It is being reported by numerous media outlets that J.R. Smith has been named this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award winner. It is well deserved. Coach Mike Woodson should also win an award for finding a way to bring some discipline to Smith’s immense talent. Coach George Karl in Denver and Byron Scott in New Orleans often seemed exasperated by Smith’s shot selection and mental lapses during key moments of games. Smith was a much hyped prospect who went straight to the league from high school. Unfortunately, the job of teaching Smith how to play within an offense that did not revolve around him fell to Scott first and then Karl. Personally, I thought that his signing in NY was only wise because his contract is modest, but he has proven himself as a dependable component of the Knickerbockers’ arsenal this year. Smith’s play can be best described using the words of New York Yankees’ legend, Yogi Berra, it is “déjà vu all over again.”
Tragic Johnson fans, please forgive me because I know that I am a few months late for Doppelganger Week, but I have to speak my mind about this close resemblance. Smith reminds me a great deal of another rugged jump shooting guard from the pantheon of New York Knicks’ greats, John Starks. Much like his contemporary Notorious B.I.G., Starks went from “ashy to nasty to classy” in his move from a grocery store to Oklahoma to the starting guard in Madison Square Garden often going chest to chest with Reggie Miller and Basketball Jesus, Michael Jordan. I just want to point out that Starks was brave enough to tug on Basketball Jesus’ robe with The Dunk in 1994 and live to tell about it. N.D. Face, MJ!!
Smith and Starks share the same initials. Both wore single digits. Both are volatile. Starks won 6th Man of the Year in 1997. Both won it in the 9th years of their professional careers. The NY Knicks were the 3rd seed in the 1997 playoffs in the year of Starks’ victory and the Knicks are the 2nd seed this year. Both players hit free throws and three pointers with the same degree of accuracy. Both players have the skills to shoot you into a game or put the game beyond reach with their inability to put a safety on their trigger fingers on cold shooting nights. Knicks fans, I must remind of you Starks robbing Patrick Ewing of his only chance for a championship ring when Basketball Jesus was on sabbatical in Birmingham playing baseball. Starks shot 0-for-11 from the 3 point line and 2-for-18 overall in Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals and would still be firing bricks at the rim now if the officials had not brought the game to a close. Smith has not had a similar career defining playoff moment yet, but this year he will get his chance.
While Smith has been a much needed spark off the bench when Carmelo rests and has filled the scoring void left by Amar’e Stoudamire’s absence, there will undoubtedly be a moment during these playoffs when Knicks fans will go hoarse screaming at their televisions and begging for Coach Woodson to take Smith out of the game. Somewhere, I know Starks will be smiling and thinking, I used to frustrate my fan base in the same way.