By Taylor Armosino, Knicks fan since '03
The 2004 NBA Draft was one of the last of its kind; two years later, the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented the current policy that outlaws high school players from entering the league for at least a year after graduation.
J.R. Smith was a high school phenom, choosing to forgo acceptance to North Carolina in favor of the NBA. Smith originally signed a letter of intent to play at Chapel Hill, but eschewed his commitment after earning co-MVP honors (with Dwight Howard) in the 2004 McDonald's All-American game.
Coming out, Smith was an intriguing prospect. Teams were enamored by his athleticism and ridiculous 3-point range -- two traits that have defined his NBA career. But Smith was also raw, yet to develop any sort of mid-range or post up game and he wasn't known as a good defender. His inconsistency in a few individual workouts hurt his draft stock, but overall he was a promising prospect.
Smith was selected 18th overall by the New Orleans Hornets. After two seasons Smith was dealt to Chicago and then Denver. Under George Karl, Smith really developed his identity as a player. After struggling in New Orleans, Smith posted above league average PER, as well as 39% 3-point efficiency or higher, in five of his six seasons as a Nugget.
As a Knick, Smith has served as the second offensive option to Carmelo Anthony. This past season he won Sixth Man of the Year after playing 33.5 minutes per game and averaging 19.4 points per 36 minutes. His progression as a defender had a lot to do with his success; Smith allowed the Knicks to use him at either the 2 or 3 in a variety of different lineups. Given the Knicks' injuries this season, his versatility really increased his value.
His career took some time to develop, but J.R. Smith has found his way as an NBA player. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is an integral part of what the Knicks do on both ends of the court. He has certainly validated his first round draft selection.
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