Tuesday April 23, 2013

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- J.R. Smith won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award Monday after turning a role he didn’t want into one of the strengths of the New York Knicks’ first division championship team in nearly two decades.

Smith received 484 points, including 72 first-place votes, from a panel of 121 writers and broadcasters. The Clippers’ Jamal Crawford finished second with 352 points, getting 31 first-place votes.

Smith averaged 18.1 points in 80 games, all off the bench. He had 29 games in which he scored 20 points as a reserve, tying Crawford for the NBA lead.

The 6-foot-6 swingman wanted to start, but said he accepted it fairly quickly once coach Mike Woodson told him he would be a reserve.

The New Jersey native had by far his best NBA season, helping the Knicks to their first Atlantic Division title since 1994.

Smith helped the Knicks to their most victories since they went 57-25 in 1996-97. New York is the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and leads the Boston Celtics 1-0 in their first-round playoff series.

Despite not making a start, Smith was one of the Knicks’ most important players. He played more than 40 minutes seven times and was often their only scoring threat behind Carmelo Anthony.

Smith came to the NBA out of high school in 2005 and admittedly made a number of mistakes along the way. He clashed with coaches and pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a 2007 auto accident that killed his friend, spending 24 days in a New Jersey correctional facility and getting suspended by the NBA for the first seven games of the 2009-10 season.