5 Players Who Must Step Up for NY Knicks' Remaining Games

Ciaran Gowan@@CiaranGowanContributor IIIFebruary 24, 2014

5 Players Who Must Step Up for NY Knicks' Remaining Games

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The New York Knicks are the biggest disappointment of the NBA season, and there are plenty of people to blame for that, on and off the court.

    It will be borderline impossible for the Knicks to fully redeem themselves in their remaining games, but the playoffs are still a realistic goal if certain players step their game up.

    To be frank, the entire roster has plenty of room for improvement, but these five players in particular need to step up if New York is to make the playoffs.

    These are all players with notably uncertain futures when their current contracts expire, so it's also in their own best interests to get back on track to extend their careers in the league and make comparable money on their next deals.

Raymond Felton

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Raymond Felton is the worst starting point guard in the NBA by some distance, and it's no surprise that the Knicks were looking everywhere for an upgrade ahead of the trade deadline.

    Unfortunately, the Knicks didn't have the assets to land any of their targets and are left once again with Felton running the point.

    There was a time not long ago when Felton was considered the perfect man for the job. His defense has been questionable for a while, but when he was penetrating, hitting open shots and causing trouble for opponents on offense, that wasn't so much of an issue.

    Now, Felton is equally as ineffective on offense, averaging a career-low in points and three-point shooting.

    While the Knicks were unable to find an upgrade on Felton before the deadline, they'll certainly be in the market for a point guard over the summer, where they'll be aided by the soon-to-be expiring contracts of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani.

    Essentially, Felton is playing not only for New York's playoff hopes but also for his own future as a starting point guard in the NBA. At his current rate, he'll almost certainly be on the bench next season, be that with the Knicks or another team.

J.R. Smith

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    The Knicks didn't have much choice but to re-sign J.R. Smith over the summer. Letting the reigning Sixth Man of the Year go for nothing would have been a questionable move, but keeping him has worked out in the worst way possible.

    Since signing his three-year, $18 million contract, Smith has faced injuries, suspensions and struggles on the court, resulting in what has ultimately been a disaster season.

    While Smith isn't at fault for his injuries, his lack of maturity throughout the season has been a slap in the face to the team that helped revive his career and gave his brother, Chris Smith, NBA money.

    For as long as he's been on the roster, Smith has been the measuring stick for New York's success. When he's playing efficiently, the Knicks are a force to be reckoned with, and it's no surprise that the worst year of his career has coincided with the franchise's worst season since the summer of 2010.

    With Smith playing at his best, the Knicks still have a great chance of making the playoffs, but it's unlikely that we'll that see from him. He has his money now, and it appears he's the type of player who only performs when his contract is on the line.

Iman Shumpert

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    Rumors of Iman Shumpert's departure have been on and off since 2012, but it seemed almost certain that the Knicks would move the troubled young guard at this year's deadline.

    In the end, the Knicks kept a hold of Shump, but chances are that was because they couldn't find a good deal rather than because they had a sudden change of heart about his long-term future.

    With J.R. Smith under contract and hard to move, Tim Hardaway Jr. headed for the All-Rookie First Team, and New York still in desperate need of help elsewhere on the court, Shumpert's time in New York is clearly nearing its end, with the 2013-14 season possibly being his last in blue and orange.

    When he returns from his MCL sprain in a few weeks, however, Shumpert will have a lot of work to do. The Knicks need more consistency from his perimeter defense, as well as more contributions on the offensive end, if they're to make the postseason.

    Whether Shump stays or goes over the summer, in 18 months' time he'll be hitting restricted free agency, and if he wants to get paid, that means it's time to start playing the way we know he can.

Tyson Chandler

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    To put it simply, Tyson Chandler has been a shell of himself this season. He's played in only 32 games, is having his worst offensive season since his days as a Charlotte Bobcat and will be lucky to get a sniff for an All-Defensive selection.

    Unfortunately, there's not much Chandler could have done differently. His body is breaking down, as tends to happen with 7-footers over the age of 30, and his teammates have left him out to dry on defense.

    Chandler isn't the type of player that gives up easy, however, and we should see him fired up to try to help this team overcome its struggles and make a late run at the playoffs.

    If there's one thing this team needs right now, it's leadership, and that's something we know Chandler can provide. In the absence of Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace, the Knicks have missed that veteran presence, but Chandler is the type of player they can rally around.

    Making $14 million this season, that's the least Chandler can do for the Knicks and for his own future at MSG, or he could find himself on the way out via trade once his contract enters its final year.

Andrea Bargnani

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    The addition of Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks has been one of the strangest stories of the basketball season.

    In a vacuum, Bargnani has quietly been impressive during his time in New York, but he's a poor fit with the team offensively due to his propensity for mid-range jumpers. Defensively, he's solid as a one-on-one defender, but with Tyson Chandler missing plenty of time, he's been asked to play in the middle way more than he can handle.

    While you could make the case that, in terms of talent, Bargnani is worth a future first-round pick, his actual impact on the team hasn't been close to what you'd expect to get for the package the Knicks gave away from him.

    Bargnani is out indefinitely with a torn UCL, but if he returns this season, the Knicks could use his scoring with Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert continuing to struggle.

    Come the summer, Bargnani will likely pick up his $11.5 million player option, but when he eventually hits free agency, he'll be left in a pretty tough situation. He's a solid player, but weighed against the expectations of being picked No. 1 overall and traded for three future draft picks, his perception in the public eye has been warped somewhat.