NY Knicks Players Who Will Make a Big Jump in 2014-15

Ciaran GowanContributor IIIAugust 6, 2014

New York Knicks power forward Amar'e Stoudemire (1), right, and shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (5) walk towards their bench during the second half of their NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, in New York. The Thunder defeated the Knicks 123-94. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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The New York Knicks enter the first year of their rebuilding project in 2014-15, looking to improve on a horrible showing last time out.

After a successful offseason, we should expect New York to be significantly better, competing for a playoff spot and potentially even the division title.

However, acquiring Jose Calderon and bringing in a new coaching staff alone isn't going to get the Knicks where they need to be. Improvements will also need to be made from within, with key players stepping up and improving their play.

Let's go through the players most likely to make a big jump in 2014-15.

Tim Hardaway Jr.

After an impressive rookie season, Tim Hardaway Jr. has taken over the mantle as New York's marquee prospect.

Hardaway earned a place on the All-Rookie first team in 2014-15, emerging as the best shooter in his draft class and providing a lot more offensive firepower than would have been expected this early in his career.

Though he still has a lot of work to do to become a well-rounded NBA player, Hardaway has made the first steps down that path this summer.

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He came into NBA Summer League looking a lot bigger and promptly put up 22.8 points per game, a major improvement over the 11 points per game he posted in last year's tournament.

Of course, stats mean very little in the summer league—what's really impressive is that Hardaway was finding different ways to score, getting to the rim and creating his own shot as opposed to simply working as a spot-up shooter.

With the Knicks running the triangle in 2014-15 and more minutes likely coming his way, Hardaway is only going to continue to improve. He's already made it to the USA Select Team and, under the guidance of Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson, could take his talent to the next level.

If the Knicks run a more efficient offense as expected, Hardaway will find himself a lot more open shots and will surely be given a featured role in the system as Jackson will understand the importance of increasing the input of young players in the first year of a rebuild. 

It's difficult to predict Hardaway's production, but if he plays upwards of 30 minutes a night, it wouldn't be surprising to see him score up to 15 points per game and improve on the 43 percent he shot from the field last season.


Iman Shumpert

Whether the Knicks' new management views Iman Shumpert as a long-term piece remains to be seen, but you have to think they'll give him every opportunity to prove himself before he hits restricted free agency and a final decision has to be made.

Throughout all his struggles, Shumpert has remained the Knicks' best perimeter defender, something that will be a lot more important this season without Tyson Chandler's interior presence. 

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks shoots against Giannis Antekounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during a game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
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Shumpert will need to be more consistent all around next season, but the boost in confidence that will come with Mike Woodson out of the picture is going to be a major help in that regard.

For the most part, these are what his issues boiled down to last season. We know he can shoot, we know he can defend and we know he's athletic, but he couldn't assert himself and needs that drive restored in him. 

Fisher will struggle in his rookie coaching season, but one thing he can definitely do is lead. He's been a shining example of consistency in the NBA for the last 18 years, and that will surely rub off on Shumpert.

Ultimately, this season will come down to how much Shumpert wants to prove himself. He needs to regain the fire he had in his rookie season, because while the Knicks could use his skill set, they won't hesitate to trade him or let him go in free agency if he doesn't prove himself worthy of the $6-plus million they'll have to pay to keep him.


Amar'e Stoudemire

The jump Amar'e Stoudemire will make in 2014-15 isn't the typical jump you'd expect, where a young player takes the next step in his development. Instead, the jump he'll make is that of an established veteran reminding the basketball world who he is after a few quiet years.

While it's hard to see STAT making it back to the NBA All-Star Game as he envisions, this should be the best year we've seen from Amar'e since his first year in New York. 

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 15:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on April 15, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
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In the last year of his contract, we should expect the Knicks to let Stoudemire play freely, forgetting about minutes restrictions and giving him every opportunity to prove himself worthy of a new contract.

Given that Stoudemire has actually been one of the better power forwards in terms of per-36-minute production over the past few years, this should result in a very successful season, so long as his body holds up.

Speaking of injuries, while they will never go away completely for him, it seems that things have calmed down since his two knee debridement surgeries. Last year, he missed only 17 games, most of which were to rest him rather than being directly caused by injury.

Also worth noting is that when STAT did have to miss a seven-game stretch in January, he did so because of a sprained a ankle, not because of a repeat knee injury.

More minutes and less injury worries alone should set Amar'e up for an impressive season, but the arrival of Jackson, Fisher and a more efficient offensive system will help him, too.

With Chandler gone, we should see more of Stoudemire at center, which will help tremendously in terms of spacing with Carmelo Anthony. While the two aren't perfect for each other, Melo has proven that his best position is at power forward, whereas Amar'e played at center for the majority of his career year in 2010-11.

STAT will need to work more on diversifying his offensive game to fit into the triangle, but that shouldn't be a major issue. Throughout his career he has had little trouble adding wrinkles where necessary, developing a mid-range jumper and a post game after previously being considered a player who got by solely on his athleticism.


Cole Aldrich

After trading Chandler, the Knicks have very little at center besides Samuel Dalembert, so we should expect to see a lot more young players like Cole Aldrich in the rotation.

Aldrich had a quiet 2013-14 season but finished strong, averaging 13 points and 14.5 rebounds in his last two appearances.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Cole Aldrich #45 of the New York Knicks dribbles the ball against the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden on December 8, 2013 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
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Despite getting limited playing time throughout the season, he also managed to pull down a monster 14.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, something which has always been a strong point for him through his struggles as a failed lottery pick.

The Knicks have been a mediocre team on the boards for the past few seasons, and more minutes for Aldrich could help them get over that hump. He's essentially the best rebounder on the team, which will help them to close possessions and earn extra chances on the offensive end.

Elsewhere Aldrich is a limited player, but he does have a physical presence, averaging 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes. With the right coaching, he can become a decent defensive center as soon as next season.

Aldrich isn't going to blow anyone away or suddenly become one of New York's key building blocks, but he will likely be playing the most minutes of his career in 2013-14, finally getting the opportunity to prove himself worthy of a spot in an NBA rotation.