There are a lot of things you can point to -- maturity, better shot selection, less late-night clubbing -- to explain J.R. Smith's renaissance in New York this season.
But, sometimes, an explanation is simpler than that. You might think NBA players are concerned solely about winning when they're on the court, or, more cynically, that they're worried mainly about their statistics.
As it turns out, in his five seasons with Denver, Smith sometimes had an agenda that was all his own (courtesy of Newsday):
"I just look at the game totally different," Smith said. "A lot of times, I was trying to score as many points as I could just because I knew that would [tick] George off and do certain things I knew would get him mad. But at the same time, I couldn't look at it that way because I wasn't winning that situation, anyway, which I didn't."
It all makes sense now!
The step-back 3-pointer over two defenders, the permanent green light he gave himself, regardless of the situation in the game ... he was just trolling George Karl!
In contrast, in the same article, Smith's dad called his son's relationship with Mike Woodson a "friend-father-player" one. Woodson has given Smith more slack when it comes to his decision-making on offense, while Smith has returned the favor by doing what the coaching staff wants and trying hard on defense.
As a result, Smith is having the best season of his career, with career highs in points, rebounds, assists and minutes played.
In his ninth season in the NBA, he's finally becoming the player everyone knew he could be. You might wonder, why did it take him so long to figure it out? Well, let's just ask him:
Smith takes some responsibility for what happened with his other coaches. He said he could have done things differently and been who they wanted him to be, but added, "That's just not me."