Now, let’s get another thing straight: J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks is already a legitimate candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
No seriously, I’m not kidding.
Smith has improved by leaps and bounds heading into this season. Through four games, the usually erratic shooting guard is averaging 17.5 points, 3.3 assists, five rebounds and 2.3 steals on 45.6 percent shooting. He’s also shooting 68.8 percent from beyond the arc, which is an impressive feat even through just four games because he hoists up four per contest.
Those numbers are no coincidence. Instead, they’re a tell-tale sign that the 27-year-old is—wait for it—growing up as both a player and person.
Surely I jest, right? I mean this perpetual troublemaker isn’t about to evolve as both an athlete and human being, is he?
Oh yes, he is. This season, we have seen Smith finally embrace his role as a Sixth Man. He’s willing to give up the ball in favor of teammates because this season, he’s knows he’s going to get it back. And he’s also playing suffocating defense on the other side of the ball, because he know good defensive sets can lead to easy baskets.
Simply put, he understands the game much better than he ever has before and is carrying himself is way in which we have never witnessed; he’s content with his role, yet thirsty for more.
And according to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, he’s prepared to stay that way:
J.R. Smith was disappointed about not being a starter this year. But Smith, and the rest of the Knicks, couldn’t be happier with the way he’s played.
Smith has been a spark in the Knicks’ 4-0 start. He’s not only filling the role of the consummate sixth man but has been the second scorer the Knicks need behind Carmelo Anthony with Amar’e Stoudemire out.
“I’m loving it right now,” Smith said. “I’m playing my game, playing with confidence. I have a chance to go out there and make plays for my teammates. Coach has given me a lot of opportunities, so I love it.”
If you take nothing else away from Smith’s sentiments, just understand that he loves what he’s doing. He clearly accepts that just because he isn’t in the starting lineup, doesn’t mean he’s not going to play starting caliber minutes, because he has. It also doesn’t mean he won’t be on the floor when it counts most, because again, he is.
We truly are witnessing Smith evolve right before our eyes. After nearly a decade of NBA experience, he’s finally reaching his potential as a two-way star.
And perhaps we have Mike Woodson to thank for that. Or maybe Smith just feels he has something to prove to his doubters. Or maybe he’s simply doing this for him.
But the “why” doesn’t matter. All that matters is Smith is currently on pace to have a career season in all facets of the game and has begun to do things—like facilitate—that many of his critics never thought he’d do.
And if you had to name a Sixth Man of the Year right now, it would be him.
Yes, Jamal Crawford is tearing it up for the Los Angeles Clippers, but Smith’s rise to prominence means more. He’s currently the second-in-offensive-command for an undefeated team; he’s now Carmelo Anthony’s No. 2. After all the years these two spent together, he’s now proving to ‘Melo, and the rest of the world, that he is someone his team, someone the fans can depend on.
So should Smith keep up this pace and remain as dedicated as he currently is, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win the Sixth Man of the Year award.
We have to accept reality at some point.
And right now, the reality is, Smith is a legitimate candidate—if not the favorite—to win the Association’s highly coveted Sixth Man of the Year crown.
Dan Favale is a firm believer in the three-pointer as well as the notion that defense doesn’t always win championships. His musings can be found at Bleacherreport.com in addition to TheHoopDoctors.com. Follow @danfavale on Twitter for his latest posts and all things NBA.