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Burning Q's: Who must break out?

9/26/2014

With training camp less than a week away, we’re examining the burning questions facing the New York Knicks.

Today’s question: Who needs to break out this season for the Knicks?

Let’s start by going over the possible breakout candidates for the Knicks.

Tim Hardaway Jr. –- The second-year shooter is coming off an impressive rookie season in which he averaged 10.2 points and shot 36.3% from behind the arc in 23 minutes a game.

Hardaway Jr. could take another step forward and have a breakout season. He admittedly still has to improve on his defense and will have to be more consistent. But he’s a good breakout candidate.

Jason Smith –- The new Knicks center is looking to showcase his game in the triangle and would appear to be a good fit in Derek Fisher’s system. The 7-footer can bury the mid-range jumper. We will have to see how well he can pass and defend. And, more importantly, can he stay on the floor?

Smith has not played in more than 51 games in a season since the 2010-’11 season. He also has not averaged in double figures scoring yet either but averaged a career-high 9.9 points in 2011-’12 and 9.7 points last season in 31 games. With Carmelo Anthony and other shooters on the floor like J.R. Smith and Hardaway, Jason Smith could find himself with plenty of open jumpers. We’ll have to see how much time he will get with Samuel Dalembert needed for rebounding and defending inside.

Shane Larkin –- Larkin is the wild card in the Tyson Chandler trade. The Knicks got Jose Calderon and Dalembert as two likely starters. But Larkin was selected 18th overall in 2013. The 5-11 point guard averaged just 2.8 points in 10 minutes a game, playing just 48 games as a rookie for the Mavericks.

We will have to see if Fisher, the rookie coach, will trust a young player like Larkin to give him some meaningful minutes. If Larkin breaks out and proves he is a first-round talent, Phil Jackson will look even more like a genius for that Chandler trade.

Cleanthony Early –- It’s unlikely the small forward will experience a breakout season as a rookie but the 6-8 forward is eager to show that he deserved to be picked higher than 34th overall. A breakout season would be a surprise.

Iman Shumpert –- Of all the breakout candidates, Shumpert is my choice for the Knick who needs to break out. Last season, Shumpert did not take the next step forward in his career, averaging just 6.7 points and shooting a career-low 37.8% from the field.

Perhaps this season, Shumpert will be healthier, stronger and feel more confident. His defense and athletic, attacking game will be key for Fisher. He has the potential to be the team’s best on-ball defender, an athletic wing player who can create offense from his defense.

Most of Jackson’s successful championship teams had an athletic defender who could be disruptive for opponents. Shumpert isn’t Scottie Pippen, obviously. But, the 6-5 guard can be a big asset if he plays to his strengths. A healthy Shumpert with a new coach and new system could equate to a breakout season.

If that happens, the Knicks could find themselves exceeding the expectations of many.

Question of the day: Which Knick do you think has to have a breakout season?