Following an offseason where their inner-city rival went above and beyond scouring for free agents, the New York Knicks are hoping that one of their own players could emerge from the ranks and perform above expectations.
When it came to the offseason, the New York Knicks struck out. They traded crowd favorite and three-point specialist Steve Novak, along with Marcus Camby, for the underwhelming talent of Andrea Bargnani. They used up their big free-agent signing of the offseason on the last legs of Metta World Peace.
New York also re-signed Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith to a new deal and brought in former Orlando Magic point guard Beno Udrih.
Both trades make sense. Novak and Camby had lucrative deals that didn't reflect their games. The Knicks needed to find someone who has the potential to limit LeBron James for a seven-game series.
And, no, World Peace is not doing the job that Carmelo Anthony has proven incapable of completing. It's just obligatory for a team to employ at least one nuisance of a defender as an attempt to corral LeBron if there is a seven-game series between the teams.
And Andrea Bargnani? The part that annoys the Knicks' fanbase isn't that they traded away Novak and Camby; it's that Andrea Bargnani is now going to be a part of their rotation.
"Bargs" is coming off the worst season of his career since his rookie year. In 35 games with Toronto, he averaged a little less than 13 points on less than 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from beyond the arc.
His rebounding numbers were abysmal (surprise!). He averaged fewer than four rebounds, and fewer than five rebounds per 36 minutes.
He's not exactly whom you want for a team that ranked 26th in rebounds per last year.
It looks like that burden will continue to rest on Tyson Chandler. The burden of defending the rim will also solely rely on Chandler because, once again, the only areas the Knicks improved on was adding a washed-up perimeter defender who absolutely cannot limit LeBron, and a turnstile of a defender and a chucker of a shooter wrapped up in the same person.
New York did little to catch up on the Miami Heat. In fact, the Knicks regressed if anything. They're coming off a season in which their three-point shooting was on par with the greatest shooting teams of all time, yet it was only enough to yield a No. 2 seed and a second-round exit.
While Chicago, Indiana, Brooklyn and Miami, as well as former lower-tier teams in Detroit, Washington and Cleveland, improved, the Knicks are going to rely heavily on the roster from last year and two newcomers who will provide little.
They'll have to look within to find a player to make a jump.
One look at the Knicks' roster, however, and you'll notice that there are few players who can make an impact that could be labeled as surprising.
Rule out Carmelo Anthony, because you know you're going to get a high-volume scorer who's going to take a lot of shots. You want him to find ways to play off the ball and do everything in his power to integrate Amar'e Stoudemire back into the starting lineup, but it's probably not going to happen if it hasn't already.
What we're looking for is a role player who can perform above expectations and actually prove critics of this team (like myself) wrong.
Do you expect Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to have another career year after having one the previous season? The 36 percent from beyond the arc Felton shot last year was the second-highest three-point percentage of his eight-year career, and Smith's 18 points per game were the highest of his career.
Plus, that postseason of Smith's still has to be resonating. The 33 percent he shot overall and the 27 percent he shot from beyond the arc reflected the actions of a player who did nothing more than take low-percentage shots against playoff teams.
Smith attempted 163 field goals in the postseason; all but 36 of those shots were jumpers, according to Basketball-Reference. That is a real statistic.
He'll be 28 in September, meaning that there is still time for improvement. But does a player begin to add new dimensions to his game the offseason after signing a large contract?
Maybe there's still some hope for Amar'e. He only played in 29 games last year, all off the bench, but his stats indicate that there might be something good about separating lineups between him and Anthony. Per 36 minutes, Stoudemire was posting 22 points and eight rebounds while shooting 58 percent.
However, he didn't play from March 7 until May 11, when he was brought back in the middle of New York's series against the Pacers. He played about as well as someone who had missed two months of basketball would play.
Amar'e has been so out of it the past two seasons, whether it's due to injuries or Carmelo, that you almost forget he was receiving M-V-P chants in his first season with the Knicks. Nowadays, he's a borderline afterthought in New York, essentially the team's seventh man behind J.R. Smith.
He's someone who could surprise, but his minutes will have to be monitored on account of how much of a beating his body has taken over the past two years. He missed 19 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and 53 this past season, when he came off the bench for the first time in his career.
It's completely unpredictable what type of Amar'e Stoudemire the New York Knicks will have this season; and unless it's an Amar'e that can play with Carmelo, it's not going to matter enough.
The player who has the potential to make a big impact for the Knicks is Iman Shumpert, entering his third year after a disappointing second season.
Following an impressive rookie season when he made the All-Rookie first team, Shumpert's numbers took a significant hit as he spent half the season recovering from a torn ACL and then using the other half of the season acclimating back to the pace of the NBA. He started all 45 games he played in as New York's shooting guard.
His overall shooting percentage and points per game may have fallen, but his three-point shooting took a significant turn for the better. He improved it from 31 percent in his rookie year to 40 percent last year. His true shooting percentage also increased from 48 to 52 percent.
That three-point shooting extended into the postseason. He shot 43 percent on 42 attempts from beyond the arc.
With so few defensive stoppers, especially along the perimeter, Shumpert is an essential piece to a team that ranked 16th in defensive efficiency last season, per Hollinger.
Recovering from a torn ACL last season, Shumpert ranked 195th in the league in points per possession given up, per Synergy, allowing opponents to shoot 39 percent overall and 37 percent from three. He was the league's second-best defender when it came to post-ups, but he struggled defending spot-ups, allowing 45 percent three-point shooting.
Still, this upcoming season will be his first healthy season since his impressive rookie year, and he maybe riding the confidence in his jumper from last year.
At only 23 years old, Shumpert is one of the few glimmers of hope as someone who could possibly make a jump on the Knicks.
He is one of only three players on the Knicks under the age of 25, with the other two being Jeremy Tyler, a former second-round pick of Golden State's, and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who will be fighting for playing time with Felton, Smith, Prigioni, Shumpert and Udrih.
Consider the 2013-14 season as the year Shumpert will be expected to make the jump from fringe player to reliable part of the rotation. As stated before, he had an excellent rookie season only to see it end in the postseason due to an ACL injury that kept him out until February.
He'll need to vastly improve his ability to finish around the rim. On 89 layup attempts last year, Shumpert converted only 46 percent. Even more surprising was how he shot 50 percent on eight dunk attempts. He also struggled in his rookie season, although not as significantly, shooting 57 percent on layups.
He was a 38 percent jump shooter, supported by the 41 percent he shot from three, last year, which was up from 31 percent in his rookie year.
Man, who on the Knicks last year didn't shoot lights-out from further than 20 feet?
Of all the newcomers and already existing players on the Knicks roster, Shumpert is the only one who can make a jump and push the team past the four/five-seed expectations they've received this offseason.
Unless Amar'e is able to return to 2010 form, the success of the 2013-14 season for New York will ride with how much Iman improves and builds off of his first two years in the NBA.
All stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.