NBA New York Knicks

The Evolution of J.R. Smith

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

J.R. Smith has grown up since coming to the New York Knicks last season. Formerly known as a big time partying celebrity, Smith is coming into his own as a Sixth Man of the Year Candidate largely because of his commitment to his team, and his betterment as a basketball player.

Early in his career, Smith, who was drafted out of high school, was involved in several bouts with the law. He was involved in a car accident in 2007 that resulted in the death of one of his passengers. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to the incident, and served 24 days in Monmouth County (NJ) Jail, along with 500 hours of community service. He was also suspended for 7 games of the 2009-10 NBA season.

Smith’s highly popular twitter account has gotten him into trouble, as well. He was fined $25K by the league because he posted a picture of a model, and then he actually shut down (but later reactivated) the account in light of accusations of gang affiliation. Finally, in May 2012, Smith was arrested for failing to appear in court because he was operating a motor-scooter with no license).

Despite his past, we are seeing a new Earl Joseph Smith III (his real name) in 2012-13.

“I’m not going to lie, New York City nightlife last year pretty much got to me,” Smith said. “I was going out pretty much every other night, just not focused on the task at hand. This year is definitely different.”

Well this year is different, in a good way, because Smith is among the top three Sixth Man of the Year Candidates with 16.7 PPG, 3 APG, and 5.1 RPG, at this point in the young season.

If you are still skeptical about the renewed Smith, look no further than two games ago, when the Knicks took on the Memphis Grizzlies. With 4:54 left in the 2nd Quarter, Jerryd Bayless defended Smith tightly as he came around a screen looking for the ball. Smith pushed off with what looked like elbow, and Bayless came after Smith swinging, shoving him as the two exchanged words. The old Smith would have went right back after Bayless, but being that he is a changed man, instead just backed away laughing.

Smith addressed to incident after the game:

‘Other than me trying to get the ball, I don’t know what he (Bayless) could’ve been mad at,’ Smith said.  “Some small guards have a little man’s complex. They got to work that out.”

With his evolution from a celebrity to a basketball player, J.R. Smith is making himself an irreplaceable asset for a Knicks team that is looking to make a championship run in 2012-13.

Follow Thomas Duffy on Twitter @TD_Knicks for articles, news, and all things NBA.