Entering the season, Knicks coach Mike Woodson made his plans for J.R. Smith perfectly clear.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to come off the bench. We need your energy to help us. You’re going to play just as many minutes as everybody else. You’re just going to come off the bench,’” Smith recalled. “He always tells me it’s not about who starts the game, it’s about who finishes the game, and 99 percent of the time I’m finishing the game.”

Smith earned a reputation as a bit of a head case in his first eight seasons in the NBA, but things have clicked playing for Woodson. Smith initially accepted his bench role begrudgingly but came to embrace it. He ranked first in the league among reserves by averaging 18.1 points and was third on the Knicks in playing time (33.5 minutes per game).

The breakout season earned Smith the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award yesterday.

“I wasn’t going to start him coming into this year, and he bought in,” Woodson said. “He didn’t like it, but he bought in. 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.”

Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin played with Smith for five seasons in Denver, and both noted the 27-year-old’s increased maturity in 2012-13. Smith credited Woodson for helping him flourish.

“Coach Woody and I talk so much,” said Smith, who had 15 points in New York’s Game 1 win against the Celtics on Saturday. “Our communication level is through the roof. He’s just such an influential coach. He knows exactly what it takes and he just put me in a great situation.”