- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Death. Taxes. Inconsistent play from J.R. Smith.
For the past eight seasons, those were three things NBA fans could count on. But the third one might be changing this year.
It's still early, but Smith has played consistent basketball at both ends of the floor for the 4-0 Knicks. He is scoring 17.5 points per game off the bench, the second-highest total behind Carmelo Anthony (27.3 ppg). Smith is handing out 3.3 assists per game, the highest total outside of the three-headed point guard trio of Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni.
Futhermore, Smith has averaged five rebounds a night (highest for non-frontcourt Knicks) and 2.25 steals.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is this: Smith's only turning the ball over once per game.
So, what does it all mean?
Based on John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating -- a metric used to measure a player's per-minute performance -- Smith has been the second-best player on the Knicks. Through four games, Smith is posting a 20.5 PER, second to Anthony's 24.3. Last year, Smith recorded a PER of 15.27.
"He's so locked in and focused this year. He's a different player," Tyson Chandler said last week. "He's really matured and he's really buying in to what coach is preaching, and it's been a big help."
Says Smith: "That was my biggest thing coming this season: Be more focused, be more consistent. It feels good that my teammates are recognizing it. At the same time, I've just got to keep it up and keep making them proud."
So far, so good.
In fact, you can make an argument that the Knicks wouldn't be 4-0 without Smith.
In the third quarter of Friday's game against Dallas, Anthony picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench with the Knicks clinging to a one-point lead. Dallas seemed primed to take control with Anthony off the floor.
But Smith came in and changed the tenor of the game, scoring nine of the Knicks' next 11 points over the next four minutes to give them a seven-point cushion.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Smith said.
In the past, that might have translated to a few turnovers and too many bad shots.
But not this season. At least, not through the first four games.
Which begs the question: are we seeing a new J.R. Smith?
Question: What do you think? Has J.R. Smith developed more consistency this season? Can it last?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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