With the New York Knicks on the verge of the second round of the playoffs and likely the team to meet the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, we're going to be seeing a ton of J.R. Smith over the next few weeks.
For those of you who know Smith as no more than that weird dude who comes off the bench for the Knicks, there's a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to the head-to-toe tattooed 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year.
Smith's high school yearbook photo was dug up just a few days back, and it shows just how he has remained a character through the years.
The best way I can think to describe him would be hilariously serious, yet seriously hilarious.
It's the reason that he's able to get suspended for elbowing Jason Terry in the head one day and then pretend like he has no idea who he is just a few days later.
It's the reason why he's able to have a tattoo of his mother on the right side of his chest accompanied by the phrase "Mama's Boy" and a tattoo of Jesus on the left side of his chest accompanied by "Black Jesus."
Whether his comedy stylings are purposeful is really beside the point. It's just Smith's personality that seems to make him such a character.
As far as his fit into the Knicks lineup, Smith is basically what they had in excess during the 2000s, only in a much more limited capacity.
Following in the footsteps of the volume-shooting guards of the dark years in New York, Smith exhibits quite a bit of the same style of play that guys like Jamal Crawford, Stephon Marbury and Latrell Sprewell showed off when the Knicks alternated between killing their fans with mediocre seasons and being the laughing stock of the league.
The difference now is that they're not entirely dependent on those guys scoring consistently. Instead they have Smith in a capacity where his brilliance can be magnified by keeping him in games longer when he's clicking, while minimizing his minutes when he's falling into a rut.
He's simultaneously killed his reputation as a chucker in the same season where his biggest highlights are of him chucking ridiculous shots and dropping them in.
Smith's reputation as a guy who makes horrible decisions on the court was well-earned, however. Going back to his involvement in a brawl between the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets back in 2006, Smith's attitude and decision-making have always been in question.
The first time he made the playoffs with the Nuggets, Denver coach George Karl ended up benching him for his terrible choice of shots. Karl perfectly summed up Smith's first eight years in the league after benching him in the first round of the playoffs in 2007 (Via ESPN.com):
He's a good-bad player. You evaluate his good, you evaluate his bad. He had good plays in Game 3 and he had good plays in Game 4. But you've just got to be mentally more secure and tougher than he showed in Game 4.
Smith's career was constantly on a day-to-day basis, coaches weighing what he brought to the table with what he took away and having to do so on the fly.
He was confident, but there were points where his confidence far exceeded what his abilities would allow.
In his time with the Nuggets, Smith had games where he made 10 and 11 three-pointers, but he also had plenty of games when he would shoot 2-of-10 or even 0-of-7 from the three-point line. He was a guy who could definitely shoot, but he just didn't always know when to shoot.
He eventually ended up in New York via China, stepping out to play in the CBA during the lockout season before coming back and grabbing a deal with the Knicks.
His contributions weren't unnoticed, but they weren't as amplified until this season when he suddenly became Carmelo Anthony's second banana.
Somewhere along the line, Smith learned the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. That doesn't mean he won't still take the bad shot here and there, but it just means that he tends to take fewer of them.
Not only that, but for whatever reason, he's been sinking a crazy number of bad shots this season, giving Knicks fans a reason to rally around him rather than grumble at his antics like they did in Denver.
Smith is a free agent this summer, and he's likely the toughest one to figure out.
The only thing I can tell you for sure is that he's going to make some team incredibly angry at one point during the season and tremendously happy at another point.
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