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The rise and fall and rise of J.R. Smith

March 31st, 2008 by aswitzer

Not many followers of professional basketball would argue that J.R. Smith has tremendous talent in his 4th year in the NBA. He’s shooting a career high 46% from the field and 41% from the three point line, while scoring nearly 11.7 PPG in just under 19 minutes a game.

Here are a few recent examples:

  • On February 22nd in Chicago, he scored 43 points (a career high) in 33 minutes on 15-25 shooting, hitting 8 of 14 three pointers.
  • On March 24th in Memphis, he scored 25 points while hitting 7 three pointers – solely in the fourth quarter.
  • On March 27th against Dallas, his three point stroke was off, which in the past meant his game was ineffective and he would quickly head to the bench. Instead, he got to the rack (including the most acrobatic 180 degree alley-oop I’ve ever seen) and shot 5-7 from inside the arc with 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
  • On March 29th, in another pressure cooker of a game, his three point stroke was even worse (1-9) so he shot 7-7 from within the arc, hit 5 of 6 free-throws, scored 20 points, and had 5 rebounds and 7 assists to compensate. The 7 assists were a career high.

J.R. Smith shows the crowd he\'s hit another threeJ.R. experienced a lot of success last season in his first year with the Nuggets after being traded from New Orleans. However, he was inconsistent, and his performance was erratic. In the playoffs last year, his game took a nose-dive, where he shot 6-22 from the floor and missed all 12 of his three-pointers. Coach Karl was so frustrated with his poor choices on the court that he publicy called J.R. out and benched him in the 5th and final game of the series.

A tumultulous off-season followed where J.R. was driving an SUV that got into an accident and his childhood friend was killed. The 2007-2008 season started okay for J.R. but come December and January he found himself in the Coach’s doghouse and one of the last players off the bench. Instead of going into a funk though, J.R. agreed with the coaching staff and worked on his game. With that effort, he’s improved his defensive intensity and team defense, and is making better decisions handling the ball, passing it, and driving to the rim when his outside shot isn’t falling. 

The result is one of the key reasons for the Nuggets surge during their March playoff run. Arguably the toughest stretch of the season for the Nuggets, yet they’ve gone 10-5 and managed to work themselves back into one of the toughest playoff battles the NBA has ever seen. At 45-28 – 17 games above .500, they are in the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

J.R. Smith is the first player that Coach Karl pulls off the bench most games now, and whether he’s hitting the three pointer or not, he contributes heavily to the success of the Nuggets in whatever way he can… just as the coaching staff have yearned for him to do.

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