Smith's consistent effort catching on

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- You could argue that for J.R. Smith, from a statistical standpoint, "Good J.R." appeared in November and "Bad J.R." has now arrived in December.

In November, Smith averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 47.7 percent from downtown with a plus-minus of plus-3.5. But this month, while he's averaging almost the same number of points (12.0), rebounds (4.6) and assists (2.6), he's taking more shots and his accuracy has plummeted to 26.7 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from downtown. And his plus-minus is negative-1.2.

But what's remained the same is "Effort J.R.," and the Knicks have noticed. Steve Novak said Smith's mentality is different this season in terms of not getting caught up in his misses.

"He's a guy that if he misses two, three, four shots in a row, he's got to shoot the next one because he's that good," he told ESPNNewYork.com after Tuesday morning's shootaround. "He's not going to miss for long. Against Charlotte, I don't think he had his best shooting night, but he hit the game-winner, and that's the kind of player J.R. is. If he misses a few here and there, he's going to come back and give you a big play. That's what I've seen this year. He's been more consistent in just continuing with his effort, continuing to shoot and be aggressive."

What Mike Woodson has observed is that Smith is still making an impact beyond scoring, from passing to rebounding. For example, against the Suns, Bobcats and Heat, he had four assists each, and then against the Nuggets, he grabbed nine boards.

"He's going to have to do that," the coach said. "I mean, when guys are struggling to shoot, especially if you play big minutes for our ball club, you've got to do other things, and that means defend, you've got to rebound. If it ain't going for you, you've got to get somebody else involved from an offensive standpoint, so there are a lot of things that come into play when you're struggling because it's not going to be about you all the time.

"This is a team atmosphere and when everybody is clicking, it all looks good. But there are going to be nights when guys are not on their game, and somebody else has got to pick him up and you've got to figure out how to do something to help us win."

Before the season, there was a lot of talk about whether or not Smith should start, especially after the shooting guard himself said he would rather be a starter. But he has embraced his sixth man role, and recently told ESPNNewYork.com that he loves finishing games.

To prove that, he had two clutch free throws against the Suns after a 1-for-11 performance, and then followed that up with his game-winner against the Bobcats after shooting 6-for-16. Smith may be unpredictable at times, but there's confident in his coach and teammates that he'll make a difference when he's playing, and come up big when it matters most.

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