What We Learned About NY Knicks During Their 1st Half of the Season

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2014

What We Learned About NY Knicks During Their 1st Half of the Season

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    The Knicks' struggles have revealed a great deal about the makeup of the team.
    The Knicks' struggles have revealed a great deal about the makeup of the team.Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

    Challenging times reveal the true character of a person, athlete or team, and the New York Knicks have struggled mightily during the first half of the 2013-14 season. 

    New York returned the nucleus of last year's team, so we as fans already knew a great deal about the makeup of the individual players, Coach Woodson and the team as a whole.

    It was not a surprise that the Knicks went into a tailspin when Tyson Chandler was injured, that the offense has stagnated at times or that Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni have been unable to keep opposing guards out of the paint. 

    However, we have gleaned plenty of new information from this year's club. We learned about the ability of some of the team's younger players, the character of a couple of veterans and the effectiveness of certain lineups. We also gained greater insight into the squad's offensive weaknesses.

Amar'e Stoudemire Can Still Play

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    Amar'e Stoudemire has given the Knicks an offensive boost off the bench.
    Amar'e Stoudemire has given the Knicks an offensive boost off the bench.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Amar'e Stoudemire appeared to be washed up during the early part of the season after returning from his third knee surgery in 10 months. The six-time All-Star was slow-footed and had no lift in his legs. 

    It turned out that STAT was merely rusty and had been unable to develop a rhythm while playing under strict minute limitations. He began to find his groove in early December and has punished defenses in recent weeks with an assortment of pick-and-rolls, post moves and elbow jumpers. 

    Stoudemire is averaging 9.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 19.6 minutes of action. That production has increased in recent weeks. Over his last 20 games, STAT has contributed 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest in 22.7 minutes while shooting 57.3 percent from the field, and he has averaged a double-double per 36 minutes (20.5 points and 9.9) over his past 10, via NBA.com (subscription required). 

    Stoudemire cannot jump like he used to and remains a defensive liability. Yet he is still a dangerous offensive player whom opposing teams need to account for when he is on the court.  

J.R. Smith Has Not Grown Up

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    J.R. Smith refuses to grow up.
    J.R. Smith refuses to grow up.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    During his 10-year career, J.R. Smith has been fined for flopping, Twitter comments, Twitter photos, yelling at Mark Cuban, flagrant fouls, drug use, throwing an elbow, fighting, reckless driving and conduct detrimental to the team. 

    However, there was a sense that the mercurial shooting guard may have turned a corner last season. At the age of 27, he had the best year of his career, averaging 18.1 points per game and earning Sixth Man of the Year honors.

    When Smith was suspended for flagrantly elbowing Jason Terry in Game 3 of the Knicks' playoff series with the Boston Celtics, Knicks fans hoped it was a minor setback. They were wrong.

    Smith has been as unreliable as ever this season. He was suspended for the team's first five games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy and more recently, he was fined $50,000 by the league for continuing to untie opposing players' sneakers after he had been warned about it.

    It appears that last season was an aberration. Months after the Knicks signed Smith to a three-year extension, it is apparent that he is more trouble than he is worth. 

Tim Hardaway Jr. Was a Great Value Pick

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    Tim Hardaway Jr. has been knocking down threes for Mike Woodson's team.
    Tim Hardaway Jr. has been knocking down threes for Mike Woodson's team.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The Knicks landed a valuable young asset with the 24th pick in what was considered to be a weak 2013 draft. Tim Hardaway Jr. has far outplayed his draft position and is currently ranked fourth among rookies in scoring with 8.4 points per game, second in three-point percentage (40.5 percent) and free-throw percentage (82.6 percent) and first in field goal percentage (45.9). 

    The University of Michigan product has been the Knicks' most consistent guard and has outperformed Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith in many statistical categories, including points per 36 minutes, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and player efficiency rating. 

    Hardaway has plenty of holes in his game, especially on the defensive end, where he often struggles with his positioning. Yet he should be a solid rotation player for the next decade, which is a great return for the 24th pick. 

Iman Shumpert Is Not Having a Breakout Season

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    Iman Shumpert looks like same player as last season.
    Iman Shumpert looks like same player as last season.John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

    Knicks fans have been enamored with Iman Shumpert since his rookie season in 2011-12. He was a tremendous defender upon entering the league and had the athleticism to develop into a potent offensive force in time.  

    Shump's development was stunted by a lockout-shortened rookie season and a torn ACL, which sidelined him for the first two months of the 2012-13 campaign. He still managed to raise his three-point shooting percentage nearly 10 percentage points in his sophomore season (from 30.6 to 40.2).

    This was supposed to be Shumpert's breakout season. He was supposed to take on a larger role in the offense, operating in pick-and-rolls and attacking the paint off the dribble. However, the third-year guard has made little progress from last year. 

    Despite injuries to several of the Knicks' key offensive players, Shumpert's usage rate (13.4) and points per 36 minutes (9.3) are down from last season (15.6 and 11.0, respectively), and his shooting percentage is still hovering around 40 percent. The shooting guard has never registered a PER higher than 11.7 (15 is considered average).

    Offseason knee surgery could account for his slow start to this season, and sharing the floor with two ball-pounding players in J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony could be hindering his offensive development. However, it is fair to wonder if Shumpert will ever develop into the player Knicks fans expected.  

The Knicks Do Not Get Enough Easy Points

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    The Knicks guards are not creating easy scoring opportunities.
    The Knicks guards are not creating easy scoring opportunities.USA TODAY Sports

    Fast-break baskets and foul shots are the easiest ways to rack up points, and the Knicks rank last in both categories, with 7.7 and 18.7 per game, respectively.

    New York plays at the slowest pace, averaging 92.4 possessions per game, which accounts for their low turnover percentage (12.1 percent). The flip side of the Knicks’ ball-control offense is that it leads to very few fast-break opportunities. 

    The Knicks' low free-throw total is more troubling because it speaks to a lack of aggression. Carmelo Anthony is 10th in the NBA with 6.7 free-throw attempts per game. No other player on the team is averaging three. 

    The guards in particular have failed to penetrate and get to the line. Only 12 players are averaging over 28 minutes per game and attempting fewer than 1.6 free throws. Three of them are Knick guards: Raymond Felton (1.5), J.R. Smith (1.5) and Iman Shumpert (1.2). Smith is taking less than half of the number of free throws he attempted last season (3.9).