfish in the locker room. The most common way to define selfish play is whether a player, or players, take too many shots. I think it is a very safe assumption that is the kind of selfish J.R. was referring to.

Was Carmelo Anthony selfish when he took 26 shots? I suspect most people would say, “No.” Carmelo made 13 of his 26 shots and his 39 point performance was what prevented the game from becoming a blowout earlier in the contest. On the other hand, Carmelo did take some bad shots, plus he turned the ball over a whopping nine times while only tallying one assist.

You can make an argument that Carmelo played great and was the reason Denver was within seven points in the fourth quarter. However, I think you could also argue that maybe the Nuggets would have been better off if Melo did a little more passing and a little less dribbling off his foot trying to force his own offense.

Was Chauncey Billups selfish when he took four long jumpers in the first quarter? After the game Chauncey claimed that he really focused on reversing the ball. I saw many more jumpers than swing passes from Chauncey.

Kenyon Martin launched three jumpers in the first quarter that he had no business shooting. Was he selfish? Ty Lawson was aggressive in looking for his offense and his play could have been considered somewhat selfish too. Chris Andersen missed a jumper and both Birdman and Kenyon missed shots when they tried to throw down a spectacular follow dunk instead of making an attempt at a safer tip in. Can we classify those efforts as a selfish attempt at style over substance?

In comparison, J.R. was on the floor for 8:14 seconds before he attempted his first shot. Aside from a three quarter court heave at the first half buzzer Smith only attempted four shots in 16:14 seconds of floor time in the first half. One shot was a breakaway layup and second attempt was the shot he took after he rebounded his missed breakaway layup.

Looking beyond shot totals, it was obvious that J.R. was making an effort to play unselfish basketball. He was a very willing passer and never was a “ball stopper” that George Karl has railed against in the past. He passed up open shots in order to give the ball to teammates who were in worse position than he was. I can see why after the game he might have felt like he was playing an unselfish style of basketball and his teammates did not reciprocate.

The flip side to that is J.R. did nothing to set his teammates up. He did not drive and attempt to earn an easy shot or get to the free throw line. He simply passed the ball around the perimeter when it came to him. That may be unselfish, but is it they style of play the Nuggets need from J.R.? It certainly was not particularly effective as all the passing only netted J.R. two assists.

I think it is exceptional that J.R. was trying to be coachable and implement the style of play that we all know leads to success for the Denver Nuggets. It is a small step forward in his development. Unfortunately, his efforts seem to be misguided. Unselfish does not mean passive and J.R. was incredibly passive, especially in the first half.

I understand J.R.’s frustration and appreciate his desire to promote unselfish play. The problem is if J.R. is not being a playmaker, it is bad for the team. Plus I would wait more than one game before I start calling people out on Twitter.

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