5 New York Knicks Who Absolutely Must Avoid Injury This Preseason

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIOctober 1, 2012

5 New York Knicks Who Absolutely Must Avoid Injury This Preseason

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    This preseason is crucial for the development of a New York Knicks team that is returning just six players from last year's squad and will be learning new offensive and defensive systems under Coach Mike Woodson.

    The Atlantic Division will be a four-team race between the Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics. If the Knicks are going to come out on top, they must begin the season healthy and hit the ground running.

    Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer are already on the shelf while recovering from knee surgeries. Additional injuries during the preseason would be extremely detrimental to the team's progress and leave them thin at certain positions.

    These are five Knicks who absolutely must avoid injury this preseason.

J.R. Smith

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    Iman Shumpert is out until at least December after tearing the ACL in his left knee in last year's playoffs and Ronnie Brewer, who underwent surgery on his left knee in early September, will be sidelined until late October.

    That leaves J.R. Smith as the only healthy, established shooting guard on the Knicks' roster. If the former Denver Nugget is sidelined with an injury, New York may be forced to start journeyman James White on opening night.

    Smith will remain a valuable commodity once Shump and Brewer return to the lineup. He is one of the few players on the team adept at creating his own shot, and Coach Woodson is counting on him to provide a spark for the Knicks off the bench.

Raymond Felton

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    The Knicks have several new players on the roster—just six players returned from last year's team—and their two best scorers, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, have not figured out how to play together offensively.

    It is up to the Knicks' point guards to make the various pieces fit together.

    Jason Kidd's savvy and championship cachet will command the respect of his teammates, though at 39 years old his skills have diminished and his playing time will be limited. Raymond Felton will be the starting point guard.

    In his second go-around with the Knicks, Felton is anxious to put a terrible 2011-2012 campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers behind him. It is imperative for the point guard to establish chemistry with Stoudemire, Anthony and the rest of the team during the preseason.

Tyson Chandler

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    It is rare that one player completely alters the culture of a team, but that's what Tyson Chandler did when he brought his defensive intensity with him to New York from the champion Dallas Mavericks.

    With the Defensive Player of the Year leading the way, the Knicks' team defense improved from 28th in the league in 2010-2011 to 11th last season. There was a visible drop-off in their defensive rotations and ability to protect the paint when Chandler was out of the game.

    New York will not be quite as dependent on its starting center this season with the addition of a capable backup in Marcus Camby, though Chandler will continue to set the tone for the defense. If he succumbs to injury, the Knicks' defensive identity may go down with him.

Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Amar'e Stoudemire's lack of explosiveness last season and back injuries in each of the past two seasons have caused many fans and members of the media to conclude that his career is in a steep decline.

    With three years and nearly $65 million remaining on his contract, the six-time All-Star is virtually untradeable, which means the Knicks are counting on him to produce. He added a new weapon to his offensive arsenal this summer, working on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon.

    Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony should really benefit from participating in training camp together for the first time. An injury to STAT would hinder their ability to progress as a tandem and be a tremendous blow to the team's morale.

Carmelo Anthony

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    Carmelo Anthony has received so much criticism for the Knicks' early playoff exits and what many perceive to be his selfish style of play that it is easy to forget what a great basketball player he is.

    As he demonstrated down the stretch last season and during the London Olympics, Anthony is a scoring machine who can carve up defenses in a variety of ways.

    The Knicks will continue to run their offense through their star forward, though he needs to trust his teammates and keep the ball moving. Preseason is the time to build that trust through practice and repetition of half-court sets.

    Melo is also the only player in the starting lineup who can consistently create his own shot. If he is injured, the Knicks' offensive system will falter and they will struggle mightily to put the ball in the basket.