J.R. Smith's maturation as a professional could result in some individual hardware after the season.
New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith did not make the All-Star team. He isn't amongst the league's leading scorers, and despite steady maturation in 2012, he'll still make a few decisions that will drive fans into fits of rage and fury. What Smith does provide for the Knicks, though, is something they'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
The match made in heaven is why the New Jersey native is enjoying his most production as a pro, and why New York sits atop the Atlantic Division.
It's the reason J.R. Smith is the best reserve in the NBA.
Starting from the season's initial tip, we've seen Smith steadily leap over the boundaries that have impeded his progress as a professional. J.R. has willingly turned down looks of his own, which has been something he's steered clear of throughout his eight NBA seasons.
Despite starting every game in his warm-up suit for New York, he's played one of the most important roles of any Knick. This was never more apparent than earlier in the season, when Carmelo Anthony was sidelined with various injuries.
Smith picked up most (if not all) of the offensive slack and kept the team afloat through 'Melo's bumps and bruises. He played the role of closer more than once and single-handedly swished the Knicks to victories with last-moment heroics.
Smith has contributed enough to the Knicks to place him eighth among NBA shooting guards in points per game with 16.7—in only 33.7 minutes per game. Of the top 10 scoring 2-guards, only Dwyane Wade and Jamal Crawford play fewer minutes on average.
He's failed to score double-digit points in just five games this season. From Dec. 8 to Jan. 10, Smith scored 15 points in 17 straight games for New York—coming off the bench in every one.
His shooting touch has cooled off since his early-season clinic—from Nov. 4 to Nov. 21 he shot 48 percent from the field, including 54 percent from three-point range in nine games. Though his shooting percentages have regressed towards his usual averages, he's still playing at one of the highest efficiencies of his career—he's sporting a 16.1 PER.
The matured Smith will even admit to a poor night at the office every now and again.
I was trash tonight sorry #KnicksTape! Ill be better!— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) January 12, 2013
No matter the opponent or the circumstances, however, we can always count on J.R. to get us on our feet. We've seen several highlight-reel plays by Smith this season, and don't be shocked to see him log a few more by season's end as he makes his case for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
Smith has accounted for 17 percent of the Knicks total points in 2012-13. His mark is second only to Carmelo Anthony's 23.7 percent, and this on the NBA's third most offensively efficient team.
Unlike in Smith's past, he is being used effectively off the ball as well as on it. Coach Mike Woodson enjoys running plays with Smith as a screen man to free up shooters, and sometimes even for Smith himself.
Add up all these parts, and you get the best bench player in the NBA. Smith finally has a coach with full trust in him in Mike Woodson, and it's paying immediate dividends for everyone involved.
J.R. Smith finally embracing a team-first mentality could lead to some individual hardware by season's end.
Stats used are accurate as of games played through Jan. 23.