Most Nuggets fans have always thought of J.R. Smith the same way...that he's a great talent, but not smart with the ball, not a team player. But this year, it seems like he has really come into his own. With A.I. gone, J.R. is no longer the odd man out, but the go-to guy when the Nuggets need points the most. This season, his averages are up from 12.3 PPG to 15 PPG, and he has, in many ways, carried the Nuggets through this recent run that has catapulted them to the 2nd seed in the West.
When Chauncey was asked in interviews who he was the toughest on in practices, his answer was Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. With Mr. Big Shot's guidence, J.R. no longer mopes on his way to the bench, and has worked his way out of George Karl's doghouse. J.R. has gone from the guy that plays only when we are 20 points ahead, to the guy who brings us back from 10 points down, the guy who hits pressure shots. J.R. gets the ball at the end of halves, when all other players shy away from shots.
In the L.A. game on Thursday, there was no question who was getting the ball when the Lakers began to pull away, or at the end of the half. The result? J.R. hits a 25-footer to tie the game going into the half, and the Nuggets hanging with the best team in the league until the 4th quarter.
Against Oklahoma City, J.R. hit 3 out of 4 3-point shots in a game where we needed a spark. When it looked like we just wouldn't be able to pull out the game, J.R. pumped up the team.
In back to back games against Utah and the Clippers, J.R. went off for 7 and 8 3-pointers, and 28 and 34 points.
J.R. hits the shots when we need them the most, but it's not just about the point totals that tells me J.R. has grown up. It's the way he carries himself. He's now a leader on this team.
Anyone else notice how Carmelo and Chauncey did NOT get the ball when we were down? J.R. was the only guy Karl trusted with those risky 3-point shots, with the ball, to do what it took to get back in the game. This is happening more and more, and it's paid off in a big way. Smith has become the 'guy', and not just when Carmelo's on the bench anymore. He's grown into a feared player in this league...hopefully he can keep it up throughout the playoffs, because if he can, the Nuggets will ride him all the way to the Conference Championships...maybe further.