What was most infuriating about J.R. Smith, among the 37 infuriating things about J.R. Smith, was that the former Nuggets guard was wasting a gift.
He was Will Hunting. He was a prodigy with a Michael Jordan body and athleticism straight from the imagination of someone at Marvel. But he didn’t just underachieve — hoisting jumpers carte blanche, playing defense like it was optional. He complemented said underachievement with preposterous, perpetual immaturity — suspensions, an arrest and continual clashing with coaches (here and abroad). He was a 6-foot-6 cliché, the spoiled athlete with warped priorities.
I provide you with this back story in effort to compliment the guy. See, J.R. has changed. So far. I mean, we’re not a full month into the NBA season. But word out of New York is that the Knicks guard has done a 180, like one of his fancy dribbling moves. He’s playing brilliant basketball. His coach pointed out that he dresses professionally now.
J.R. Smith had a wake up call this summer when after hitting free agency he found out that the money he expected to come rolling in did not.
He had to settle for the Knicks modest offer and go back to work on his life and his game. That’s where Mike Woodson, who treats J.R. like a son, encouraging when needed and providing a proverbial smack to the back of his head when that’s needed too also comes in.
Woodson’s approach with J.R. coupled with what had to be a disappointment of a free agency period helped him to put the foolishness on and off the court away and put the talent we all knew he had front and center.
One example of course is the recent admission from J.R. that he partied too much last season in his opinion and that he has stopped that, realizing it was time to buckle down and work on his game.
The other example is when Woodson told him that he would be the 6th man. He was upset, which is understandable because he is a competitor and wants to start in the NBA. But he went to his teammates, talked about the problem, took the advice they gave him, which basically was, we need you here, now go out and get the job done, and has done just that.
J.R. is the kind of player that can fly half way around the world, show up with no practice, step onto an NBA court and score 15 points no problem. Oh wait, that actually happened. The point is that his talent as the writer from the Denver Post explains above is endless and now in this small seven game sample size, we are seeing it consistently for the first time.
J.R. is a fan favorite, his teammates love him and his coach has the trust in him to give him a chance to help the Knicks close out games and at times be a boost of energy off the bench.
His quest to become not just a good player but a great player is only beginning. But the wake up call he got this summer from the other 29 teams is helping the Knicks reap the benefits today from the new and mature J.R. Smith.