Redemption for J.R. Smith as he wins Sixth Man Award

jr-smithJ.R. Smith has had a controversial career that’s been filled with legal troubles, jail time and questionable on-court decisions. But earlier today, the New York Knicks shooting guard was able to put these troubles behind him, at least for a day, after winning the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Smith received 484 points in the voting, including 72 first-place votes, from a panel which featured 121 writers and broadcasters. Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford was the only player who even finished close to Smith after he collected 352 points and 31 first-place votes.

What’s interesting about all of this is that Smith went into the 2012-2013 season thinking that he’d be a starter. However, that didn’t happen and the 6’6″ guard was forced to come off the bench again. Knicks coach Mike Woodson said, “He didn’t like it, but he bought in.”

jr-smith-1Smith also discussed his surprise role off the bench by saying, “I just wanted to show everybody that I could be a team guy and it’s all about the team,”

Despite not starting a game, the New Jersey native was easily one of the Knicks’ most important players since he averaged 18.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.3 SPG in 80 games. Smith really boosted his scoring average and locked up the Sixth Man award during New York’s late-season 13-game winning streak, when he averaged 23.2 PPG on 49% shooting.

Along the way, Smith even managed to set a little history. He scored 30 or more points in three straight games off the bench, which was the first time this had been done since Milwaukee’s Ricky Pierce in 1990.

jr-smith-2Several years ago, three straight 30-point games or a Sixth Man award seemed out of the question for somebody like Smith. Upon entering the NBA straight out of high school, his youth and immaturity showed far too often. He rarely saw eye-to-eye with coaches, was suspended 10 games after an in-game brawl, spent 24 days in jail after a reckless driving incident that left his friend dead, and was suspended for three games due to a Denver nightclub incident.

Guys with rap sheets this long don’t always get second and third chances in the NBA. But coaches have always seen the talent in Smith, it was just a matter of keeping him out of trouble on and off the court. This season seems to be the breakthrough that coaches have always been looking for from the 27-year-old. And teammate Carmelo Anthony discussed why he thinks the breakthrough came about as he stated:

jr-smith-3I think there comes a point in time in your life where you’re almost forced to grow up, you’re almost forced to mature. You gotta be willing to want to do those things. I think right now, this season, J.R. has done that. I think J.R. was forced to grow up, he was forced to be mature and he was willing to take on that challenge, too.

Smith and the number two seed New York Knicks look to have a strong chance at going far in the playoffs this year. And the future beyond this year looks bright for him too. Although under a two-year contract with the Knicks that’s worth $2.8 million next season, he has a player option that allows him to decline the offer and test free agency.

It’s almost a given that he’ll test the free agent waters and see what deals are out there. But New York can also offer him a 175% salary increase under the early Bird rule, which would enable them to pay Smith around $5 million. This may not be enough, but Smith did mention that he’d love to stay in New York if possible. He said, “Without a doubt. I’m born in New Jersey, born and raise. I would love to retire a Knick.”

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any chance of this happening when the offseason comes.

NBA Power Rankings for Nov. 26th, 2012

The New York Knicks were flying high atop our NBA power rankings for last week. However, they’re really starting to miss Amare Stoudemire and have stumbled quite a bit lately. This being said, an old number one has reclaimed their previous spot in our rankings. Here’s a look at the 10 best teams right now.

1. Miami Heat (10-3) – The Heat were playing fairly mediocre to begin the season. However, they’ve since went on a hot streak and won four games in a row. Combining this with the fact that the Heat already look better than last year’s championship team, and we couldn’t resist putting Miami at number one.

2. San Antonio Spurs (12-3) – Just like always, there’s nothing flashy about the Spurs. Tim Duncan paces the team in scoring with 19 PPG while Tony Parker is dishing out an admirable 7.5 APG. But even without flashiness or big numbers, the Spurs have managed to win their first four games on a six-game East Coast road trip.

3. Memphis Grizzlies (10-2) – At the beginning of the year, we said the Grizzlies were a fringe title contender who’d have to battle through a tough Western Conference. And so far, Memphis has done a great job at standing out in the talented West. Zach Randolph has really been hitting the boards while Mike Conley Jr. (14.8 PPG, 6.5 APG) is having his best season ever.

4. Brooklyn Nets (9-4) – We weren’t exactly expecting to see Brooklyn with this kind of record at this point.After all, they faced the L.A. Clippers, Portland, and New York in the past three games. But following three straight wins against these clubs, we have to take the Nets very seriously.

5. New York Knicks (9-4) – Just last week, New York was cruising along with an 8-1 record and looking like the league’s best team. However, the Knicks lost a close game in Dallas, got blown out in Houston, beat Detroit, then lost an overtime thriller in Brooklyn. All of this amounts to losing three out of their past four games, but things should get better soon with an easy upcoming stretch.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-4) – As we’ve said before, the Thunder still have yet to beat any serious title contenders, so it’s hard to rank them much higher than this – even with a very good record. Once we see Oklahoma start winning against top-tier teams, we’ll be better able to gauge their chances of success without James Harden (trade to Houston).

7. L.A. Clippers (6-5) – Boy how much things change in a week’s time. We were ready to anoint the Clippers as a fully-matured squad capable of winning a championship in our last rankings. However, three straight losses to the Nets, Hawks and Hornets have us thinking otherwise. Jamal Crawford (18 PPG) continues to slide after an incredible start.

8. Atlanta Hawks (8-4) – One squad that has been playing great basketball lately is Atlanta. Winners of five straight games, they’re a very balanced unit. Balanced may not be the word since Al Horford is the leading scorer with just 15.9 PPG. Jeff Teague (13.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 1.5 SPG) is easily having his best season as a pro.

9. L.A. Lakers (7-7) – Just when we thought the Lakers were getting over their rough start and gelling as a team, they get blown out in Sacramento, then drop another game against Memphis. A lack of bench depth could really continue to hurt the Lakers all season and cripple any title chances.

10. Denver Nuggets (8-6) – After losing three straight games to open the season, Denver has played much better and won four out of the past five games. Six different players are averaging double digits on this team with Andre Iguodala leading the way with 15.3 PPG. But can this ultra team-based approach result in a serious title run? History suggests no, but we’ll see….

NBA Power Rankings for Nov. 20th, 2012

Last week the San Antonio Spurs were sitting atop our NBA power rankings. But things have changed slightly with another week past in the NBA season since a few other teams are shining just as brightly as the Spurs. The Heat, Thunder, Lakers and Grizzlies are all playing some excellent basketball right now, so let’s find out where they rank in our current top 10.

1. New York Knicks (8-1) – The Knicks finally lost a game on the road in Memphis, but they’re still playing better than any team in the league. With victories over the Heat, Spurs, Mavericks and Pacers, New York has survived a very tough early schedule. And remember that Amare Stoudemire is still out with an injury!

2. Miami Heat (8-3) – We, like just about everybody else, think the Heat still have a great chance to repeat as NBA champions – especially now that they’re back from a brutal six-game road trip. Lebron is providing a usual Lebron-like state line of 24.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 6.5 APG.

3. L.A. Clippers (8-2) – The Clippers are no longer just a young team with promise – they’re a definite title contender. Jamal Crawford still paces this team in scoring with 19.7 PPG while Chris Paul is averaging an outstanding 10.0 APG and 2.2 SPG.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (8-2) – The Grizzlies opened the year with a road loss to the Clippers,and then went on to rattle off an eight-game win streak. They’re the only team in the league to beat the Knicks, which has to count for something.

5. San Antonio (8-3) – The Spurs have struggled a bit lately after losing two out of three home games to the Knicks and Clippers. Interestingly enough, the Clippers have now won both games against the Spurs this year. Kawhi Leonard continues to provide a youthful spark for San Antonio with 10.6 PPG and 2.0 SPG.

6. L.A. Lakers (6-5) – After starting the year 1-4 and seeing former coach Mike Brown hit the road, Los Angeles has gone 5-1 – but keep in mind that this entire stretch has been at home. Dwight Howard has made a good transition to the West Coast since he’s chipping in 11.7 RPG and 2.8 BPG.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-3) – We’re still not entirely convinced that Oklahoma City can be as good as last year without James Harden. Plus they’ve yet to beat a true championship-caliber team thus far. But with Kevin Durant (24.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG), anything is possible for the Thunder.

8. Brooklyn Nets (6-3) – The Nets’ five-game winning streak finally ended against the Lakers on the road. And things don’t look to get any easier with some tough games on the horizon. But at this point, we have to say that the Nets have been quite impressive.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (6-3) – Will the Bucks be in the top 10 at year’s end? Maybe….maybe not. All we do know is that Monta Ellis (21.4 PPG) and Brandon Jennings (7.7 APG, 3.1 SPG) continue to keep this team towards the top of the East.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (7-4) – Philly makes their first appearance in our top 10 after winning six out of their last nine games. Jrue Holiday (18.6 PPG, 8.9 APG) is really starting to excel in his third season. It’ll be interesting to see how this team does when Andrew Bynum comes back from injury.