I have always been a fan of J.R. Smith. I remember praying that he would fall to the Nuggets or that they could trade up and draft him in 2004 when he came out of high school (he was drafted two picks before Denver was on the clock). I remember watching him play in the summer league and he put on display a very complete offensive game.
Then he fell flat on his face. It was never a question of talent, but a question of dedication and developing the mindset of an NBA player. When he was on the floor for New Orleans all he showed was a propensity to jack up threes and a complete disinterest in playing defense.
His stock fell so far that when he was traded to Chicago as part of the Tyson Chandler deal, Chicago immediately shipped him to Denver for a non guaranteed contract and two second round draft picks despite the fact that Chicago was in desperate need of a shooting guard with size.
J.R.’s first season in Denver was not much different than his experience in New Orleans. When he got in the game, he would launch bad threes and run around like an explorer with ADD unsure of the significance of anything going on around him. He was eventually benched in the 2007 playoffs against the Spurs for his horrid shot selection and poor defense.
In the off season the Nuggets had the opportunity to extend his contract and they rightly chose not to. Early in the season you could tell that J.R. was putting forth more effort on defense, but he still had no understanding of the concept of playing defense.
Offensively, he was still just a sniper who played as if he passed up a shot he would never get the opportunity to take another one.
Then thanks to injuries to Anthony Carter and Chucky Atkins George Karl decided to give J.R. some minutes at point guard and J.R. accepted the responsibility of running the offense, not taking the first shot and attempting to get the ball to an open teammate. For the first time he started to display some of that all around offensive game that he displayed in summer league a few years prior.
Carter returned from his injury and J.R.’s time at the point ended. He seemed to regress back to the long range chucker we had seen so often. His minutes dwindled down to the mid teens or lower and he seemed once again to be a lost cause. Then on February 10th he made six threes against Cleveland and added five rebounds. He has scored in double figures in 22 of the 26 games since then and he has played at least 24 minutes in 12 of those games.
On top of that, he started doing more than shooting 25 footers with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. He started playing like a complete player once again.
We are all starting to see the potential that J.R. possesses. He was in the league because of his deep range, but he is not longer just a catch and shoot player. He is almost equally as good off the dribble. He can pull up or shoot the step back jumper. He is also using his strength and athleticism to get to the rim and finish. Add to that the drive and dish and drive and kick out game that he has always been capable of and he is growing into a deadly offensive player.
Then take into account that he is also beginning to play defense with more purpose and not just undirected effort and the fact that he is rebounding as well and J.R. is starting to look a little like an incredible player.
Granted he has only done it for a month and a half, but everyone who has ever been around him knew what he was capable of as long as he could get his mind in the right place.
The sky is still the limit for J.R. as he continues to develop his shot selection and his feel for when to drive and when to pull up. He must develop the ability to drive with his left hand so that teams do not just start to take away his strong hand, although he has shown the ability to finish at the rim with either hand. He also must continue to concentrate on defense so that he does not take unnecessary risks.
When you look at J.R. there is no reason he cannot average 22-24 points, four or five rebound and four or five assists. Nugget fans have to be thrilled about the future for J.R.
Below you can view the video scouting report from plays J.R. made during game 75 against Phoenix.