NBA New York Knicks

New York Knicks: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14

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New York Knicks: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14

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The New York Knicks were one of the top teams in the NBA a year ago, winning 54 games and claiming the Atlantic Division crown. The Knicks finally won a playoff series for the first time in a decade, defeating the rival Boston Celtics in 6 games.

Carmelo Anthony was outstanding, winning the scoring title by averaging 28.7 PPG. J.R. Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, averaging 18.1 PPG and 5.3 RPG. His performance as a second scorer for the Knicks was crucial to their success, and he was rewarded with a 3-year, $18 million contract.

Despite the positive vibes from last season, there are major concerns about the Knicks heading into this year. The Miami Heat still loom large over the Eastern Conference, and the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets have all improved themselves this offseason.

The Knicks are way over the cap, and there was very little room for them to maneuver this offseason. With no major additions (sorry, Metta World Peace doesn’t count), the Knicks need to improve internally. They have a lot of veterans on the roster who are not going to change much, but they also have a few young talents who could take a step forward.

The Knicks are facing an uphill battle to improve upon their performance last season, as everything broke in their favor throughout the year. It is a stretch to think that this team has a chance of making it out of the East unless there is major improvement.

These are the five players that the Knicks need to step up this season. With improved play from these players they could repeat last season’s success and possibly even challenge the Heat.

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5. Tim Hardaway, Jr.

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The Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the first round in June, and personally I thought it was a very poor selection. Reggie Bullock, Allen Crabbe and Isaiah Canaan are just three of the players who would have better choices. However, Hardaway is what the Knicks have, and now he must perform.

The Knicks were so successful last season because of their three point shooting, and Hardaway has to fill that role off the bench. Luckily that is the one thing he does well, so he should help stretch the floor for Anthony. If they get anything out of Hardaway as a defender or passer it will be a pleasant surprise.

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4. Tyson Chandler

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A year after winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Tyson Chandler’s play slipped a little bit last season. Chandler was still very good, but he wasn’t the dominant defensive player he was in 2011-12. The Knicks are incredibly dependent on Chandler, and they can’t afford any decline.

The Knicks are a very week defensive team, and they need Chandler to be dominant to be successful. He needs to shut down the paint and cover for the weaker perimeter defenders. This is a lot to ask of Chandler, but he is capable of handling the load.

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3. J.R. Smith

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With Smith, he doesn’t need to step up so much as stay up. He enjoyed by far the best season of his career last year, averaging career highs in minutes, points and rebounds. His emergence as a second scorer to Anthony was arguably the single most important factor in the Knicks’ success.

Smith was also engaged defensively, a rarity for him. Mike Woodson gets the best out of Smith, and he has to continue to do so this year. Smith went in a brutal slump in the playoffs, and it cost the Knicks dearly. They cannot afford to have his play slip even a little from last season.

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2. Amar'e Stoudemire

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We can debate all day about whether or not Amar’e Stoudemire can play with Carmelo Anthony, but it doesn’t change this simple fact: they have to make it work. Neither is going anywhere, and they are the Knicks’ two best players. Unfortunately their games are so similar that it makes their chemistry very difficult.

Stoudemire needs to find a role as the second scoring option for the Knicks. It may be best to bring him off the bench, but the point stands that he has to consistently and efficiently put the ball in the basket. Stoudemire is not going to be the star he once was, but it is essential to the Knicks’ success that he be their second best player.

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1. Iman Shumpert

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When discussing who might make the biggest leap forward for the Knicks, the clear candidate is Iman Shumpert. Shumpert is already an elite perimeter defender, and his offense needs to catch up to his defense.

Shumpert took some time to get back into a rhythm following his return from a torn ACL, but he found his form in the playoffs. Heading into his third season, he is primed for a breakout year. His defense is crucial to the Knicks, and if he can increase his scoring he could become the supporting star that Anthony needs.

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