When you think of players in the NBA who are best friends you automatically think of Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. These are the stars of the NBA, however what comes to mind when I say the names J.R. Smith and Steve Novak? Great bench players? Lethal three point shooters? Absolutely, but best friends? That’s right, the New York Knicks dynamic bench duo have started up quite a friendship since they both arrived in New York. However both of these players have traveled completely different paths in order to become such key cogs for the Knicks and their hopes to bringing a title to the “Big Apple”.
Earl Smith III, or as he is most commonly known as J.R. Smith was born on September 9th, 1985 in Freehold, New Jersey to the parents of Earl and Ida Smith. Smith had quite a big family growing up. He had three sisters and two brothers. J.R. attended a multitude of high schools: Lakewood High School was where he started playing basketball, and then moved to St. Benedicts Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey where he averaged 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists during his time there. Smith became a highly touted prospect who was being recruited by the University of North Carolina, but decided not to attend there. He went straight to the NBA and was selected 18th overall by the New Orleans Hornets in 2004. He averaged 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assist his rookie year. In 2006 he was traded to the Chicago Bulls, but four days later he was traded again to the Denver Nuggets.
Once J.R. was traded to Denver, his name really began to grow in the league both positively and negatively. In his first season he was involved in an ugly brawl against the Knicks; he was suspended for ten games and two months, but despite his problems in his first year he put up solid numbers averaging 13 PPG. His poor play in the playoffs proved costly for him. In his first four playoff games Smith missed all of his 3 point attempts and shot only 39% from the field. He was also in hot water for his decision making; his coach George Karl was quoted as saying, “He’s done.” referring to J.R. being the starter after he took a terrible shot with the game on the line. He was benched for game 5. The beginning of Smith’s second year didn’t start off great either; he was suspended for the first three games of the season for an incident in a nightclub. However, this season was a much more positive one for J.R., he performed much better in the postseason too, perhaps the most impressive thing to come from that series was the compliment from Kobe Bryant. “J. R. is a good young player. He was a lot to handle.”
As the 2011 season was in lockout mode, many players didn’t know whether there would be a season, so a lot of them went overseas. J.R. was one of those players; he signed with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China and put up very impressive numbers even though the talent was nowhere close to the NBA. After the Golden Bulls were eliminated from playoff contention he decided he wanted back in the NBA, five days later he signed with the Knicks. He quickly found himself in hot water though when he was fined $25,000 by the league for posting an inappropriate picture of a woman on his Twitter page. People around the league scolded him; they believed he focused on partying and having fun more than basketball, however he was a fan favorite because of all the energy he brought to the court when he came off the bench. The Knicks loved J.R. as well, so they rewarded him with a one-year $2.8 million deal with a player option in the second year. The main reason J.R. decided to stay wasn’t because of the money, but because the Knicks brought back his best friend Steve Novak.
His good friend Steven Michael Novak was born June 13, 1983 in Brown Deer, Wisconsin to Michael and Jeanne Novak, and has two siblings, his sister Maggie, and brother Chris. Steve was not as outgoing as J.R. but was just as good a high school player. Novak averaged 20 points in his senior season at Deer Brown High and was three-time conference player of the year and was all-state junior and senior year. He was even named Wisconsin High School player of the year. He received a scholarship to Marquette University. While playing there for four years he averaged 12 PPG and 4 RPG. Novak was selected 32nd overall in the 2006 draft by the Houston Rockets, but he failed to impress and was sent to the D-League and was later traded to the Los Angeles Clippers the next season. He was then cut by the Clippers, then signed by the Mavericks, but was quickly cut again in 2011. Later that season the Spurs signed him to a 10-day contract and were impressed enough to sign for the rest of the year, but he was cut once again. Steve’s career did not seem to be going right whatsoever, but he just kept working hard because he knew he would find the right team. The following month the Knicks signed him to a veteran minimum deal. Novak burst onto the scene out of nowhere and lead the league in 3 point shooting by shooting 47 % and tied Kevin Durant for most three pointers made by hitting 133 three’s. Novak did struggle in the playoffs because of the intense pressure put on him. He, just like J.R. was and still is a big fan favorite. The Garden faithful even gave Steve the nickname “Novakaine” due to his sharp 3-point shooting and has his own signature move the “discount-double check”. The Knicks this offseason rewarded Novak nicely by signing a 4-year deal worth $15 million.
These two guys are apples and oranges when it comes to their paths to the NBA, their lifestyles off the court and their play on the court. However, despite how different they are, when it comes to playing together their styles just happen to mesh and they have become one of the best 1-2 combos off the bench in the NBA. The Knicks are hoping this “Odd Couple” can help bring a title back to the “Big Apple” for the first time since 1973.
Jordan Pensabene @JPens4Real21 - Knickswag Contibutor
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