Raising J.R. Smith

Written by Tarun Bhan

As we watched JR Smith settle for another fade away, contested, long two at the buzzer, the thought creeped into my mind “Why does Woodson trust JR so much?” A fair question, I think, considering this 40%-shooting, enigmatic guard is playing the third-most minutes on the Knicks (and more than Tyson Chandler, I might add).

The trust has roots in Woodson taking JR under his wing shortly after taking over the team last year. “I told him I’m not going to let him off the hook. I want his shorts pulled up. I want him to look presentable. Be a professional. That’s what it’s all about,” he said back then. mike-woodson-j-r-smith

Watching Woodson talk about JR, it’s clear that he truly believes in him, and recognizes that a harnessed, efficient JR essential for the deep playoff run we’ve all been dreaming of.

When you take a step back and look at the progress, Woodson’s mentoring appears to be working. In less than a year Smith has evolved from a shoot-only scorer off the bench to a guy that many Knick fans want to start, can handle the ball and you
can even trust (gasp!) to run the second unit.

For his part, JR has credited Woodson with giving him a new outlook on the game, explaining “It’s the first time in a long time I really care about not letting my coach down”. JR seems to have responded to this hands-on, paternal coaching style and is having arguably his best season as a pro.

Clear evidence of his maturation, after the game JR said all the right things: “I really should have taken a page out of LeBron’s book yesterday and just tried to go to the basket.”

As we watch JR Smith chuck another fade away off the iron, maybe we should take a deep breath and chalk it up to part of the learning process. Maybe we should allow it to be a teaching opportunity, as Woodson does.

Maybe we should let JR be JR, because that may very well get you a big win in June. Or maybe, he’s just another chucker playing too many minutes.