Iman Shumpert has made an immediate impact thus far in the preseason.
The New York Knicks are in the rare position of being a team that's expected to play deep into the postseason but still must use the preseason to get a feel for the team as a whole.
With so many new faces in key roles this year—Metta World Peace, Andrea Bargnani and Beno Udrih, to name a few—the team is drastically different from the second-seeded Knicks team of 2012-13.
Through Week 1, a few Knicks have risen to recognition, while some have done everything in their power to write themselves off in just two games.
The team is still desperate for a reserve center behind Tyson Chandler, and another guard to improve the perimeter defense wouldn't hurt, either. Coach Mike Woodson is able to get a look at the league-maximum 20 players on New York's roster through camp, so there's certainly no shortage of directions to go with the 15th roster slot.
Rookies and younger players tend to have an adversarial relationship with coach Mike Woodson. But the 24th overall pick in last year's draft, Tim Hardaway Jr., is off to a piping hot start in New York.
Wednesday against the Boston Celtics, the 6'6" shooting guard logged his first-ever minutes in a Knicks uniform. He missed his first three attempts of the night but finished 6-of-7 thereafter, including three makes from long distance.
Hardaway sealed the 103-102 Knicks victory with eight seconds remaining as he sunk a J.R. Smith-esque fadeaway jumper over MarShon Brooks.
Friday against the Toronto Raptors, Hardaway put his shooting on display once again and also debuted some of his athleticism. He shot 5-of-11 and sank three more treys, as well as jamming home a ferocious fast-break slam in the second half.
He's apparently won over his coach. According to Jonah Ballow of Knicks Now, before Friday's game, Woodson said, “I think Tim has put himself in a nice position to play, there’s no doubt about that. He’s going to be in the rotation, he’s going to play some."
The Knicks were—and still are—in dire need of a reserve big man at the beginning of camp, and they brought in several bodies to compete for the 15th roster spot. Ike Diogu was one of them, and he hasn't managed to impress over his two games.
The 30-year-old played just six minutes in the team's preseason debut against Boston, scoring just two points and rocking a plus-minus of minus-14. He failed to pull down a board.
Against Toronto on Oct. 11, Diogu logged seven minutes and went scoreless, clocking an identical plus-minus as he did in the previous game. He missed his only two shots, grabbed one rebound and turned the ball over once.
Neither Cole Aldrich nor Josh Powell have put a firm grasp on the 15th slot, so Diogu still has a chance to make the squad with serious improvement. But considering Aldrich's 6'10" frame and hustle that plays to his advantage—and Powell's minimal but still superior production—Diogu is more than likely to be one of the odd men out come opening night.
Mike Woodson surprised many when he revealed that Iman Shumpert will be battling with the injured J.R. Smith for the starting 2-guard role. Shumpert started all of his 45 games last year. Smith started none, and his last minutes logged with New York—during the 2013 postseason—were certainly memorable, but for all of the wrong reasons.
But Shumpert has done everything he can to this point to make Woodson realize he's the man for the job.
The 23-year-old shot a perfect 7-of-7 in the team's Oct. 9 matchup against the Celts, draining three three-pointers and scoring 18. He dished out three assists and pulled down three boards in 25 minutes.
Shumpert's jump shot wasn't working as crisply against the Raptors—he didn't make any of his four attempts from distance and shot just 4-of-11—but he grabbed nine boards and came away with three steals. He was doing everything you ask of a player whose shot just isn't falling.
Besides his woes from the perimeter, the third-year man's offensive game was solid as a whole. He's made slow yet steady improvements off the dribble and can develop into a premier offensive accessory for New York with continued development. It should go without saying that his defense along the outside is already among the best in the NBA.
The argument could be made that Chris Smith was brought in to Knicks camp as a mere favor to the Smith family, but everyone in the organization seems to be playing along as if this is a serious thing—so we will too.
Mike Woodson ran Smith out for five minutes in the bout against Boston, in which—at one point—he had a plus-minus of minus-24 in just four minutes.
He missed his only shot—a three-pointer—and grabbed a rebound, while committing a foul in his most recent preseason minutes. Woodson turned to Toure' Murry instead of Smith in the closing minutes against Toronto, and Murry did nothing to convince Woodson he should give Smith another chance.
The way the roster is constructed—with one, maybe two roster slots available if the team cuts injured center Jeremy Tyler—a maximum of one guard will make the team. Judging by Smith's lack of playing time and futility when he has been on the court, he may have played himself out of the NBA before his first career minute.
Beno Udrih will essentially take Jason Kidd's spot in the Knicks' point guard rotation for 2013-14. And at just 31, he certainly won't deliver the poise and expertise Kidd did to the offense but is capable of much more with the ball in his hands.
Through two preseason games as a Knick, Udrih has been Mike Woodson's point man down the stretch. Both games have been competitive through the final buzzer, which has enabled New York to gauge how the Slovenian ball-handler performs in crunch time.
He's hardly done anything to discourage them.
Against Boston on Oct. 9, he launched eight shots in 19 minutes, sinking only two. He did, however, dish out four assists, grab a board and look mostly under control at the helm of the offense.
During the Toronto tilt, he built off of the previous performance by sinking two of his four attempts, getting to the foul line once and tossing five assists in 22 minutes for New York.
Udrih put some of his flashy dishing ability on display in the fourth quarter of that contest, going behind his back to connect with Metta World Peace for a fast-break bucket.
Udrih likely won't have a very strenuous role for the Knicks this season, but it won't be outrageous to predict that he'll eventually knock on Raymond Felton's door for the starting job. Considering Felton's salary compared to Udrih's, and Woodson's overall trust in his lineups, it's still unlikely. But Udrih's skill set at the 1—or even off the ball—is very ideal for this particular Knicks offense.
His ability to create for himself on occasion and willingness to create for others—as he's shown thus far in the preseason—will be key to Knicks buckets this year.
It's been the talk of the offseason: How will Andrea Bargnani fit into the Knicks' offense?
Through the team's first two exhibition games, the answer, "he won't" seems to be inching closer and closer.
Bargnani hasn't put up brutal shooting numbers over two games—he's 7-of-17 from the field and has gotten to the line eight times without missing. But the key to Bargs fitting in with Carmelo Anthony's offense—if he is to be a starter—will be the 7-footer conforming to the team's preexisting techniques. Not the other way around.
Bargnani, who's accustomed to shouldering the full load of scoring in Toronto, looks like a player trying to do too much. Countless times, already, through two games, a Knicks teammate will kick to him for an open attempt beyond the arc, only for Bargnani to put up a shot fake and dribble into a contested mid-range J.
This is not how the team's offense works.
In order for Bargnani to be effective, the bulk of his work on offense will consist of waiting on the open side of the court, awaiting the kick-out pass that will undoubtedly come several times throughout any game. It was a staple in the Knicks' third-most efficient offense last season, and there's no reason to deviate from the plan.
Bargnani may still prove to be useful in the offense. He has several skills the team could benefit from. But through two games, he's simply been in the way. He's played his game, rather than the one he needs to play as a Knick.