- Ian Begley, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- J.R. Smith, the NBA's reigning Sixth Man of the Year, says he has no problem coming off the bench again this season, but he'd prefer to start.
"I've always wanted to start. Everybody knows that," Smith said. "I won the Sixth Man [Award] last year, so I felt as though there's nothing left to prove at the sixth-man spot. But at the same time, if that's what my team needs me to do, that's what I'll do. If Coach wants me to be a sixth man, I'll be a sixth man. If he wants me to start, I'll start. That's up to him."
Smith will compete with third-year guard Iman Shumpert for the starting shooting guard spot in Mike Woodson's lineup.
Shumpert, though, has an early edge because Smith is sidelined due to offseason knee surgery.
Smith has missed the Knicks' first three preseason games and hopes to play in the final preseason contest on Oct. 25. He ran on the practice floor Tuesday for the first time since undergoing surgery in July to repair his left patella tendon and a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee.
Smith, who signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Knicks shortly before his surgery, has yet to face contact in practice.
Woodson hopes that Smith can return to the floor in about 10 days. But Smith doesn't want to rush back.
"I'm trying to play the last preseason game but I'm not going to put the pressure on myself. If I don't feel I'm ready, I'm not going to play," he said.
Once Smith is deemed healthy enough to return to the floor by team doctors and an independent doctor appointed by the NBA, he will serve a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug ban. If Smith plays in the Knicks' final preseason game, he can start serving his suspension when the Knicks open the regular season.
Woodson has made it clear that both players will have an equal chance to win the job once Smith returns to the floor.
"When [Woodson] decides to make the choice we both have to live with it, between myself and Shump," Smith said. "It's a competition at this point, he's winning. He's healthy, he's able to play. When I'm back ready, I'll be ready."
Shumpert is widely known as one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA. But Smith is a better scorer at this point in his career.
That's one factor Woodson will weigh as he makes his decision.
"I like to think J.R. will have gotten better and learned from last year from a defensive standpoint," Woodson said. "I know Iman brings it defensively. And I think Iman has gotten a little bit better offensively, too, in terms of how he's doing things on the floor, but I want more [from Shumpert]."
Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com