How J.R. Smith's Stalling Career Found Rebirth with the New York Knicks

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterNovember 14, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks reacts against the Miami Heat in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

J.R. Smith has become the new John Starks of the 2012 New York Knicks.

There I said it.

Two freewheeling spirits who feed off confidence, energy and unpredictability.

Knicks fans loved Starks like he was their own son. They showed him tremendous love when he was great, and scolded him when he wasn't. But at the end of the day, they embraced him.

The Knicks signed J.R. Smith in midseason of last year after he played in what was the least fitting environment for his personality and lifestyle. I remember reading the headlines.

"J.R. Goes to China." It sounded like the fifth sequel of an awful slapstick movies series:

Finally, after reportedly missing a hilarious 80 practices and his team looking to fine him $1 million dollars, the Knicks grabbed him for cheap in need of a scorer at the 2-position.

Mike Woodson has been great for J.R. Smith. While most coaches have tried toning him down, Woodson keeps tapping the button. Smith said the other day that Woodson was the only coach he's ever had that told him to shoot more often.

So far, whatever mind game Woody is playing with Smith is working, because he's averaging career highs in both assists, rebounds and field-goal percentage.

Maybe it's that spellbinding goatee fooling him with trickery.

Either way, Smith is playing the best basketball of his career. This three-pointer illustrates just how high his confidence is.

He must have looked at the hoop for one-tenth of a second before firing, which shows he's completely locked in.

Smith also fits in with the Knicks' player personnel. He's extremely well liked, both by the new guys and the older ones.

There seems to be a mutual relationship. Smith's spark and microwave-like scoring ability ignites and energize his teammates, who consequently encourage J.R. to continue being J.R.

Here's an example of what Smith can do for his teammates' passion and energy levels. Keep your eyes on Pablo Prigioni throughout the celebration process.

Did you see that? Not the dunk. We've seen Smith throw down before.

But Pablo Prigioni's double-arm air pump? It's about as natural a reaction of joy as you'll ever see. As if his underdog horse just won the Kentucky Derby.

With a player like Smith, there's always going to be cold streaks. It's just inevitable.

But in the right situation and with the appropriate direction, the Knicks can minimize those droughts and eliminate inconsistencies.

Without Amare Stoudemire, the Knicks have been in need of a No. 2 scorer. And Smith has New York's vote of confidence.

Whether or not New York becomes Smith's permanent home remains to be seen. The Knicks will own his Bird rights after the season, meaning they can exceed the cap to re-sign him (assuming he uses his player option to opt out of his minuscule contract).

He seems like a long-term fit for a city and team who appreciates J.R. for J.R.

Let's just hope I'm not writing a story next week on why J.R. Smith fizzled out.