While many experts have counted out the New York Knicks as contenders for the 2014-2015 NBA season, that does not mean they have a lack of depth of impact players. This is especially true in the backcourt, as almost their entire bench is made up of guards.
While the starting point guard is all but set to be Jose Calderon, acquired from Dallas last month, the 2 guard position is up in the air.
At this point, there seems to be three logical options for the said position: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Tim Hardaway Jr. Below are each of their stat averages per 36 minutes for the 2013-2014 season.
Games Started: 37
Field Goal Percentage: .415
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: .394
Free-Throw Percentage: .652
Games Started: 58
Field Goal Percentage: .378
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: .33
Free-Throw Percentage: .746
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Games Started: 1
Field-Goal Percentage: .428
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: .363
Free-Throw Percentage: .828
Based off purely stats, I would choose Hardaway Jr. in a heartbeat to be the Knicks starter at shooting guard.
Last season, he averaged more points per 36 minutes than either Smith or Shumpert, while shooting at a better clip from the field as well.
Although Carmelo Anthony, who re-signed with New York for $122 million over five years, is clearly the team’s primary scorer, they lack a strong second option after him.
Hardaway is quite capable of filling that role though, which will also allow Carmelo to cut down on the amount of isolation shots he attempts. While he did lead the league in iso points last season, there were also plenty of times when Carmelo playing in isolation cost the Knicks- such times included in the final seconds of a game, when he felt forced to put up a wild shot attempt at the buzzer, because there were a lack of capable shooters around him.
Hardaway Jr. is further deserving of a starting role this upcoming season to due the fact that he established himself as a more than reliable NBA player right out of the gate. He appeared in the Rising Stars Game during All-Star Weekend and following the season was named as a member of the All-Rookie first team. Clearly, he did not let his relatively low draft slot (24th overall selection) derail his play on the court.
As for the other two players, Shumpert and Smith, there are several arguments to be made against them, which ultimately should regulate them to a sixth man type of role.
Shumpert is coming off a season in which he posted career low averages in points and field goal percentage, although he did manage to play in a career best 74 games. To be fair, his “career lows” are within a small sample size, because he’s only been in the league for three seasons so far, but nonetheless it was clear that he struggled throughout much of the Knicks nightmare season.
On seven different occasions, Shumpert was held scoreless, despite playing at least thirteen minutes in each of those contests. On the contrary, he showed flashes of brilliance, most notably the Knicks first two games of the new calendar year, when he dropped 27 and 26 points on consecutive days at San Antonio and Houston. His defense was always above average, and he did not have trouble racking up steals, but the way the team is currently constructed, defensive minded wings are better suited for the bench, at least as of right now.
In addition, Shumpert suffered a season-ending ACL injury during the 2012-13 season, so logging extra minutes could be costly for his season, if not his career, if he were to suffer another similar injury, which could be prevented by less time running up and down the hardwood. Lastly, Shumpert’s impact as a reserve player last season was far more positive for the team compared to when he was a starter. His +/- of 10.2 as a reserve easily bested his mark of 3.9 as a starter.
Smith, meanwhile, is an even easier case to argue for regulating to a sixth man / bench role.
Coming solely off the pine during the 2012-13 season, Smith won NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors. However, last season, when he was in the starting lineup for 37 games, his play took a hit. His points per 36 minutes dropped by almost four points, while is shooting percentage slightly dipped as well.
Ever since he came to the Knicks, he was been known as the guy who seems to make the most impossible of shots, yet this reputation only goes so far into making him a solid player for the Knicks. His on-court basketball issues were further worsened by his off-court trouble and on-court antics. To begin the season, Smith was suspended for five games due to possession of an illegal drug (knowing the lifestyle that J.R. lives, though, this is not surprising in the least).
He also made headlines by making foolish decisions when the clock was not running during games. A prime example of Smith’s foolishness occurred when he untied his opponents shoelaces, while standing next to them during free-throws. He complained at the beginning of the season of not being a starter, yet when he was given that privilege, he did not come through. A permanent move back to the bench for J.R. would give him the mindset again that enabled him to win Sixth Man of the Year just two seasons ago. Maybe that is all the motivation he needs to succeed once again, because it seemed as if once he became a starter, his drive for greatness wore off.
Besides these aforementioned shooting guards, the Knicks have a number of other young guards at their disposal, including Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington. They all have tons of potential, but will have to prove themselves this season before their role in New York can be expanded, especially because many of them are first-time Knicks.
As for the New York “veterans” (who are still very young players anyways), I believe that Hardaway Jr. will give the Knicks the greatest chance to win this season, if he is starting at shooting guard.
Many experts and fans have casted doubt on the Knicks championship odds for 2015, but if Hardaway and the rest of the roster can step into their given roles, don’t be surprised to be watching a parade down the Canyon of Heroes next June.