J.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.”
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.
Several 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:
I 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.