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The Curious Case Of J.R. Smith

What makes J.R. Smith so fun and yet so frustrating to root for?

J.R. Smith is one tough cookie to figure out. Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE
J.R. Smith is one tough cookie to figure out. Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

As a sports fan all my life, and specifically a fan of New York's Rangers, Jets and Knicks, I've rooted for some pretty special human beings. And by "special", I don't mean in the legendary, Derek Jeter/Mark Messier sort of way. I mean in the maddeningly, infuriatingly, frustratingly difficult people to root for type of way (only from an on-the-field/court/ice standpoint, not taking into account personality or character). All players have ups and downs, but certain players give fans such an amazing range of emotions; I think of a guy like Petr Nedved, who would look like Jaromir Jagr in one period and then disappear for a whole week. Rooting for Mark Sanchez has been no picnic over the past three seasons, and I could list all the Knicks who have made me want to rub sandpaper over my eyes, but I don't want to take up too much of your time.

And yet nothing compares to the wondrous experience that is watching J.R. Smith play basketball for the New York Knicks.

Wednesday's critical game against the Milwaukee Bucks was all you needed to watch to see the absolute best and complete worst of Smith. Thankfully, his best came late in the game, when he drilled some clutch shots, including what ended up being perhaps the biggest shot of the Knicks' season. With the Knicks down two points and just over a minute left, Smith launched a three, with plenty of time left on the shot clock, and swished it through, and the Knicks had a late lead that they never relinquished. With just eight games remaining in the regular season and the Knicks ahead of the Bucks now by two games, it's possible that Smith's three saved the season.

But one thing I'll never forget is Smith's hilariously insane foul on Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter, while Dunleavy was taking a three. I could watch the replay a million times and still never figure out what Smith was trying to accomplish. Smith was trailing Dunleavy as he came off a few screens on a curl play, and had a look from beyond the arc. Smith, fighting around a screen, reached his arm out and seemed to try and throw Dunleavy off by giving him a tap in the area where it would hurt the most. Instead, he kind of just shoved Dunleavy's leg, prompting the ref to cleanly call a foul, sending Dunleavy to the line for three easy ones.

Amazingly, it was the second time Smith fouled Dunleavy on a three in the game.

It's just what you have to live with when Smith's out on the floor. Knicks coach Mike Woodson has clearly favored Smith late in games as opposed to Landry Fields. They sort of have a starting pitcher-closer type set up, as last night Fields enjoyed a good first quarter, and filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds on the night. But in the Knicks' biggest game of the season, as close to a must-win they'll have in the regular season this year, Smith remained the guy that Woodson trusted. He was rewarded, just as he was when he stuck with Smith last Sunday when the Knicks beat the Chicago Bulls, with Smith making two big shots in overtime. So far, it's paid off for Woodson and the Knicks.

Smith will continue to put up a high number of shots, independent of whether or not he's actually playing well on a given night. There will be times where he throws a pass into the ninth row, and follows it up the next possession with a picture-perfect dime for an easy bucket. He'll continue to commit silly fouls, but will cause some turnovers with his athleticism. Simply put, for the remainder of the season Smith will do equally as many head-scratching things as he does excellent things.

Thing is, with the Knicks currently constructed, there's really no other choice than for Smith to get big minutes. With literally no point guard play to speak of, the Knicks' offense is running dominantly through Carmelo Anthony. On most nights, Smith is the Knicks' second best scorer, and in close and important games, you can't afford to have your second best scorer on the bench. While Fields' game is less volatile, the ceiling on what Smith can give the Knicks is significantly higher. It's a risk-and-reward type situation.

Regardless of the outcome, there's never a dull moment when you're watching J.R. Smith.