J.R. Smith has matured this season, under Coach Mike Woodson of the New York Knicks, from a streaky highlight-reel bonehead into the Sixth Man of the Year in 2013.
In just his second season with the Knicks after spending much of his eight-year career on the Denver Nuggets, Smith put up 18.1 points per game to go along with 2.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds. Smith doesn’t start, but really plays as a starter- he’s on the court for 33.5 minutes per night, which is about six minutes more than his previous high in playing time, and he’s on the court in the most crucial points in the game.
Against the Boston Celtics on Sunday, Smith reverted back to what I’ve come to know as “Bad J.R.”
Now, Smith has always been able to score, but he’s never been consistent because of the fact that he put up ridiculous shots all the time. This season, he’s cut that out, hitting 3’s and step-back jumpers when he’s open but also taking opportunities to drive the lane and finish around the rim. Because of this maturation, he rightfully won the award that celebrates the best bench player in the NBA.
In Game 1 against Boston, which became New York’s second playoff win in the past 12 years, Smith went 7-19 for 15 points. At first glance, those numbers aren’t terrible and Smith didn’t have a catastrophic game, but make no mistake about it- Bad J.R. came to play against the Celtics.
He went 1-7 from 3-point range (14.3 %), turned the ball over three times, didn’t contribute a single assist in 32 minutes on the court, and shot 1-7 from the field in the first quarter. The reason that Bad J.R., who we haven’t seen in a very long time, made an appearance on Sunday was that Smith was taking some shots would have been outrageous in a Harlem Globetrotters game.
Smith wasn’t doing what he’s done all year- driving, shooting in rhythm, and making plays in transition- which has resulted in his winning the Sixth Man of the Year award. Everything that he and Carmelo Anthony did on Sunday was in isolation with their teammates standing and watching.
If the Knicks have any hopes of winning their first playoff series since the 1999-2000 season, they had better hope that Good J.R., the one who earned the Sixth Man of the Year award, shows up in Game 2.