Originally written on In The Neutral Zone  |  Last updated 4/23/13
For someone who wanted to start, he has made coming off the bench his calling card and now he was rewarded for his hard work. JR Smith won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award Monday after turning a role he didn’t want into one of the strengths of the New York Knicks’ first division championship team in nearly two decades. Smith averaged 18.1 points in 80 games, all off the bench. He had 29 games in which he scored 20 points as a reserve, tying Crawford for the NBA lead. The 6-foot-6 swingman wanted to start, but said he accepted it fairly quickly once coach Mike Woodson told him he would be a reserve. ”I just wanted to show everybody that I could be a team guy and it’s all about the team,” Smith said at a news conference attended by his family, teammates and coaches. It’s the second individual award in two years for the Knicks, following Tyson Chandler’s Defensive Player of the Year honor last season. Smith joins former Knicks sixth-man winners Anthony Mason in 1995 and John Starks in 1997. ”Couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” Woodson said. ”I’m so proud of him, in terms of buying into what we wanted him to do earlier in the season. And it started this summer. I wasn’t going to start him, coming into this year, and I knew that. And he bought in. He didn’t like it, but he bought in. And it couldn’t have happened to a better person, because he put in the time and he worked his butt off to get to this point, and he got rewarded for it. I’m happy for him.” ”I more credit it to winning,” Smith said. ”We’ve had guys hurt, it just so happened I was one of the guys that stepped up and tried to get us through the tough times that we had.” Teammate Kenyon Martin said the 27-year-olf Smith has ”grown up a lot.” ”I played with him a lot of years in Denver, he was still a kid then. He’s become a grown man,” Martin said. ”I think he’s got better people around him, which is huge, and he’s learning. He’s learning on the fly, that’s all you can do is keep learning each and every year you’re in the league.”
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