When one thinks of J.R. Smith as a basketball player, they might think of his questionable shot selection, his explosive scoring ability, or his propensity to get into on-court skirmishes. But being a responsible team leader? That is not normally an attribute associated to Smith.
Well, according to new Knicks coach Derek Fisher, that is exactly what J.R. has been thus far in training camp and the beginning of the preseason. Without explicitly saying so, Fisher starting Smith in the Knicks’ recent loss — their preseason opener — to the Celtics certainly means something.
He started exactly half of the games he played in for the Knicks last season (37 starts in 74 games), a vast improvement from just one total start in his first two seasons in New York. Smith has made it known that he would like to be a regular starter — according to Newsday — and his work towards building a positive relationship between Fisher and Phil Jackson could help him in that aspect.
The preseason is still very young, though, and the regular season is weeks away, so no definite conclusions about Fisher’s eventual starting lineup or rotation should be made yet. Still, maybe this good news about J.R. is signaling his possible shift from mercurial — yet talented — hothead to consistent, reliable swingman who can be a positive locker room influence.
That transition is one that coaches of the Hornets (now Pelicans), Nuggets and Knicks have been trying to spur and quicken in Smith since he entered the league in 2004.
The ability and, of course, confidence have always been there with him, but the mental part of the game has never truly come together. His temper issues, offensive style, and often lack of defensive intensity and/or effort have caused a lot of problems for him.
Now, he is 29 years old, and is not the young gun he used to be. He is at the point in his career that he cannot afford to keep making the same mistakes he made when he was younger if he still wants a place to play in the NBA. More of an emphasis is made now than ever before on the thinking facet of basketball, so he needs to get with the times or get left behind.
For the Knicks, if this season is actually a turning point in Smith’s career, than they may not be as bad as most people peg them to be. When he has his head on straight, J.R. can easily put up 15-18 points a game with a possibly improved shooting efficiency. That is a player most NBA teams would want to have.