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J.R. Smith's on-Court Maturation Key to NY Knicks' Sustained Success

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J.R. Smith's on-Court Maturation Key to NY Knicks' Sustained Success
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The New York Knicks have come out to have an insanely hot start, especially compared to the expectations people had for them before the season started. The expectations were moderate, but the Knicks have come out behind Carmelo Anthony and have more or less dominated.

New York is running on the fumes of dying careers and on the explosions of resurrected careers, while Anthony is putting together a bona fide MVP-caliber season. If they can keep playing half as well as they have been, they'll be able to find themselves a good playoff spot.

I'm not ready to call them contenders for the NBA Championship less than a month into the season, but something I can say about them is that they look like a very dangerous team.

Jason Kidd is knocking down shots, Raymond Felton is running the offense well, Tyson Chandler is more or less what he was last season, Ronnie Brewer is playing effective basketball and Rasheed Wallace is continuing to be entertaining.

There are a few things that can't hold up over the course of a season. I'm imagining that Kidd isn't going to go on to have the first season in NBA history shooting 50 percent from the floor and the three-point line and 90 percent from the free-throw line. 

On the other side of the argument, you've got to imagine that Steve Novak is going to bounce back from his slow start shooting just 38 percent from the three-point line. Plus, they'll be getting the added bonus of defense from Iman Shumpert when he comes back in the 2013 portion of the season, plus whatever Amar'e Stoudemire is capable of adding when he returns.

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Of course, with every hot team there's usually one hot player that stands out above all others. It seems like it would be Anthony, but in the case of the Knicks, it's got to be J.R. Smith.

Smith has started off the season shooting 48 percent from the field, which would be a career high for him, and 60 percent from the three-point line. Needless to say, that's an unsustainable yet impressive rate.

His start to the season has shown nothing but a complete transformation in attitude and approach to the game.

Off the court, Smith has already talked about his taking the game more seriously this season, avoiding the New York nightlife more than he did last season:

I'm not going to lie. The New York City nightlife pretty much got to me. I was going out pretty much every other night and not focused on the task at hand.

In the gym, Smith has taken the same attitude: really working on his game and trying to lead by example in front of the rest of the guys. I guess the mentality there is if they see Smith, a notorious slacker, working harder than them, they'll be motivated to work harder.

Smith is going to fall off eventually, he's not going to shoot 60 percent for three all season long. But the way he's been playing is going to continue to keep him as a valuable member of this Knicks team.

He has worked a lot harder defensively, becoming a hound dog on the ball and working harder to help in the post, rebounding and even blocking a few more shots than he's been known to swat away.

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As the Knicks enter a tumultuous time trying to reintegrate Stoudemire back into their lineup in about a month, a lot is going to rely on Smith to be a stabilizing force on the team. At one point, that might have been frightening for a fan to hear, but it seems like he can do it if he continues down this path of maturity.

If he does, then the Knicks have a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate and possibly even a shot at unseating the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, eight games is an extremely small sample size.

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