Something looks different about J.R. Smith this year.
Maybe it's because he's no longer hungover for the opening tip anymore.
Smith admitted last week to have fallen victim to New York City nightlife in his first season as a Knick, claiming he was "going out pretty much every other night."
Thankfully for the Knicks, the Manhattan club scene gets repetitive.
This could actually end up being a significant development. Nobody ever questioned Smith's talent, just his head. And now that it's not ripping Patron shots until three in the morning, it might actually have some use sitting on top of his shoulders.
His improved play has been a major factor towards the Knicks' success, giving the team a secondary scoring option while Amare Stoudemire recovers from a knee injury.
However, it's been his overall decision-making that's helped add balance and efficiency to New York's offense. As of Saturday afternoon, Smith is shooting 47 percent with a three-to-one assist to turnover ratio.
Playing 34 minutes a night, the points will come. But maintaining his efficiency as a ball-dominant guard will help minimize and hopefully eliminate wasted offensive possessions.
It appears as if the Knicks have reached the point where making the playoffs is no longer the primary goal. As their quality of play rises, so do their expectations.
So how long does J.R. keep this up? We've seen him get hot before. We've also seen him cool off.
Is this just another streak? Because if the Knicks are serious about this championship run, they can't afford Smith's light to flicker. Especially with the uncertainty surrounding Amare Stoudemire's body.
Right now, the most important variable surrounding the Knicks' success is J.R. Smith's newfound maturity. Whether or not he can sustain this type of effectiveness throughout an 82-game season and longer could determine just how good this team really is.
Smith is one of the more unique characters in the game. A guy who can pull his team in it, or pull them out.
While the Knicks have depth, it's not exactly potent. They'll need J.R. Smith to be a constant in the offense. A true No. 2 option on a nightly basis.
Though it's unfair to take a routine 25 minute-per-game player and give him second-tier scoring responsibilities, the Knicks don't have much of a choice. It seems ironic, but J.R. Smith could end up being the guy who determines the Knicks' playoff outlook.
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