GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — 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.
"I just wanted to show everybody that I could be a team guy and it's all about the team," Smith said at a news conference attended by his family, teammates and coaches.
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.
It's the second individual award in two years for the Knicks, following Tyson Chandler's Defensive Player of the Year honor last season. Smith joins former Knicks sixth-man winners Anthony Mason in 1995 and John Starks in 1997.
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.
"Couldn't have happened to a better guy," Woodson said. "I'm so proud of him, in terms of buying into what we wanted him to do earlier in the season. And it started this summer. I wasn't going to start him, coming into this year, and I knew that. And he bought in. He didn't like it, but he bought in. And it couldn't have happened to a better person, because he put in the time and he worked his butt off to get to this point, and he got rewarded for it. I'm happy for him."
Crawford seemed to be the favorite for most of the season before Smith overtook him with his strong play down the stretch. He had three straight 30-point games from March 26-29, the first time that was done by a reserve since Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce in 1990.
"I more credit it to winning," Smith said. "We've had guys hurt, it just so happened I was one of the guys that stepped up and tried to get us through the tough times that we had."