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5 New York Knicks Players Who Must Be Great in Playoffs

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New York Knicks: 5 Players Who Must Be Great in Playoffs

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Debby Wong-USA Today Sports

The New York Knicks are going to enter this year's playoffs as a team to beat, but that won't happen unless a small handful of players step up their effort. As good as the team has been all season long, some key contributors have been so hot and cold that one can't help but worry just what will happen come playoff time.

The fact is that in spite of the Knicks' strong performance as of late, they are anything but a lock to make a deep playoff run. Key players cannot get streaky at the wrong time, and shooters need to demand the ball and not be afraid of taking the hard shots at important moments of the game.

Most important of all, the defense needs to be consistently strong, and the star players need to be at their best and willing to put the team on their backs in crunch time. Basketball is a team game, but the best players still have that label for a reason.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that New York is in danger of an early playoff exit. In fact, I expect the team to perform well in each of its postseason games.

All I'm saying is that if the team is to be dominant from start to finish, players besides Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire (health depending) need to be great in each and every one of their minutes on the floor. Otherwise, all of the Knicks' playoff games could be unnecessarily close.

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J.R. Smith

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Smith has been great as New York's sixth man all season long, and could very well be named Sixth Man of the Year. Over 33.5 minutes per game, he has averaged 17.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but has shot just 42 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from long range.

This is because Smith has been incredibly streaky all season long. He'll enjoy a hot streak at one point, but then overly rely on his long-range game when his shots aren't falling.

Come the playoffs, Smith just needs to continue doing what he has done all year long when locked in. He must drive the lane and draw fouls, not to mention make wide-open threes and create off the dribble. So long as he can continue mixing up his offensive attack, New York will be in a position to enjoy a long playoff run.

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Kenyon Martin

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Martin has been nothing but great in the post for New York since first signing with them back in February. In 17 games, the 35-year old veteran is averaging 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds over 24.3 minutes per contest.

For someone who is 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, the man plays with the tenacity of someone much bigger. That is the exact type of attitude Martin must have in the playoffs — refusing to back down from any battle in the paint and going after every rebound. His defense gives the Knicks a gritty edge, and that's only going to help them at a time when every game counts.

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Iman Shumpert

Gary A. Vasquez-USA Today Sports

To be fair, Shumpert has not shown the explosiveness he did last season for a couple of reasons. Not only did he not make his season debut until January due to recovery from ACL surgery, but he has also been playing out of position at small forward rather than his natural spot at shooting guard.

Just the same, Shumpert must continue to be as great as possible, especially on defense. The second-year guard out of Georgia Tech is New York's best on-ball defender, and must be an excellent pest as well as drive the lane on offense rather than rely on his corner three.

If he can go back to being a slasher and not so much a Bruce Bowen-like pest and shooter, the Knicks' attack will become all the more dangerous. Otherwise, Shumpert will be just another face in the crowd compared to the rest of the team.

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Steve Novak

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If there's one thing Novak can do, it's shoot threes. His prowess at that helped him lead the league in 3-point percentage last season and also earned him a long-term deal with New York over the summer.

Novak has shot 43 percent from long range this season, but his overall approach appears to have changed. At times, he appears hesitant to attempt threes and be an offensive force off the bench. This cannot be the case once the playoffs start.

This is because when Novak scores in double figures, and this is going back to last season, the Knicks have gone 29-8. He may only average 19.9 minutes per game, but he is clearly more of an x-factor than meets the eye. Once the playoffs start, he needs to assume that role in every way possible.

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Raymond Felton

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Felton has not been bad for the Knicks by any means this season, but he could definitely do a better job of stepping up his passing game. As good as New York has been, the team actually ranks 29th in the league in assists per game at just 19.1 per contest.

Felton himself is averaging 14 points and 5.5 assists per game this year, not to mention 1.4 steals, but he tends to get a little trigger happy on offense. Rather than only contribute as necessary and get the ball to the go-to guys as head coach Mike Woodson's system calls for, he likes to drive the lane and attempt floaters in traffic even though he is just 6-foot-1, 205 pounds.

While it is important that Felton contribute on offense as much as necessary, it should not be his first priority in the postseason. At that point, it's just about getting the ball to his star teammates and letting them take the wheel. He should definitely take advantage of his own scoring opportunities if he sees them, but should not go out of his way to make them happen.

If he can stick to his coach's plan and up his passing game, then Felton can easily become one of the more underrated Knicks stars of the postseason.