There are many ways to describe J.R. Smith. In January, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports labeled him the NBA’s “clown prince” and as a “soft, spoiled, suburban jump-shooter.” Just days later, New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson called upon his controversial player to become “more of a pro.” Both of these takes are certainly valid, but since the early season distractions, J.R. Smith has been a different type of player. He has kept his mouth shut, his hands off of opponents’ shoelaces and instead, he is focusing on his job: the game of basketball.
Looking at this season as a whole, Smith has been a disappointment. After signing a three-year, $17.95 million extension last summer, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year entered the 2013-14 campaign with high expectations. And until recently, he had not lived up to them. Smith, however, has transformed himself from a lackadaisical loser into a lethal offensive weapon. Not only has he reemerged as a legitimate option to assist Carmelo Anthony in the scoring department, but he should now be in the conversation as one of the Eastern Conference’s top shooting guards.
Since March 1, Smith is averaging 17.7 points, shooting 45.8 percent from field goal range and 42.8 percent from beyond the arc. All of these numbers are significantly higher than his season averages of 14.2/40.8/39.1. Upper-echelon shooting guards in the East, players such as Arron Afflalo and Bradley Beal, own lower scoring averages than Smith during this time span, while others, such as DeMar DeRozan and Dion Waiters, have failed to shoot as well.
J.R. Smith’s shooting chart: March 1 – April 9
Often, it seems as though the numerous critics of Smith forget about the major arthroscopic knee surgery he endured last summer. While he was healthy enough to practice and play just prior to the start of the season, following his five-game suspension for marijuana use (yes, another distraction), the initial timetable for his return predicted he would be sidelined until the middle of November. When he made his return to the court, he predictably struggled.
This piece is not looking to make excuses for Smith, but coming back to playing competitive basketball less than four months after serious knee surgery is impressive in itself, let alone being expected to immediately play like he did in his career-year one season prior.