J.R. Smith, who's averaging career-highs in points (16.6) and rebounds (5.2) for the 22-10 Knicks, is starting to generate some serious votes to be an All-Star -- and Sixth Man of the Year -- for the first time in his career.
"Absolutely," Mike Woodson said on Thursday night. "That was the whole idea of coming into this season is putting him in that position as a guy coming off the bench that could lead the league and score a lot of points off the bench. ... I think he's starting to step up. He's being more patient about his play and he's trying to do it on both ends of the floor. That's what's so nice about it."
Said Tyson Chandler, "He should. Just because he's the sixth man doesn't mean that he shouldn't get some looks, especially with the way our team is playing. A lot of our team's success is from him."
Smith had a slightly different take.
"I want to be an All-Star for my team."
While Smith has always been able to score in isolation, excel in pick-and-rolls and defend, it was efficiency and consistency he was lacking. Now he has both, thanks to a life-changing experience in Los Angeles this offseason. There, he worked with renowned trainer Idan Ravin and, for the first time, played ball against the best of the best --Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin -- every day.
Through daily chats with Ravin, Smith began to understand more of the importance of focus and image, which motivated him to cut back on his partying. Ravin told Smith he never wanted to hear someone else call him an "underachiever."
"That was kind of the point I made to him that I don't ever want to hear that said about him," Ravin told ESPNNewYork.com, "because I think he could do so many things so amazing. It's ultimately like a point in your life when you just kind of ask yourself, 'How much does it really mean to me?' That's it. And I think sometimes, some people have that realization early in their career, some have it later and some never have it."
Smith was also aided by facing Anthony, Durant and Griffin on a regular basis. As a result, Ravin says he saw "an incredibly focused, diligent hard worker." Now, Smith appears to have the right mindset, which others have noticed.
"J.R.'s been playing extremely well the past 10 to 15 games. He seems locked in, focused," Anthony said. "I've been with J.R. for seven and a half, eight years. I've seen the potential. He's getting better and better."
That's largely due to the way Smith is playing -- quick and smart.
"We emphasized a lot of efficiency," Ravin said. "The idea that you're playing with a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket really quickly, so if you're going to do something, decide it in two seconds and if not, give up the ball."
Ravin also credited Woodson, Glen Grunwald and Allan Houston for being in Smith's corner.
"They believe in them," Ravin said.
"I truly believe J.R. Smith is an Eastern Conference All-Star," he said. "He's a great shooter, he's a great athlete, he can put the ball on the floor, he can defend, he can win. He can do everything. I've told him this for a long time."
And now, it's finally coming together.