GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Six months after publicly declaring that he was disappointed not to be starting for the Knicks, J.R. Smith clearly was delighted to get the NBA's Sixth Man Award Monday.
With his teammates and family cheering him on, Smith was presented the award during a televised ceremony at the Knicks' practice facility. Smith received 484 points, including 72 first-place votes, from a group of media voters. Jamal Crawford of the Clippers finished second with 352 points and 31 first-place votes.
"I had been known as a selfish player for so long, I just wanted to show everybody that I can be a team guy," Smith said. "It's all about team."
In 80 games, all off the bench, Smith averaged a career-high 18.1 points and developed into a consistent No. 2 scoring option behind Carmelo Anthony. Smith scored at least 20 points 29 times and had seven games of at least 30 points. He also hit two game-winning shots at the buzzer.
"He bought in. He didn't like it, but he bought in," coach Mike Woodson said of Smith coming off the bench. "This couldn't happen to a better person because he put in the time and he worked his butt off to get to this point. And he got rewarded for it, and I'm happy for him."
Smith's decision to embrace his role as a reserve is seen by many as a major step in his maturation as a player. Smith, 27, clashed with his coaches, including Byron Scott and George Karl, before he came to the Knicks. He also had his clashes with Woodson, most notably last April, when the coach told him to "pull up your pants" and act more professionally off the court.
Anthony, who played with Smith with the Nuggets, said he noticed a difference in Smith's attitude last summer when the nine-year pro committed to working extra hard to get ready for the season.
"I think there comes a time in your life when you're almost forced to grow up," Anthony said. "You're almost forced to mature."
It definitely was good timing for Smith, who signed a two-year, $5.7-million deal last summer, to have a big season. He is making $2.8 million this season and next year is due $2.9 million, but it's a player option. Smith likely will opt out of the deal.
The Knicks will have Smith's early Bird rights, meaning they can exceed the salary cap to re-sign the shooting guard if he decides to decline the option.
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