Smith averaged 18 points in 33.5 minutes per game, with 2.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 80 games (no starts). It’s worth mentioning that though in a bench role, Smith’s minutes per game were good enough for third on the team, behind only Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony.
I suppose one could point out that there is something sort of odd about there actually being a Sixth Man of the Year award, as one kind of wonders exactly why the league’s finest bench player warrants recognition, but be that as it may, if an award there must be, it’s nice to have it go to one of your own.
And there’s no doubt that this honor was thoroughly deserved.
There was a time when that may not have been entirely clear. For all the early season narrative of a career-year for Smith, there wasn’t a ton of evidence to support it. Instead of getting a new and improved Smith, the Knicks were getting pretty much the same J.R. of years past, just more of it. Yes, Smith was exciting, and an essential part of the Knicks’ success, but he was still shooting around 40% of the field, relying on a patented step-back jumper that was often as maddening as it was pure.
But over the final two months, Smith became lovable less for an amusing persona or an entertaining Twitter feed and more for his simply stellar play. Almost out of nowhere, Smith came to finally put together his ample array of gifts as completely as we’d ever seen it. We don’t need to hash out the transformation in much detail, the way he started attacking the basket, getting to the line at will, while continuing to be a deadly three-point marksman, we all saw it.
But if you want to point out when the Knicks broke out of a mid-season funk and became a truly dangerous team, you can start with the evolution of Smith. Who can say who deserves the credit, whether the Woodson as mentor meme finally proved accurate, or J.R. just woke up one day and decided it was time to be awesome, but the fact that it happened to me is one of the biggest reasons the Knicks enter this postseason with an earned confidence, and a sense that something special is starting to coalesce.
No one ever denied that J.R. Smith was a gifted talent, and now there’s no reason to.