With the Knicks entrenched in a gritty and grueling second-round matchup with the Indiana Pacers, there has been much talk about the sudden struggles of Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and the shooting slump of superstar Carmelo Anthony.
On top of that, nearly every Knick fan has a different opinion on Amar'e Stoudemire, set to return for Game 3. Tyson Chandler's general ineffectiveness has been highlighted against the success of Pacers big man Roy Hibbert, but like many postseason series, teams cannot survive only on their star players. For a team to make a deep run, they will need many of their lesser-known players to rise to the occasion.
Four Knicks have performed well beyond expectations, but two have stood out even more: Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert. Through the first two games of the Pacers series, these two have been the Knicks' best players on both sides of the court.
Felton has controlled the offense with gusto, logging heavy minutes while playing efficiently. Through two games, he's averaging 16 PPG and 3.0 APG while shooting 61.9 percent from the field and hitting all three of his three-point attempts. Most importantly, he's committed only one turnover, a big improvement for the guard who averages 2.6 turnovers per game in his career.
Felton's field goal percentage has also taken a noticeable bump in the playoffs, as he's shooting at a 47.2 percent clip, a nice increase over his season average of 42.7%. The increased efficiency has helped make up of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith's shooting woes.
Shumpert answered any questions about his rustiness with his now-viral slam in Game 2, bringing the crowd to its feet. After averaging 6.8 PPG and 3.0 RPG in 45 regular season games, Shump has played great in the playoffs, especially in the first two games against the Pacers.
In the playoffs, he's averaging 10 PPG and 6.4 RPG while shooting 46.9 percent from the field, a major jump from his season average of 39.6 percent. In the Pacers series, Shump has averaged 13 PPG and 5.0 RPG while shooting 50 percent.
Defensively, Shump has been a maven, consistently drawing the likes of the opponents' superstar, in this case, Paul Pierce and Paul George. While Shump gives up size to both of them, his physicality has given them fits. In the first round series, Paul Pierce shot only 36.8% from the field, and an abysmal 26.8% from behind the arc, well below his yearly averages (43.6% and 38%, respectively).
The same has been the case for George, who outside an excellent first half in Game 2, has mostly been held in check by the athletic Shumpert. In the three games thus far, George is shooting 36.2% from the field and only 25.9% from behind the arc, also well below his yearly averages (41.9% and 36.2%, respectively).
Coming into the playoffs, there were many questions about Raymond Felton's playoff inexperience and Iman Shumpert's ability to overcome his injury, but both have stepped up to the challenge.
Outside of the Knicks starting backcourt, they've gotten a great effort out of Kenyon Martin, who has stepped up with the absence of several Knick big men. Martin's athleticism and defensive intensity have helped the Knicks' second unit, and his experience is a big difference-maker in the playoffs.
While his numbers haven't been spectacular offensively (6.1 PPG and 4.5 RPG), he's averaging 1.6 BPG while playing big minutes off the bench. His defense on Roy Hibbert and David West has helped negate their effectiveness.
With Tyson Chandler struggling, the Knicks need production, especially on the offensive end, from Martin, the former top pick in the 2000 draft. While he's certainly not his former self, Martin is a valuable bench player who can give Mike Woodson 18-24 minutes a night. At 6'9, 240 pounds, Martin is big enough to guard a center, but athletic enough to run by power forwards. This unique combination makes him an important piece to the Knicks puzzle.
The final Knick rotation player who has stepped up in the playoffs has been Pablo Prigioni, the 35-year old rookie. How much does Prigioni mean to the Knicks? In the four playoff wins he's played in, he's averaging 8.5 PPG and 3.3 APG. In the three losses, he's averaged 2.0 PPG and 3.0 APG.
Who's the Knicks most important role player?
Prigioni was especially important in closing out Boston, going for 14 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Game 6 win. One of the Knicks' most selfless players, Prigioni has shown an ability to knock down the triple, forcing defenses to pay attention to him.
Prigioni's importance was seen down the stretch, as the Knicks finished the season 16-2 once he entered the starting line-up. While he is sometimes too selfless, passing up good looks in order to feed teammates, he is one of the few Knicks who promote ball movement. The ISO-style the Knicks are used to playing won't work against Indiana, who have tough defenders like Paul George on the perimeter, and a defensive maven in Roy Hibbert guarding the paint. To create good shot opportunities, the Knicks must make the Pacers work on defense, which starts with ball movement.
While the Knicks will need their stars to play to the occasion, these four role players have all helped them get this far.