On a roster loaded with veteran players at each position on the depth chart, it is going to be tough to earn some playing time as a young player on the New York Knicks roster this upcoming season. As of right now the Knicks have four players under the age of 25 on the roster, including Iman Shumpert (23), Jeremy Tyler (22), and rookies C.J. Leslie (22) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (21). Will any of them be able to make an impact this upcoming season?
We all know that Iman Shumpert has earned his place in the starting lineup. He is a great defensive player with a high motor and an immense amount of upside offensively, which we all witnessed in the playoffs. If Shumpert’s offensive game continues to improve and he gets that explosiveness back from his rookie season, he is going to be an All-Star caliber player in this league.
The other three young Knicks will have a tough time getting on the court unless they impress head coach Mike Woodson early. Last season 28-year-old rookie Chris Copeland, now a member of the rival Indiana Pacers via free agency, had to fight for playing time and even when he played well offensively Woodson wouldn’t play him due to his shortcomings defensively. Copeland was frequently in Mike Woodson’s Dog House, and that may have contributed to him leaving after the season. So how can the newest members of the Knicks roster earn playing time?
When it comes to big man Jeremy Tyler, he has the prototypical size of an NBA power forward/center at 6’10″/ 60 lbs. Unfortunately for him, he’s going to be buried on the depth chart behind Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani, Amare Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin. Two of the Knicks big men, Bargnani and Stoudemire, are frequently injured which means that there is a chance Tyler could see significant minutes if one, or both of the veterans go down. Last year Tyson Chandler spent a decent amount of time out of action with neck and back injuries as well. Tyler will likely get a chance to show coach Woody that he can play at some point.
In a short stint with the Golden State Warriors last season, Tyler did not make much of an impact, averaging 1.0 points 1.0 rebounds, and 0.1 blocks per game, and was sent down to the NBA D-League. He had a big impact in the D-League playoffs where he averaged 20.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In the Las Vegas summer league Tyler impressed with great explosiveness and solid defense and rebounding. If he keeps up that kind of work he will earn minutes in Mike Woodson’s rotation.
Rookie shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was selected 24th overall by the New York Knicks in the 2013 NBA Draft. Hardaway has prototypical size for an NBA shooting guard at 6’5″ and 205 lbs, and has long arms and is a good athlete. He will need to bulk up in order to succeed against NBA caliber defenders. Hardaway is a good catch & shoot offensive player and but he can not consistently create his own shot and must improve his dribbling and footwork.
It is hard to judge a player by his college numbers, because most NBA defenders are more aggressive and technically sound, but Hardaway shot 37% from three last season for his alma mater Michigan Wolverines. In the Las Vegas Summer League Hardaway showed he has explosiveness to get to the basket and an ability to be a solid defender as well. While an injury cut his summer short, Hardaway will get a chance to play early if healthy due to J.R. Smith’s off-season surgery. After Smith’s return Hardaway will likely be reduced to spot minutes.
Undrafted free agent foward C.J. Leslie is probably the biggest question mark/boom-or-bust player on the Knicks roster. At 6’9″ and 209 lbs, Leslie lacks the weight to be a power forward and also doesn’t quite have the skills of a prototypical small forward in the NBA. His ridiculous wingspan (7’1″.5) gives him an advantage defensively and offensively, by being able to shoot over shorter defenders. However there is always a reason for a player going undrafted and it is not hard to see why with Leslie.
For all the ability Leslie possesses, scouts question his motivation and lack of focus on the basketball court. He appears to be lazy defensively at times and also averaged 3.0 turnovers last year at N.C. State. He never developed a post game or a consistent enough perimeter game to call him a reliable three-point shooter.
Despite all the negative surrounding him, Leslie has a great deal of potential on the court. He will work on his perimeter game with the Knicks coaching staff and has great handling ability for a forward, while being a strong finisher around the basket. When he is on his game defensively he is disruptive, averaged 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steal per game in college. Also he is a slasher and has great ability to get to the line. The biggest question for Leslie will be his motivation. If Mike Woodson can tap into that potential and motivate him to play, Leslie could eventually assume a role behind Carmelo Anthony or play power forward in the “small ball” lineup.
With all that being said, which neophyte will have the greatest impact for the Knicks this season? Given the Knicks injury situation last season with Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, as well as the injury history of Andrea Bargnani, each of the young players will more than likely get a chance to play at some point this season. It is a tough call to make, but I think Jeremy Tyler will have the greatest impact because eventually he’s going to play if Bargnani or Stoudemire get hurt.
If he can bring some of that explosiveness from the Summer League to the Knicks bench he should be able to fit right in with the second unit. He also is developing a decent post game which no one on the Knicks roster, except Amare Stoudemire, is known for. He will be able to play on the floor with Kenyon Martin or Andrea Bargnani, but would clog the lane with Stoudemire. Tyler has NBA experience and will get a chance to show his improvement this season.
As a side note I believe that C.J. Leslie has the most potential of any of the young players besides Iman Shumpert. If he can live up to potential he can be a real scoring threat in this league. There is no reason that in due time Leslie couldn’t become a starting caliber small forward in the NBA, it will just take a great deal of work and time.