Carmelo Anthony is the backbone of the Denver Nuggets.
Chauncey Billups is the team's heart.
J.R. Smith is the key to the team's success.
Billups calls Smith a "work in progress." He has taken the five-year pro under his wing in hopes to mold J.R. into a player who not only has raw talent but can lead by example too. Smith has a long way to go in the leadership department, especially when it comes to making good decisions on the court, but there is little doubt about the spark he provides the Nuggets during the course of a basketball game.
Take game five against the Hornets for example. The game was deadlocked at 62. Neither team could grab a significant upper hand. Until J.R. Smith stepped up to the three-point arc and started firing. Back-to-back three pointers keyed a 14-zip run that put the Nuggets in position to clinch the playoff series. Not only does J.R. help the Nuggets by draining trey's, he plays a vital role as a decoy. The Hornets became so aware that Smith was "feeling it", they changed the way they guarded both Billups and Anthony. Billups started getting wide open jump shots himself and 'Melo was driving virtually uncontested to the basket. It all added up to a another blowout win for Denver in large part to the presence of J.R. Smith.
With that said, Smith's cockiness and willingness to shoot the basketball from anywhere at any time can work against the Nuggets too. And it has, plenty of times. When he is not "feeling it," J.R. continues to shoot. This decision making worsens and his teammates pay the price. It takes the Nuggets out of their rhythm and interrupts the flow of the game. This is exactly the reason Chauncey Billups calls J.R. a work in progress. He calls Smith the team's "sixth starter" and has encouraged him to play with a "starter's swagger." Sometimes that swagger translates best into playing a role. Nobody knows that better than Mr. Big Shot, Chauncey Billups, himself.
J.R.'s role right now is to stay on a roll. Riding the hot streak of a deadly shooter can take a team a long way on the path to the NBA Finals. Shoot with a shooters swagger, but play with a leader's mindset.
Smith holds the key to the Nugget's post season glory. He holds the key. The key to the team's backbone and the key to its heart and the key to an NBA Championship.
Until next time, keep living the dream....
Jesse Kurtz, KKTV Sports Anchor/Reporter