J.R. Smith thinks he belongs on the All-Star team
By MARC BERMAN
Last Updated: 6:21 AM, January 5, 2013
Posted: 12:55 AM, January 5, 2013
Berman on Twitter
ORLANDO, Fla. — J.R. Smith has loftier goals than winning this year’s NBA Sixth Man Award. Smith, amid the best season of his career, has eyes on the All-Star Game, as a participant, not a reveler.
Unsolicited, Smith told The Post he believes he should be considered for an All-Star selection for the first time in his career.
The super sub has scored 20-plus points in five straight games entering tonight’s match in Orlando — a first in his nine-season career. The shooting guard also is the first Knick to score 20-plus points in four straight games off the bench. Smith’s pair of spectacular December buzzer-beaters is another notch in his belt. He has defended with more tenacity than ever before, rebounded and racked up his share of assists.
HOOP-SMITH: J.R. Smith jams home a spectacular reverse alley-oop dunk during Thursday night’s 100-83 win over the Spurs, the kind of play he tells The Post should get him an All-Star berth.
“My eyes are on being an All-Star, honestly,’’ Smith told The Post late Thursday after the Knicks hammered the mighty Spurs. “I’m not focusing on Sixth Man. Sixth Man is more long-term, honestly, end of the year. My individual goal right now is All-Star, then I’ll think about the Sixth Man. I’m trying to be that All-Star coming off the bench for my team.’’
Smith was devastated when coach Mike Woodson told him during training camp he envisioned him coming off the bench. It is rare for a bench player to be viewed as an All-Star, but Smith’s season has been eye-opening.
Smith is not on the All-Star ballot. All-Star fan voting to select the starters ends Jan. 14. The coaches have until Jan. 24 to submit their ballots.
Smith has three weeks to get his peers thinking about him in that light despite what had been an uneven reputation. Smith, with his new commitment to defense, is arguably tied with Tyson Chandler as the second-most important Knick after Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony, who will be voted in as a starting forward, has finally seen Smith, his former Nuggets teammate, live up to his athleticism.
“J.R. has been playing extremely well the past 10, 15 games,’’ Anthony said. “He’s locked in and focused. That’s the J.R. I know. I’ve been with him seven years now. I’ve seen that potential all along.’’
Smith is averaging 16.6 points in 33 minutes. He said in November he had changed his ways this season — less partying, more practicing. His frenetic defensive energy often gets overshadowed by his outrageous plays on offense.
Smith’s alley-oop, one-handed reverse dunk against the Spurs on Thursday was a prefect capper to the Knicks’ 100-83 rout. He caught Pablo Prigioni’s pass low, in midair and flushed it down backward over his head. Anthony leapt from the bench, along with his teammates, downright giddy.
“You see me come off the bench, that’s self explanatory,’’ Anthony said. “All you have to do is look at that.’’
Woodson’s move with Smith would pay dividends should he win Sixth Man. Smith is competing with Jamal Crawford of the Clippers and Ryan Anderson of the Hornets. Smith credited Woodson and assistant Herb Williams for his scoring spree — emphasizing his footwork and better shot selection.
“That was the whole idea coming into this season, putting him in a position as a guy coming off the bench as a guy that can lead the league or score a lot of points,’’ Woodson said. “We’re putting him in position to do that. I think he’s starting to step up and be more patient about his play. He’s trying to do it on both ends of the floor.’’
Credit Woodson for getting Smith to use his athleticism on defense. He’s averaging 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. Woodson fell in love with Smith last season when Knicks director of player personnel Mark Warkentien, a former Nuggets general manager, lobbied to sign him after Smith bolted the Chinese league.
“That’s what’s so nice about it,’’ Woodson said. “He’s not just committing to the offensive end. He’s trying to defend, rebound.’’
Prigioni is getting more action in point guard Raymond Felton’s absence, and is starting to click with Smith on the second unit. That alley-oop is only the start.
“I like him a lot,’’ Prigioni said. “It doesn’t matter where you pass the ball. He will catch it and ... he will bang the ball, because I thought the pass was too low. He’s amazing.’’
Smith’s days of posting on Twitter naked photos of women on his bed on the road are over.
“It’s about keeping myself inside the gym more than anything,’’ Smith said. “I’m staying more focused and right now it’s paying off.”