Originally written on Knicks Journal  |  Last updated 11/18/14
At the beginning of the season, Knicks' coach Mike Woodson had to sell J.R. Smith on the fact that more good than bad would come from him serving as New York's sixth man.The swingman wanted to take on an important role and be counted on. He wanted to be out on the court, trusted by his coach, with the game on the line.By all accounts, he still received all that from his coach: trust, faith, encouragement, playing time, and more. During a season in which the Knicks had to shuffle its rotation multiple times in wake of various injuries, Smith was the one constant that always seemed like he could be counted on, for better or worse.In past years, Smith's teams have had to bite the bullet and take the good with the bad when it came to his play. This season, there's no doubt the pros outweighed the cons. The guard emerged as a steady running mate and second-in-command to the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony. His season was highlighted by two-gamme winning shots and an points per game average of more than 23 following the NBA All-Star break.And now those same efforts can also be highlighted by a Sixth Man of the Year award, because Smith accomplished all of these things while still coming off the bench for the Knicks this season.Smith averaged a career-high 18.1 points (to lead all bench scorers), a career-high 5.3 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per contest off the pine. His points average ranked second on his team, behind only overall league-leading scorer Carmelo Anthony.As such statistics dictate, Anthony & Smith represented quite a one-two punch for the Knickerbockers. The formidable duo is one to be feared by opponents, as both players are very difficult to contain when either of them gets going offensively.As fate would have it, Smith has always been his own worst-enemy when it comes to his growth, development, and progress. A true headlining attraction, both on and off the court (for a variety of reasons), he has only this season begun to learn how to contain himself, so to speak.For Smith, it's all about staying focused and keeping your immediate goals in mind. A "Sixth Man of the Year" award may have simply been par for the course, but in reality, he should still have one other specific more glaring goal in mind.That goal would be to add more hardware to his trophy closet. The next one on Smith's mind should be a trophy that represents the first NBA championship in the Big Apple in forty years.Coach Woodson was right when it came to J.R. Smith, both about his role itself, and the fact that Smith simply needed a coach's trust as some extra necessary motivation.As Smith's reaped such benefits, he's also rewarded his coach with stellar play. But he isn't out of the woods just yet. The J.R. Smith of old reared his ugly head again against the Celtics in game one of the playoffs, playing erratically and hoisting up shots without regard to positive shot-selection.For the Knicks to continue on their championship journey and play well at that, Smith needs to keep the focus he found in the second half of the season. If he can do that, there's no doubt the Knicks are a lot closer to a championship than most people think.
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