Which New York Knicks Player Will Make Biggest Leap in 2014-15?

The New York Knicks expect to make a significant improvement in 2014-15 on their poor showing last season, but to do so they’ll require a number of individual players to raise their performances big-time.

Fortunately for the Knicks, they have a handful of young players we can realistically expect to improve this year, especially with the likes of Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis and Jim Cleamons on the coaching staff and Phil Jackson in the front office.

Let’s go through a few of New York’s top prospects and predict who will make the biggest leap in 2014-15.


Iman Shumpert

For the last few years, Iman Shumpert has been the Knicks’ marquee prospect, but after multiple injuries and a huge blow to his confidence under Mike Woodson, things have not been easy for him.

Ideally with a new head coach, new offensive system and a generally less tumultuous environment, Shumpert will be able to flourish moving forward, but there are no guarantees. He needs to assert himself and make good on his obvious talent and athletic ability, as there’s only so much difference outside changes can make if he doesn’t get involved.

According to Hollinger’s stats on ESPN.com, Iman Shumpert‘s usage rate of 13.5 last season ranked him 63rd out of 70 qualifying shooting guards, so it’s no surprise he was only able to average a career-low 6.7 points per game.

With that said, it was only 18 months ago that Shumpert made a very impressive return from his first knee surgery, improving his stroke to the tune of 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc in 2012-13. That kind of development is still very possible, especially with the chance for a fresh start in the Knicks’ new era.

The triangle will bring ball movement, so while Shumpert tends to struggle creating for himself, he should have plenty more opportunities as a spot-up shooter on the wing.

Defensively is where New York should really want to see Shump step up. It already has enough offense at the 2 spot with Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith, but a defensive stopper on the wing could make a huge difference on that end of the floor.

Shumpert has certainly shown flashes of great defense. Even through his struggles last season, he was arguably the team’s best wing defender. His defensive win share of 1.6 according to Basketball-Reference.com ranked him behind only Tyson Chandler and (believe it or not) Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks’ roster.

If he learns the new system quickly and gets the support he needs from Fisher and Company, there’s no reason Shumpert shouldn’t at least improve his efficiency on offense and make some serious strides toward his All-Defensive potential in 2014-15.


Tim Hardaway Jr.

While Shumpert is looking to bounce back from a tough campaign, Hardaway is looking to build on a very strong start to his NBA career after earning a spot on the All-Rookie team.

Drafted at No. 24 overall, Hardaway has quickly earned a “virtually untouchable” label in the eyes of the Knicks’ organization, according to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com, which isn’t really surprising considering the offensive potential he displayed in his rookie season.

Hardaway struggled to get minutes behind Shumpert and Smith early on but finished the season averaging 15.8 points per 36 minutes, fantastic numbers for an inexperienced player.

Plenty of work still needs to be done, namely increasing his efficiency and diversifying his game outside of the three-point shot, which will almost certainly be his focus this season.

In summer league, we saw Hardaway take a leadership role as one of the “veterans” of the Knicks roster, occasionally running the offense and taking it upon himself to get to the rim as opposed to simply waiting outside for a shot opportunity to present itself.

It’s clear that Hardaway has bulked up over the summer, which will no doubt help him continue to attack the basket, but he plans to use that to his advantage on the defensive end too, which is great news for New York.

Depending on how minutes are distributed, it’s very possible that we could see Hardaway increase his scoring to around 15 points per game, ideally coupled with a raise in field-goal percentage.

Hardaway appears to be one of the most confident and motivated players on the roster, which will surely work in his favor. Time will tell, but it appears that the Knicks have unearthed a gem in Hardaway, which should show during his 2014-15 performances.


Shane Larkin

While Shane Larkin wasn’t a member of the Knicks in his rookie season, it’s still very possible that he could improve on his season with the Dallas Mavericks.

Larkin broke his ankle before he could even play a game for the Mavericks, eventually playing only 48 games that season. He never really had a chance to build momentum for himself and with a solid guard rotation ahead of him managed just 2.8 points and 1.5 assists per game.

Now that he’s had time to fully heal and work with Fisher in the triangle offense, we should see more of Larkin‘s raw ability in 2014-15. We’ve already seen his lightning speed in preseason; there’s no doubt he’s one of the fastest players in the entire league.

Running the triangle in what is essentially his second rookie season is not an easy task, but according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, New York actually likes the way his speed occasionally pulls the team out of the offenseto the point where they’re favoring him over Pablo Prigioni as Jose Calderon’s backup.

Once he gets into his rhythm, Larkin can make a huge difference for the Knicks. They’ve been one of the slowest teams in the league for a while now in large part due to their makeup at point guard. Paired with the rest of the team’s young players, he has the potential to transform the second unit into a high-energy machine.

It may be cheating considering how little Larkin got to play in his rookie season, but if he earns a role in the rotation, Larkin‘s production should shoot up rather significantly in New York.


Quincy Acy

Like Larkin, Quincy Acy wasn’t on the Knicks last year, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s turning heads this preseason.

When he was acquired along with Travis Outlaw, it seemed the Knicks just wanted to get rid of Wayne Ellington’s contract, but as it turns out they may have actually received a solid forward for very little in return to the Sacramento Kings.

According to Berman, Acy has a good chance of starting for New York at power forward with Carmelo Anthony moving back to small forward to accommodate the triangle offense.

Grit is the name of the game for Acy, a former second-round pick who’s undersized for the 4 spot. The Knicks could really use a player like that in the frontcourt to pull down rebounds and play physically on the defensive end.

Acy isn’t the most talented young player on the roster, but his energy alone will make a huge difference for the Knicks, and the opportunity to start should lead to a significant improvement on his career numbers of 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.


The Verdict

The good thing for the Knicks is that they suddenly have a nice collection of young talent, which will help significantly in their rebuildingor rather retoolingprocess.

It’s possible that New York could see improvements across the board from its young players, but the primary player to focus on is Shumpert, who’s at a crossroads in his young career.

The Knicks have a huge decision to make in 2015 regarding Shumpert, while the pressure is on him to prove himself worthy of a new contract when the focus will be on adding talent in free agency.

As far as all-around talent is concerned, Shumpert has displayed more than any other player on this list. The issue for him is turning that talent into consistent production on both ends of the floor.

With no surgeries this offseason and a system more suited to his style of play, we should see Shumpert bounce back in 2014-15 and remind everyone just how important a player he is to the franchise’s future before he hits restricted free agency.

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Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks 10/22/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Washington Wizards looked to break out of their preseason slump on Wednesday night, when they faced the New York Knicks. John Wall and company had dropped two straight games, and faced a tough test from a Knicks squad led by superstar Carmelo Anthony.

Watch the video for full highlights. 

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5 Bold Predictions for the New York Knicks During 2014-15 Season

This is a transitional season for the New York Knicks, but there will be some bright spots amidst the growing pains.

In Phil Jackson’s first summer as team president, he tweaked the roster to better fit his beloved triangle offense. The hope is that a more cohesive group of players with more compatible skill sets will produce a more harmonious kind of play in 2014-15.

There’s reason to believe in New York’s idealistic goal, but the Knicks are at the beginning of their transformation, not the end. Derek Fisher has his work cut out for him in his rookie season as a head coach, tasked with implementing an unfamiliar offense, as well as replacing last season’s woefully inept defense with a strategically competent one.

How quickly Fisher and the Knicks can push through the growing pains the upcoming season is sure to bring will determine whether New York will return to the playoffs. The Knicks have the talent to do it, but they’ll need a few breaks to go their way.

So let’s go through what to expect from the coming season, starting with the most likely prediction—and a downer at that.

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Knicks’ Porous Defense Puts Pressure on New York to Perfect Triangle Offense

New things aren’t always shiny. Sometimes they’re unpolished, musty and ineffective.

The New York Knicks‘ defense is the latter.

So their (triangle) offense must be the former—perfect in a way that is aesthetically and functionally pleasing, and capable of limiting the damage their defensive deficiencies are bound to inflict.


Swiss Cheese Defense

Presupposing that the Knicks will actually play insufficient defense isn’t really a daring assumption. It’s more of a foregone conclusion. 

Anyone and everyone needing a refresher in New York’s point-prevention potential was treated to an enlightening preseason loss against the Milwaukee Bucks Monday night. The Bucks, owners of a bottom-five offense last season, torched the Knicks for 120 points on 59.7 percent shooting, including a 50-percent showing from behind the three-point line.

It was an ugly performance, but one The Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring maintains is an accurate preview of what’s to come:

Last year, the Knicks ranked 24th in defensive efficiency, their standing the result of excessive switching and inadequate personnel. Early preseason returns don’t indicate they’ll improve much, if at all. They could wind up being even worse.

Opposing offenses are hitting 45.2 percent of their shots against the Knicks, which is slightly above the 44.9 percent they let up in 2013-14. Yes, it’s only the preseason, where defense is optional and third- and fourth-stringers taint small sample sizes, but that doesn’t make their defensive ceiling any more encouraging.

Liabilites remain prevalent when going up and down the roster. The Knicks still employ Andrea Bargnani—who hasn’t played since Oct. 8—and Amar’e Stoudemire, two interior sieves; Jose Calderon is only an offensive upgrade over Raymond Felton; Carmelo Anthony won’t suddenly defend like LeBron James for 48 minutes a game, 82 games a season; Samuel Dalembert ranked 108th in rim protection among qualified players who contested at least two point-blank attempts per game last year; Tim Hardaway Jr. still runs afoul on the perimeter; and J.R. Smith is a habitual gambler who mostly loses.

Shipping Tyson Chandler off to the Dallas Mavericks won’t help in the long run, either. The Knicks certainly won’t miss the Tyson Chandler of the last 18 months, but he was at least someone who could feasibly protect the rim and enhance an otherwise incompetent defense. 

Iman Shumpert projects as their only proven and valuable defender. Often criticized for his passive offensive game and general disappearing acts, he continues to be a defensive rock:

That’s one player, though. One player on a team of 12 to 15 isn’t enough.

Nor is the Knicks’ defensive system—if you can even call it that—enough to mask their collective flaws, despite what new head coach Derek Fisher posits:

Help isn’t an operative concept right now. Players aren’t getting back on defense following misses, and the Knicks have been ill-prepared to guard against smaller lineups.

“J-Kidd felt how the game was going and went small ball,’’ Anthony said following the loss to Milwaukee, per the New York Post‘s Marc Berman. “It’s something we haven’t even worked on.”

Smaller lineups—which the Knicks have strayed away from—force detrimental mismatches. If the Knicks stay big, Dalembert, Stoudemire or another tower is forced to defend against floor-spacing forwards. If the Knicks go small, they suddenly have guys such as Anthony and Shumpert defending out of position.

Neither situation is ideal, as the loss to Milwaukee reinforced. Even if the Knicks improve defensively, even if they implement some semblance of structure and system, they cannot rely on their preventive measures to help them.

This team, given its personnel, lack of rim protection and early efforts, cannot count on itself to be more than a bottom-feeding defensive unit.


Offensive Perfection: A Necessity, Not a Luxury.

In lieu of a dependable defense, the Knicks need an outstanding offense.

Thirteen of the league’s 16 playoff teams finished in the top half of defensive efficiency last year. Of the three in the bottom 15—Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers—two of them (Dallas and Portland) fielded top-five offenses. The Knicks will need to achieve similar imbalance for a postseason return.

And that means perfecting the triangle.


“It’s going to take a few months,” Smith said of the triangle, via ESPN New York’s Ian Begley. “Over the course of the year, understanding where everybody is going to be, [understanding that] ‘some like it here, [some] like it like that.’ It’s going to take a while.”

Time isn’t something the Knicks have in endless supply. They ran a top-eight offense from Jan. 1 through the end of last season—top four from Jan. 23 on—and it still wasn’t enough to catapult them into the Eastern Conference’s wide-open playoff picture.

Starting slow once again puts them at a severe disadvantage. It’s important their offensive learning curve isn’t so steep. They need to be ahead of this months-long schedule. And there have been signs that an immediate jump is possible.

“More important than that is the ability to lose yourself in the action and not fall prey to basketball instinct,” Yahoo! Sports’ Kelly Dwyer wrote of the triangle. “Those instincts tell even the most selfish player to shoot the ball the first time he touches it or the steadiest defender to jump at every pump fake, but one has to buy into something bigger if they want to work on Jackson’s team.”

To this point, the Knicks have, for the most part, bought into the system. They have 105 assists on 165 made baskets through five preseason contests. Assisting on 60-plus percent of converted shots was unheard of last year; they ranked 27th in assist percentage.

Even Anthony is passing more. His 14 assists through 115 minutes of preseason play are the equivalent of 4.4 per 36 minutes, noticeably above his career average of 3.0.

Shooting and systematic deviations have been the Knicks’ biggest issues thus far. Though their assist percentage is high, they’re hitting just 40.2 percent of their shots, moving the ball almost to a fault—especially in transition.

Misunderstandings also abound. Anthony is already talking about taking fewer shots and scoring fewer points, according to Begley. And, like NBC Sports’ Brett Pollakoff underscores, fewer points and shots aren’t what the Knicks need from him at all:

It’s a positive sign that Anthony is willing to take fewer shots if that’s what will help his team win, and the Triangle Offense is in fact one of equal opportunity; when run correctly, it should provide plenty of open looks for all five players on the floor.

But it also can provide enough options for a primary scorer to be the beneficiary of all of those actions…

…For the Knicks to be successful this season, Anthony will need to score at a similar clip as he has the past few seasons. It may feel like less of a burden with the new offense in place, and he may not need to be the one who takes the shot in every pressure-packed situation if the offense runs the way it should. 

Michael Jordan averaged at least 25 points per game in all eight of the seasons he played under Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant cleared the same benchmark nine times in 11 years. Shots will be there for Anthony in the triangle, and he must take them.

Avoiding them is part of the problem.

Anthony, like many of his peers, has developed a habit of over-passing. His teammates are more guilty of over-deferring than him, and it’s frequently left the offense looking disjointedly random.

Indeed, Anthony attempted 22 shots in 31 minutes against the Bucks. But many of those attempts—in the second half specifically—came within isolations or late in the shot clock, and the triangle isn’t a blueprint for forcing action.

Opportunities are supposed to come organically, off fluid reactions to the defense and its spacing. The Knicks are struggling to grasp these core tenets. While that’s to be expected, they’re making mistakes they cannot afford to make, generating offensive results they cannot afford to generate.


Progress for Sake of Success

Securing a postseason return is the goal for these Knicks. There are no substitutes.

Snagging a lottery pick they would actually keep does little to sell free agents and incumbent pieces on the future. Anything less than playoff basketball will be deemed failure.

It’s on the offense to get them there, the one that’s in its infancy and still needs to be honed and manipulated, then mastered if it’s to fit within the modern-day, three-point-happy NBA. That’s a tall order for any squad, but it’s the Knicks’ reality.

Meaningful games are on the horizon, and an ill-equipped defense has put pressure on the Knicks to strive for offensive preeminence, lest they lose another year to transition-taxed, lottery-fated basketball. 


*Preseason stats courtesy of RealGM. Remaining stats via Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.

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Amar’e Stoudemire’s Resurgence More Critical Than Ever to New York Knicks

It may seem like a strange time to predict big things for Amar’e Stoudemire.

The 12-year veteran turns 32 in November and is coming off the second consecutive season in which he averaged fewer than 25 minutes per game. Injuries held him to just 29 games in 2012-13, and his 11.9 points per contest a season ago were his lowest numbers since 2005-06—when he only suited up for three games with the Phoenix Suns.

And yet, there’s suddenly a shred of hope the six-time All-Star could at least partially return to form in his fifth and potentially final campaign with the New York Knicks—a season in which he’ll earn $23,410,988.

“My joy is there. My love of the game is there,” Stoudemire recently told reporters, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post. “I feel like I’m 19 again as far as how much I love to play the game of basketball. I feel youthful.

“To have that type of feeling again as I had my rookie year, to want to play and just want to be out there and get better as a player is pretty encouraging.”

It’s been a trying journey for Stoudemire, particularly after a successful 2010-11 debut with the Knicks in which he tallied 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds in 36.8 minutes per game.

“Injuries sometimes take that joy away,” he added. “You’re not able to play, you’re not able to become that leader that you know you are, you can’t speak on things that you see on the basketball court because you’re not out there within the battlefield with the guys.”

So maybe Stoudemire’s heart and mind have undergone some timely renewal. Maybe he’ll even establish himself as a reliable second or third option under new head coach Derek Fisher.

But could he entirely redefine himself in the process?

“My goal this year is to become a better defensive player and be known as a defensive player,” Stoudemire proclaimed. “It’s a challenge I’ve got to accept.”

And it’s a challenge the Knicks will gladly encourage.

Stoudemire—who didn’t attend college—did his growing up under head coach Mike D’Antoni, quickly developing into a feared scorer with explosive athleticism and a smooth mid-range game. Unfortunately, he picked up some problematic defensive habits along the way, focusing instead on anchoring an iconic run-and-shoot offense.

Perhaps it isn’t too late for Stoudemire to learn some new tricks.

You’ll just have to forgive Knicks fans for waiting to believe it until they actually see it.

They may not see it right away. These kinds of transformations take time, especially with roles and expectations undergoing some reshuffling under Fisher. Good as Stoudemire’s intentions may be, there’s no substitute for sustained effort and focus—virtues that rarely appear overnight.

Then there’s physical toll with which Stoudemire must contend. Given his age and injury history, there’s really no telling how much action he’ll see throughout the season ahead.

After two seasons of minutes restrictions designed to keep him healthy, Stoudemire will apparently attempt to become more of a full-time contributor—with the medical staff’s blessing, of course.

Right now there aren’t any minute restrictions, or he can only play the front of a back to back, or any of that,” Fisher recently told media, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com.

“If we can find ways to be consistent in [scheduling the rest days] then we don’t have to judge in the game whether or not it’s too many minutes or whether he can start or [not based on minutes restrictions],” he added. “So we’re excited that we can go into the season with an open mind in that regard and it’s worked well so far.”

An encouraging sign, yes.

More so, even, than Stoudemire’s latest quest for basketball immortality.

The 6’10″ power forward is attempting to preserve his health and physical tools with baths in red wine, a relatively new form of treatment with an aim toward longevity.

As the New York Daily NewsPeter Botte explains, “Bathing in red wine—known as vinotherapy—is said to aid recovery and boost circulation by using grape seeds, skin and stems to heal and rejuvenate the body.”

“It’s a rejuvenation and it’s not 100% red wine. It’s water and wine combined, but majority red wine,” Stoudemire told reporters this month. “The red wine bath is very important to me because it allows me to, it creates more circulation in my red blood cells. Plus, it’s very hot, so it’s like a hot tub.

“I felt great and after doing that recovery day, my legs felt rejuvenated. I felt great so I’m going to continue to do that for sure.”

There may be some legitimate questions about the therapy’s actual effectiveness, but the important thing is that Stoudemire feels 100 percent—for now anyway. His health history since 2005 is a mixed bag, particularly in recent years.

Stoudemire and Co. are saying—and probably doing—all the right things, but doubts will persist until he strings together a few months of sustained, elevated production.

If his body is right, he has a chance.

“I feel great. My body feels great,” Stoudemire told media earlier this month. “I worked extremely hard this offseason to be in top shape and be there full-time. But my body feels great. I feel confident. Hopefully it pans out well.”

Full time. That’s the key. In the wake of two seasons typified by limited action, the Knicks need Stoudemire to last at least 30 minutes every night. They need him to be aggressive, to defend with mental and physical purpose.

They need him to be dominant again.

“Last year was a difficult year. I think this year is a different story,” Stoudemire added. “I feel so much better now than I did last year. I’m healthy. I feel strong. So it’s definitely a different situation.

“Obviously [I want] to reach back to my dominant self. I feel like I’m there now. I feel like my body is feeling so much stronger, so I feel dominant.”

If there’s really something to Stoudemire’s optimism, team president Phil Jackson may have an interesting decision on his hands next summer. While it’s unlikely Stoudemire will command a massive deal in free agency, now is his opportunity to raise his perceived value—in the eyes of Jackson and others alike.

Stoudemire insists he’ll continue playing, and it’s conceivable he continues playing in New York, albeit at a significantly reduced rate.

Much as this organization might like to forget its first chapter with the overly compensated former star, it would be premature to rule out a second act.

But for now, that’s for Stoudemire to prove—and he’ll get his chance in 2014-15.

“There are leadership qualities with Amar’e that you can’t replace necessarily,” Fisher told reporters this month. “We’re excited to have him healthy. He played almost 70 games a season ago. We’re hoping we can get to close to 80 or more this year.”

It’s a hope that says as much about New York as it does Stoudemire.

This team desperately needs a big man to step up after Tyson Chandler‘s departure via trade to the Dallas Mavericks. New York’s increasingly strong perimeter arsenal (Jose Calderon, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr.) will assure superstar Carmelo Anthony a halfway decent supporting cast.

The bigger question is the Knicks’ interior rotation. 

If Andrea Bargnani stays healthy, he’ll earn playing time on account of his ability to space the floor. Samuel Dalembert will play minutes in the middle, namely to defend the basket. 

But Stoudemire is the closest thing to a real two-way weapon. He has the skill and pedigree to help carry the scoring load, and he has at least some potential to make a defensive impact.

There probably aren’t any All-Stars in that big man mix, but the Knicks will take what they can get. Stoudemire’s best All-Star impersonation may be good enough to return this team to the playoff conversation.  

Earning that $23,410,988 won’t be easy. Earning a newfound appreciation from Knicks fans, however, isn’t out of the question just yet.

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Milwaukee Bucks vs. New York Knicks 10/20/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The New York Knicks looked to score a preseason victory Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Knicks looked to continue putting last season’s dismal effort behind them and faced a tough test from a rebuilding Bucks squad.

Watch the video for full highlights. 

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Predicting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the 2014-15 New York Knicks

The New York Knicks enter this season with hopes of returning to the playoffs under first-year head coach Derek Fisher. Can Carmelo Anthony and his squad fight their way back into contention?

Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal joins Stephen Nelson to predict the good, the bad and the ugly for the upcoming Knicks season in the video above.

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Has Preseason Revealed New York Knicks’ Best Fit at Center?

Tyson Chandler‘s departure left a question mark in the middle for the New York Knicks, but there are some viable replacements currently on the roster. 

Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith may not be former defensive players of the year, but both men are solid enough to hold the middle down for the time being. 

New York needs rim protectors and hard-nosed defense in the post, and each man fills some of those voids.


Samuel Dalembert

Dalembert is at his best as a weak-side shot blocker, but he isn’t exactly a slouch as a rim protector.

His attitude and passion can fluctuate at times, but when he’s focused and happy, he’s a solid stop-gap replacement for Chandler.

Former Knick Willis Reed had some encouraging words to say about the newcomer:

Dalembert runs the floor well, and he finishes around the rim. He’s made 10-of-14 field goals thus far and has taken advantage of the easy looks he’s received. 

Unlike Chandler, he’s also worked on his jumper a little, via BasketballInsiders.com“I’m not necessarily a scorer, but in this offense anybody can be open. It’s so versatile as a big. That’s why it’s really good that we work on our shooting because when we get the opportunities or wide open shots, we’ve got to be able to make them at a high percentage.”

Smith, however, is more polished offensively.


Jason Smith

Smith may not have the explosiveness or leaping ability that Dalembert possesses, but his offensive repertoire will do wonders to help spread the floor for New York. 

The newcomer has a tremendous mid-range jump shot that fits perfectly in head coach Derek Fisher’s triangle offense. 

In only a small sample size of two games, Smith has gone 8-of-16 from the field and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. He’ll be very useful in pick-and-pop situations, and his teammates can count on him to cash in on any open looks. 

Although he may not be as athletically gifted as some, Smith’s motor and toughness have him pegged as a consistent defender who can be counted on to be physical in the post, as well as on the glass. 

Smith could be a little too overzealous defensively at times—and a little too physical—but he isn’t afraid of confrontation. He is the antithesis of Chandler in that regard—he doesn’t complain or whine about contact, he simply does his job as best as he can. 

A combination of Smith and Dalembert will give New York a more balanced approach and outlook from the center position.

Both men run the floor well and are far better scorers than their predecessor. If they can be level-headed, the Knicks have two athletes who will impact the team positively each game.

This duo in the middle gives the franchise depth and reassurance that they won’t be pushovers for opponents. 

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Why J.R. Smith Should Be in New York Knicks’ 2014-15 Starting Lineup

To get the most out of the pivotal first season of the Phil Jackson era, the New York Knicks need to figure out how to control and unleash resident gunner J.R. Smith.

A humble suggestion: Start him.

If you’re finished unblowing your mind, note that so far there’s no indication the Knicks powers that be are prepared to commit to such a plan.

Per Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com:

Jackson said Jose Calderon and Sam Dalembert will probably start at point guard and center, respectively. Derek Fisher has said that only Carmelo Anthony has a spot in the starting lineup at this point. He has been observing different lineups in training camp and the preseason. Assuming Fisher is on board with Jackson’s idea of starting Calderon and Dalembert, that leaves question marks at shooting guard and power forward.

Question marks at shooting guard apparently do not worry Smith, who’s bullish on the talent at his primary position, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com“I think there’s not a team in this league that has what we have at the shooting guard spot and I think that’s very unique … you should look at it as a dynamic trio like people do with running backs in football.”

Nice sentiment, but it’s pretty clear Smith should be the team’s feature back. Over the summer, he made it seem like that was his goal:

Hey, I get it; there’s a strong case for leaving Smith on the second unit. The guy earned his Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2012-13 because he was a potent scoring force off the pine. His game, which features many tough shots and few pangs of conscience, seems ideally suited for the sixth-man role.

He’s practically the model for the position.

For all that, there’s a stronger argument to be made for his fitness as a first-unit player.

Put most simply, Smith is the Knicks’ best shooting guard by a considerable margin, and it makes sense to put the best players on the floor from the opening tip. Smith’s player efficiency rating in 2013-14 (a down year for the 29-year-old, by the way) was 14.0, the highest of any guard on the Knicks roster, per Basketball-Reference.com.

His 3.7 win shares were also tops in New York’s backcourt.

If we leave the numbers alone for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll come back), we should next acknowledge that Smith just fits better with the members of the Knicks’ starting lineup already identified. In an ideal world, the Knicks should want Smith on the floor with players who can make life easier for him.

Anthony and Calderon are New York’s most dangerous offensive players, which means they’ll command most of the defensive attention—attention opponents won’t be able to spend on Smith. As the leader of a relatively punchless second unit, Smith has long been the focal point of most opponents’ schemes.

Plus, it seems the Knicks are committed to using Anthony as a small forward, which seems like a mistake but is a separate issue. The point is: Playing Melo at the 3 means one of either Andrea Bargnani or Amar’e Stoudemire will start at power forward, and neither of those players can stretch the floor.

And just to head this off at the pass, please refrain from calling Bargs a floor-spacer. Dude shot 27.8 percent from three last year and 30.9 percent the year before. No right-thinking defense views him as a perimeter threat.

Upshot: The Knicks need more shooting in the first unit—shooting Smith is best equipped to provide.

Iman Shumpert connected on just 33.3 percent of his triples last season. Tim Hardaway Jr. made 36.3 percent.

Smith knocked down 39.4 percent of his long-range tries in 2013-14.

The statistical case for Smith-as-starter only gets stronger the deeper we dive:

There’s a good reason Smith was so much more effective as a member of the first unit last year. Playing with better talent (which we’ve already mentioned draws more defensive attention) is a great way to keep Smith from giving in to his more destructive instincts.

With Melo and, in theory, Calderon on the court, Smith won’t be a primary ball-handler. He’ll still get loads of shots (note his higher usage rate as a starter last year), but they’ll be better ones. No more carte blanche to pound the dribble and fling up a 30-footer because no other options presented themselves. No more wild drives to the hole as defenses collapse off hapless teammates.

Instead, Smith can feast on spot-up shots and attack shifting defenses that have to play him honestly.

According to SportVU data provided to NBA.com, Smith was markedly better as a standstill shooter than he was off the dribble last year. He pegged 45.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot tries in 2013-14. Among Knicks who attempted as many such shots, only Melo topped that accuracy rate.

On pull-up shots, Smith made a woeful, though not surprising, 33 percent.

Summation: Smith can create shots, but he’s a lot more accurate when somebody else creates them for him.

If the concern is that the second unit might fall apart without Smith leading it, Shumpert and Hardaway were both better off-the-dribble shooters than Smith last year, per NBA.com. And while neither has the handle or strength to attack the basket as effectively, we shouldn’t expect the wheels to fall off without Smith running the show.

We’ve seen the numbers and digested the anecdotal evidence for Smith’s place in the starting lineup. There’s some compelling stuff there.

But if stats and reason don’t do it for you, let’s get touchy feely and see how that works.

So much of Jackson’s influence on the Knicks is about balance, about trusting a system and running an offense that maximizes contributions from everybody. The triangle is supposed to make a team function as a group. That’s the whole point.

Leaving Smith to his own devices as a one-man artillery unit off the bench cuts against the spirit of the triangle. It removes the sense of harmony Jackson so values. Making Smith part of a cohesive collective would be a triangle triumph—and perhaps the pressure of not screwing things up for the rest of the starters will keep him in line.

Smith needs to start. It’s the Zen thing to do.

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New York Knicks vs. Philadelphia 76ers 10/14/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers squared off in a preseason clash on Tuesday night. The Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks looked to prove that last season’s struggles were a mere hiccup in their road to contention, but they faced a tough test from a young, talented Sixers squad.

Watch the video for full highlights.

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