Ranking New York Knicks' Most Important Players Heading into 2013-14 NBA Season
The New York Knicks will undoubtedly be one of the NBA's most intriguing teams this season. The potential for success in New York is higher than it has been in many years, however, as all Knicks fans know, potential doesn't always equate to realized success.
With a roster brimming with talent, and a locker room full of bold personalities, the Knicks could be one of the league's most volatile squads. As they have been before, the 2013-2014 Knicks could become defined by their polarity.
Here are the players that will be most vital in determining the Knicks' success this season.
4. Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler is the Knicks' most consistent defensive player, and his contributions on the defensive end could make the difference in several games this year.
The Knicks have a bevy of score-first offensive weapons. Thus, the Knicks shouldn't struggle to score points as long as Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert stay healthy. However, the Knicks will need to improve defensively if they expect to go further than last season.
Chandler was named to the NBA's All-Defensive First Team last season as one of the fiercest rim protectors in the game. Unlike many of the league's most revered shot-blocking specialists, Chandler controls his blocked shots rather than punching them into Spike Lee's lap in the first row. His impeccable timing and uncanny body control can be seen in the video above.
Many criticize Chandler for his limited offensive arsenal. However, he is relentless in the paint, and has a knack for turning errant shots into dunks. According to CBSSports.com, Chandler ranked third last season in total dunks with 140.
Along side Shumpert, and offseason acquisition Metta World Peace, Chandler could be the figurehead of an improved New York defense rooted in toughness and intensity.
3. J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith is one of the NBA's most baffling figures.
At times, Smith is an explosive, impassioned scoring machine, capable of jaw-dropping offensive exploits that leave Madison Square Garden on the verge of pandemonium. At other times, however, Smith can be a black hole. He is the living embodiment of the "keep shooting" mentality, even to the point when he can single-handedly shoot the Knicks out of a game.
That being said, Smith will be an extremely important factor in dictating the Knicks' success this season. Aside from 'Melo, Smith is probably the Knicks' most prolific scorer. When he is hot, he has the ability to harness his intensity and turn it into buckets for New York.
Smith played as well as anyone in the NBA at the end of the 2012-2013 regular season. During the Knicks' last 18 games, Smith averaged 23.2 points per game while shooting 50% from the field. In the playoffs, however, his numbers dipped to 14.3 and 33.1% respectively, via NBA.com.
The Knicks will need J.R. Smith to stay on track this season if they hope to be a bonafide contender. Moreover, when and if the Knicks make the playoffs, they will rely on Smith for consistent, high-octane offensive production.
2. Iman Shumpert
Basketball fans everywhere have been waiting impatiently to see what an injury-free Iman Shumpert is truly capable of. His rookie season was marked by a tragic knee injury in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
Last season, Shumpert did not return to the Knicks' rotation until January, thus his contributions were somewhat limited as he worked his way back into form. This year, however, Shumpert will be eager to show the league what he is truly capable of.
His disconcerting athleticism and high basketball IQ make him one of the Knicks' strongest one-on-one defenders. In his rookie campaign, Shumpert ranked seventh in the NBA in steals per game at 1.71, via ESPN.com.
However, Shumpert's importance to the Knicks will be largely rooted in his ability to find an offensive identity with the team. He is the Knicks' only proven young talent, and this season should provide him a platform to craft a distinguished role in the NBA.
In the Knicks' preseason tilt with the Boston Celtics on October 9, Shumpert looked brilliant. The 23-year-old was perfect from the field en route to a game-high 18 points. In the absence of J.R. Smith, who is recovering from knee surgery, it was obvious that Shumpert wanted to make a statement. And though it was a preseason game, Shumpert looked like the best player on the floor.
1. Carmelo Anthony
It's fairly obvious that Carmelo Anthony is the Knicks' most important player headed into this season.
Since the Knicks traded for Anthony in early 2011, they have been trying to piece together a championship caliber team around him. However, that goal was clearly never achieved. Instead, Anthony has taken it upon himself to push the Knicks into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Last season, Anthony concocted arguably the best season of his career on his way towards winning the NBA scoring title. Anthony continued his offensive dominance in the playoffs, averaging 28.8 points per game and leading the Knicks to their first playoff series win since 2000.
Though there is some speculation about his future with the Knicks after this season, Anthony will once again be the go-to-guy in New York.
And if you forgot how downright deadly 'Melo can be, take a look at his highlights from the Knicks' first postseason game of last year.