J.R. Smith Love Fest Won't Last the Winter for NY Knicks

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 19, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 18:  J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden on November 18, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Knicks defeated the Pacers 88-76.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

How does the saying go, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior?

For New York Knicks fans, there's hope that those words are more part of a catchy phrase rather than fact. 

The 2012-13 NBA season has seen a renaissance in New York City basketball. As if the return of professional sports to Brooklyn was not enough, the Knicks have emerged through the early part of the season as the class of the NBA.

Take a minute to digest that one.

The Knicks are not simply elite, they look like the team to beat. If New York's 7-1 Eastern Conference-leading record does not speak loud enough to that fact, then their 10.5-plus scoring differential surely does.

The added offseason depth to coach Mike Woodson's roster has been a large chunk of this resurgence. 

But through the year's first eight games, there has not been a bigger factor in the team's success than bad boy turned model citizen J.R. Smith.

The typically trigger-happy Smith has continued to bring the instant scoring punch (16.3 points per game) that he has made a career of. But it's the control that he has displayed—on and off the court—that has Smith emerging as this season's unlikely New York City media darling.

This renewed focus (as detailed by northjersey.com's Steve Popper) has seen a more efficient version of Smith on the hardwood, and a matured Smith away from it.

On the floor, Smith has simply dazzled.

His 60 percent three-point shooting leads all shooters with at least 15 attempts. Then again, the career 37.1 percent perimeter shooter has never struggled with the outside shot.

The biggest transformation has been his ability to pick and choose his spots. His 8.2 turnover percentage is the lowest mark of his career, despite seeing the floor more this season (33.8 minutes per game) than in any of his previous eight years in the league.

Not surprisingly, he's also on pace to post a career high in player efficiency rating (20.3).

Off the floor, he's avoided the wince-worthy moments that have plagued his career. He's shied away from the club scene, showing a new dedication to his craft.

Of course, he's also set the bar at such a high rate that any slip up (when combined with his track record) could provide a fall from grace even more drastic that this season's climb has been.

His style of play (shooting without a conscience, penetrating occupied lanes) is one that lends itself to heavy criticism when those shots stop falling. Deep contested three-pointers make the highlight reel when they are converted, and the gag real when they are not.

Smith has been a scapegoat for his team's struggles in the past, and he hasn't always found the most positive responses.

No one needs reminding that the New York City media is as unrelenting as it gets, which makes both his incredible rise and his potential pitfall the least bit surprising.

His shooting will not last all season. Neither will these Knicks' punishing victories.

The biggest question will be how Smith responds to this adversity. And it's one that he'll be asked about on a daily basis when that time comes.