J.R. Smith Wins Sixth Man of the Year Award (UPDATED) | Zagsblog
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Sunday / May 22.
  • J.R. Smith Wins Sixth Man of the Year Award (UPDATED)

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    GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Back in October, when the season began, J.R. Smith said he was “disappointed” that he wasn’t going to start for the Knicks.

    “I would prefer to start. I would rather be a starter,” he said then.

    “My goal was to come in here and be a starter, and play with those other four guys on the floor. It is frustrating after a while that people see me as a sixth man, sixth man, sixth man, when you believe you’re a starter. But at the same time, you have to understand this is a team game and you have to put individual goals aside.”

    Six months later, the Lakewood, N.J. native and former St. Benedict’s Prep star, has capitalized on his play off the bench this season by winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. 

    Smith is the third Knick to be named Sixth Man of the Year and first since John Starks in 1996-97 (Anthony Mason is the other 1994-95.).

    Smith received 484 of a possible 1,084 points, including 72 first-place votes, from a panel of 121 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers finished second with 352 points (31 first-place votes). Jarrett Jack of the Golden State Warriors finished third with 170 points (14 first-place votes).

    “It hasn’t been the first time I’ve wanted to start, haven’t started so I pretty much accepted it right away,” Smith said Monday when presented with the award in front of teammates, his parents, Earl and Ida, his brother, Chris, his agent, Leon Rose, and Worldwide Wes, whom he called his”uncle.”

    “I’ve been known as such a selfish player for so long I just wanted to show everybody that I can be a team guy and it’s all about team.”

    Smith and coach Mike Woodson often clashed over his role, with Woodson saying there “was a lot of grumbling about J.R.. Would he start or would he come off the bench?”

    “Yes, he could start for a lot of teams in this league but he’s accepted his role as a guy coming off the bench and he’s made the most of it and it’s benefitted our basketball team,” Woodson added

    After being known as a 3-point shooter for much of his career, Smith began attacking the basket more down the stretch this year, making him a much more efficient scorer and complement to Carmelo Anthony, the NBA’s leading scorer.

    During the regular season, Smith averaged 18.1 points and 5.3 rebounds as the Knicks went 54-28 to earn the No. 2 seed in the East.

    Smith led reserves in 30-point games (seven) and 20-point games (29), and became the first player with four 30-point games off the bench in the same month (March) since Ricky Pierce in November of 1990.

    “I don’t know if Woody had a conversation with him,” Tyson Chandler said. “I don’t know if he watched some film but something clicked and it’s been a world of a difference for our team. Himself and Melo, they put so much pressure on the defense it allows our shooters to get open looks as well as our big guys and myself to finish at the rim.”

    Anthony played with Smith in Denver and lobbied hard for the Knicks to add Smith late last season after he returned from China.

    “The opportunity was there,” Anthony said. “They asked me what I thought about him, and I told him we’d be fools not to go get him.

    “At that point in time he was trying to get out of China and we had to go get him. I played with him for mostly all my career so I know what type of person he is, I know what type of players he is. And this right here was almost like a second chance for him.”

    Anthony said he noticed a change in Smith after the Knicks lost to Miami in the first round of the playoffs last year.

    “I think there comes a point in your life where you’re almost forced to grow up, you’re almost forced to mature,” Anthony said. “And you gotta be willing to want to do those things.

    “I think right now this season J.R. has done that alongside with Coach Woodson, what he brings to the game. I think J.R. was forced to grow up, he was forced to mature. And he was willing to take on that challenge.”

    As for his future with the Knicks, Smith has a player option and can opt out after this year. Given his performance this year, he stands to gain a lot on the free agent market, but he has also thrived playing in New York under Woodson and alongside Anthony and the Knicks.

    “I’m not really worried about it right now,” Smith said. “I’m worried about playing for the New York Knicks in Game 2 against Boston. When that time comes I’ll worry about it when it comes.”

    Photo: Chris Herring, Wall Street Journal

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.