This is the feeling J.R. Smith expressed inside the Knicks locker room in Atlanta after the team extended its win streak to 10 straight games.
New York’s prolific scoring sixth man was alluding to his relationship with Carmelo Anthony. Three years after the Nuggets drafted Anthony with the No. 3 overall pick, Denver acquired Smith from Chicago shortly following a trade from New Orleans. Smith started his career as a straight out of high school prospect in 2004.
The two joined forces in the midst of the Nuggets reclamation project. At the time, Anthony was quickly ascending the NBA ranks as one of the most lethal scorers in the league, averaging 28.9 points per game in 2006-07. Smith was the team’s fourth leading scorer, earning substantial minutes in his third season.
After disappointing first round exits in 2007 and 2008, Anthony, Smith, and Denver found a mix of young talent and veteran leadership en route to the 2009 Western Conference Finals. The squad suffered a 4-2 series defeat to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Four years later, both players are at the epicenter of the basketball universe, suiting up for one of the most historic franchises in NBA history. First, Anthony arrived in the Big Apple at the midpoint of the 2010-11 season and Smith followed in the lockout shortened year right after a stint in China.
Anthony and Smith developed a friendship during their time in D-Town while showing the NBA world a glimpse of their potential as two potent offensive threats. In 2013, they are reaping the benefits of playing side-by-side for the orange and blue.
“Not only is it great but it means a lot to the both of us,” Smith acknowledged. “Going through the hard times in Denver, the first round exits, and now having a team that can go really deep in the playoffs, it’s big and shows our maturity as well.”
At 27-years old, Smith is a legit Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the midst of his best pro season. The New Jersey native has now paired his infinite range from the perimeter with a devastating off the dribble game. Over the last month, Smith navigated his way to the charity stripe 6.4 times per game, which would be good for eighth-best in the league if extrapolated over the course of the season.
During the 12-game win streak, Smith played like an All-Star, scoring 30-plus points in three consecutive games and he earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. He’s connected on 49.2 percent from the field and averaged 23.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 34.5 minutes per game.
Anthony praised the recent work of his teammate, “I haven’t seen him play like that. I have been with him a long time. The way he is playing is putting us over the top. I am trying to piggy back off him. He is making the right plays when he comes in and it helps everyone.”
How about Melo?
Oh, just a 50-point outburst in Miami, followed by back-to-back 40-plus outings in Atlanta and against the Bucks at Madison Square Garden. For those counting at home, Anthony’s combined to score 167 points in four games. The All-Star also earned the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, making it two consecutive weeks for the Knicks’ top scorers.
“I just feed off of him,” Smith smiled. “Whenever he’s got it going, I’m ready to spot up and when guys close on my 3-point shooting, I drive. We really go hand-in-hand and complement each other pretty well.”
Smith’s observation deserves examination. The challenge for front office executives is to find impactful players to surround their superstars in order to reach championship contender status. An unexpected but talented tandem has blossomed in NYC and the players in the Knicks locker room are starting to take notice.
“Two guys that just finally figured it out – playing together,” Raymond Felton confessed. “You don’t see a lot of guys scoring points like that, a lot of people would think there wasn’t enough basketballs on the court for two guys like that. Those guys are really figuring out how to play with each other, how to play together, and with the team. It’s been great to watch.”
Anthony and Smith are a destructive force, especially during the streak when looking at the 11 games the two players were on the floor. Anthony missed the first win of the streak due to a knee procedure. Since that point, the two have combined to average 56.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game. To put those numbers into context, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have combined to average 48.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 3.0 steals throughout the 2012-13 sason.
On one side of the floor, Anthony can go to work in the triple threat position and either elevate over the defender for a jumper or bully his way to the rim for a bucket inside the paint. Across the court, Smith waits for the double team for a deep range shot or he will attack the rack for an athletic finish in the box. Meanwhile, both players’ posses an array of offensive moves that thrive in isolation sets.
“They’re a nightmare to defend and when they’re together it’s even worse,” Iman Shumpert emphatically stated.
From the Mile High City to New York City, a friendship continues for the Knicks dynamic duo dedicated to finishing what they started.