Reports are circulating that New York Knicks‘ shooting guard J.R. Smith will be the NBA’s 2013 winner of the Sixth Man of The Year award. This news comes after a satisfying game one playoff victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday.
This season, Smith played 80 of the 82 games off the bench and averaged 18 points. That and his 5.3 rebounds per game average are an eight-year career high. Smith tied Los Angeles Clippers‘ guard Jamal Crawford with 29 games with 20 or more points.
Smith has carried a reputation over his career with the New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets and now with the Knicks, that made his name synonymous with inconsistency. He has a starter skill set and plays excellent defense. However, it’s his shot selection and focus that has served as his Achilles heal and kept him a bench player. Smith has been known to fall in love with the three-point shot with total disregard to open team mates or the shot clock. He was also known as a socialite who partied on nights before games who never reached full potential on the court. This drove his previous coaches crazy.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Smith signed a contract to play in China with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. This contract did not have an opt-out clause, so he could not return to the NBA until the end of the Chinese Basketball Association season, which was well after the lockout ended. However, when he did come back, his athleticism and potential to get hot from the perimeter made him an instant fan favorite.
Smith had always shown flashes and even extended steaks of brilliance over the course of his career, but it was Knicks coach Mike Woodson that got Smith to focus and upgrade his game. Gone were the parties on nights before the game. And on the court, Woodson ended the love affair with those possession killing three-point attempts. Woodson got Smith to drive to the basket to get to the foul line and openly showed displeasure with Smith when he didn’t. Ironically this made defenders respect his ability to get to the basket and back off of him on the perimeter, thus leaving him with more open shots from the three-point line.
Woodson’s even handed and honest coaching style won the ear and respect of J.R. Smith (and the rest of the team), and it showed on the court this season. This award is a compliment to growth and a symbol of that growth. It is also that growth that could be just the thing to finally get into round two of the playoffs and beyond.