5 New York Knicks Role Players Who Need to Raise Their Game in 2012-2013

Paul Knepper@@paulieknepContributor IIIAugust 30, 2012

5 New York Knicks Role Players Who Need to Raise Their Game in 2012-2013

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    Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler form a formidable front line, but they are not good enough to carry a team to a championship by themselves. For the Knicks to advance deep into the playoffs, it will require a total team effort.

    Management was aggressive this summer, adding several key veterans to the roster. Coach Mike Woodson can go at least two deep at each position and will be counting on that depth to separate his squad from other talented teams.

    But depth alone will not be enough for the Knicks to make the leap from a good team to title contender. Melo, Amar'e and Tyson's supporting cast needs to perform at a higher level than last year in order for the Knicks to compete with Miami and the other elite teams in the league.

    Here are five New York Knicks role players who need to raise their game in 2012-2013.

5. Kurt Thomas

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    Kurt Thomas will begin the season in a limited role for Knicks, but at some point during the season, the 17-year veteran will become an integral member of the rotation. Marcus Camby has been fragile throughout his career, and Stoudemire has missed time during each of the past two seasons due to back problems.

    Last year, New York was forced to rely on undersized and overwhelmed rookie Josh Harrellson during their stretch run when Stoudemire and Jared Jeffries were injured. They cannot afford a similar dropoff in production if one of their big men go down this year.

    Thomas turns 40 in October, but the wily veteran is up to the task. His ability to bang with the big boys down low and willingness to step up and take a charge will fit nicely into Coach Woodson's defensive scheme.

    Offensively, he will not be asked to do too much. Knicks fans know from his first run with the club that Thomas sets solid screens to free up shooters and opposing teams must respect his 15-18 foot jumper off of pick-and-pops.

4. Ronnie Brewer

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    Coach Woodson has not announced who will begin the season as the Knicks' starting shooting guard while Iman Shumpert is on the shelf. Ronnie Brewer is the logical choice, as J.R. Smith is more comfortable coming off the bench.

    Brewer, who has not been an every day starter since his days with the Utah Jazz, must step up his game. Coaches have overlooked the 6'7'' wing man's poor shooting because of his defensive versatility, but his career-low of 43 percent from the field last season will not cut it in New York.

    Brewer is never going to be a knockdown shooter—he has shot just 24 percent from three and 69 percent from the line for his career—but he can be an efficient scorer when he plays within himself.

    The former Chicago Bull score off of timely backdoor cuts, rather than as a spot-up shooter, and is a 50 percent shooter for his career. He should return to that range this season.

    The Knicks' shooting guard also needs to fill Iman Shumpert shoes as the team's premier perimeter defender. The rangy Brewer can cover both shooting guards and small forwards and will often be matched up against opponents' best scorer.

3. Iman Shumpert

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    Shumpert had a sensational rookie year before tearing the ACL in his left knee during the Knicks' first-round playoff series against the Heat.

    Doctors initially estimated that Shump would be out about eight months, and according to Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com, Coach Woodson recently stated that his young shooting guard is "looking good" and may be ahead of schedule. He could be back as early as late December.

    Shump should have been named to one of the NBA's All-Defensive teams last season and will be an elite defender again once he trusts his knee and regains complete mobility. It's on the offense that the Knicks need him to take his game to another level and become a reliable third scorer behind Anthony and Stoudemire.

    Shump shot just 40 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc last year. Those numbers improved over the course of the season as he adjusted to the professional game and gained more confidence in his jump shot.

    He has a quick first step and the athleticism to finish around the rim, but averaged just 2.3 free throw attempts per 36 minutes last season. Shump must be more aggressive this season and continue to work on his shooting.

2. J.R. Smith

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    Mike Woodson took J.R. Smith under his wing last season, and the mercurial shooting guard responded with a consistent effort on both ends of the floor. The Knicks need even more out of Smith this year with Shumpert out for at least the first two months of the season.

    He is one of the few Knicks who can create his own shot, and his teammates look to him to bail them out late in the shot clock by creating space with a step-back dribble and knocking down a jump shot.

    Smith shot just 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc last season, compared to 44 percent and 39 percent the previous year with Denver. With a dearth of outside shooting, New York is counting on him to spread the floor and make teams pay for double-teaming Stoudemire and Anthony.

    J.R.'s biggest problem in the past has been an unwillingness to play within the system on offense. Now 26, he appears to have matured and should be entering the prime of his career. It is a good sign for the Knicks that he accepted less money this summer to return to New York and play for Coach Woodson.

1. Raymond Felton

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    Felton has a lot to prove this season. The Knicks traded him as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal in March 2011. Last season, his weight drew the ire of his coach in Portland, Nate McMillan. He averaged just 11.4 points and 5.6 assists per game for the Trail Blazers while shooting a measly 41 percent.

    Now he is returning to Madison Square Garden as the replacement for overnight sensation Jeremy Lin—a move that did not sit well with much of the New York fan base.

    The 28-year-old is vital to the Knicks' attack. New York's offense tended to stagnate last season and was too reliant on isolation plays. As the starting point guard, it is incumbent upon Felton to keep the ball moving and get the various scorers involved.

    The Knicks hope Felton can help six-time All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire get back on track after a sub-par season. The two developed solid chemistry in the pick-and-roll over Felton's 54 games with the team during the 2010-2011 season.

    Felton also needs to improve on his 31 percent shooting from downtown last season. With Ronnie Brewer starting at the two guard, the Knicks' point guard must knock down shots in order to maintain proper spacing.

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