J.R. Smith Excels for NY Knicks After One-Game Benching

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 11: J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks handling the ball during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 11, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

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. 

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. 

Needless to say, that led to quite a few snarky, but legitimate, responses. 

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. 

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. 

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.