Denver Nuggets' J.R. Smith: The Enigma of Eccentric Earl Continues

Rich KurtzmanSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2010

J.R. Smith is one of the most frustrating players in the NBA to watch—not because he can’t play, it's due to his inconsistency of exceptional play, so far.

One second, the “electric” shooting guard is driving to the hole for an explosive dunk, the next, he’s chucking up a 30-foot three-pointer and throwing off the Nuggets’ offense.

Smith is undoubtedly amazing athletically, and when his jumper is wet, it usually spells the end for the opposing team. But, J.R. puts bettering his own numbers in front of the team at times, which outrages both George Karl and Nuggets’ fans.

The enigma that surrounds him is this: Which J.R. will show up to the arena each night? Or, is that Earl?

Smith went from “J.R.” to his given name of Earl earlier this season in a move to show his growth in maturity, but he changed it back eight hours later after many requests from friends and family. The move now looks more like a publicity stunt than anything, especially as the season rolls on.

And while his on-court decision-making leaves something to be desired, his off-the-court problems proliferate as well.

Literally speaking, Smith was described as “electric” on the bench by Karl during the Nuggets’ 116-110 Overtime victory over the New Orleans Hornets.

And following numerous miscues by Smith in the game Saturday night—finished shooting 1-5 (all threes) with one rebound and a turnover—J.R. stormed off the court and into the locker room when Karl pulled him.

This tirade could have been the explosion of frustration capping a month-long slump the embattled guard has been struggling through.

But whatever the reason was, this was reminiscent of Carmelo Anthony being suspended for refusing to come off the court last season, and Smith was not sat out by Karl.

For a stubborn and somewhat lost Smith, Karl is sending the wrong message.

Karl is old school, even if he has softened up lately, and he doesn’t stand for insubordination from players.

Plus, Smith has shown over and over again that he needs and possibly craves discipline.

This is nothing new though, Smith and Karl have butted heads more times than two angry bighorn sheep—and the blame rests on Smith.

In 2007, Smith’s first year with the Nuggets (he was traded because he couldn’t get along with Hornets’ coach Byron Scott) Smith was suspended in Denver’s final playoff game against San Antonio. Karl cited a “lack of professionalism and bad judgment,” but isn’t that what happened this time around?

This isn’t even Smith’s first incident this year, as he missed practice the day after Thanksgiving after drinking too much (multiple sources reported).

He played later that night after the Nuggets called it an “illness,” meaning Smith has already gotten off scot-free twice this year without repercussion and the season is only half over.

So what is J.R. Smith supposed to think? He’s likely at the least confused, and on the extreme end, may believe he’s above doing what coaches say.

Following this latest installment of the J.R. Smith saga, the young guard is saying some interesting things though.

First, the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman reported that Smith called the latest incident “not a big deal .” He continued, “We’ve (Karl and Smith) been through this stuff before but we always came back and got the best out of both of us, so it’s not really a big deal.”

Karl reportedly told Smith that great players make the simple play 100 percent of the time, something Smith is supposedly taking to heart.

Now, J.R. is pledging to work harder on his body language and reform his attitude. “I’ve got to work on some things with myself. Just my attitude toward the game. I’ve got to control my body language. And stay focused.”

So, maybe J.R. Smith has finally turned the corner and he will become a mature and great NBA player. ESPN’s Chris Broussard broke the news that Smith will not be traded, so the question is: Can J.R. Smith become great consistently for the Nuggets?

Hopefully for Denver, those dreams come to fruition because Smith’s glimpses of greatness have already won over many fans.

The cashier at King Soopers surprised me today by saying, “You know who I really like? J.R. Smith,” he proclaimed. Not Carmelo Anthony, or the hometown hero Chauncey Billups—Smith is his favorite player.

With any luck, that cashier and every Nuggets’ fan in the Rocky Mountain region will be able to watch the erratic play of Smith blossom into a starring role in the NBA soon.

If not, the Nuggets will have to cut their ties him and look elsewhere for their shooting guard of the future.

The decision is up to you J.R., what choice will you make?  


Update: J.R. Smith hit back to back deep three pointers to put the Nuggets up by nine points with 5:40 left in the game against the Rockets Wednesday night. Then, as the Nuggets were still up by nine points with two minutes to go, Billups turned the ball over and J.R. stole it right back to deny Houston two free points. Finally, Smith hit the nail in the coffin with a tear drop bucket to put Denver up by eight with 8.9 seconds remaining.

J.R. Smith finished with 22 points, five rebounds, with three steals and two assists. Tonight, Smith broke out of his slump in style, while showing his absolute star potential.


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