If we're going to poke fun at J.R. Smith every time he does something wrong, we have to recognize what he does right as well.
It was one of those nights on Jan. 11, as the dynamic 2-guard came back from a one-game benching with an excellent outing against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Prior to this contest, nothing had been going right for Smith. Not only was he averaging only 11.3 points per game while shooting 34.8 percent from the field, but he'd also sparked a media firestorm with his curious penchant for untying shoelaces.
J.R. Smith has been fined $50,000 for recurring instances of unsportsmanlike conduct, it was announced today. #Knicks— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) January 8, 2014
Things got so bad, and Mike Woodson got so frustrated with the shooting guard—despite their close, personal relationship—that he was even rumored to be on the trading block.
Story going online now from @IanBegley & I: ESPN sources say Knicks, challenging as it sounds, have begun exploring J.R. Smith trade options— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 8, 2014
Needless to say, that led to quite a few snarky, but legitimate, responses.
*screams from the mountaintop* "ANYONE WANT THIS GUY JR SMITH?" *crickets* *sound of leaves* *drop of water echoing from far away*— netw3rk (@netw3rk) January 8, 2014
Trading JR Smith will be easy as piloting James Dolan’s ego through tsunami-esque conditions while bound, gagged & blindfolded for #Knicks.— Dan Favale (@danfavale) January 8, 2014
Knicks: "We'll trade you JR Smith." Other team: "Um, I guess we'll give you a pair of shoe laces for him."— Robin Lundberg (@robinlundberg) January 8, 2014
Smith was eventually benched for one game, and he watched from the sidelines as his team pulled off a surprising victory against the Miami Heat. When asked by ESPN New York's Ian Begley if he would suit up against the Sixers, he even responded, "Honestly, I had no conversations about the situation, so I really don't know what to expect."
Well, he got to play after sitting out the first quarter against Philly. And he played well.
Showing no signs of rust after his one-contest absence, Smith finished with 14 points, three rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes of action, shooting 5-of-8 from the field and drilling three of his four attempts from beyond the three-point arc.
Perhaps most impressively, the 28-year-old helped the New York Knicks outscore Philadelphia by 20 points when he was on the court, giving him the top plus/minus on either team.
No antics (air guitars, waving arms etc.) from JR Smith tonight - even after he's hit big shots.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) January 12, 2014
He played like he was—gasp—serious about playing well. After the game, Smith told NBA.com's Andy Jasner:
There's a lot of people in the world who want our jobs and we can't take it for granted. It can be taken away just that fast. I'm still trying to find myself, trying to find the right way to be a professional. It's a short span we get to play this game and I can't be selfish with it, got to think team first.
Now, let's put this in perspective.
What was this game?
This was literally only the third game this season in which Smith scored 15 or more points and shot at least 50 percent from the field. He's been that ineffective for the duration of the 2013-14 season, but he finally rebounded with a promising effort.
And the timing couldn't have been better.
Smith's falling stock couldn't afford another blow, and he put the free fall on hold—for now.
All we can do at this point is wait and see if this is the start of a turnaround or an aberration in the midst of a miserable season.