By Victor Ramos
With their recent victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Knicks capped off a five game winning streak and staked their claim to the eighth spot in the conference playoffs race. In what was a complete team victory by the still undermanned Knicks, one of the better dimensions to that win is the continued contributions from the team's young core of 1st and 2nd year players. A group of players who are rising to the challenge and developing into the sort of supporting cast that will be needed to round out a team built around a stellar frontline.
Running the game against the Timberwolves, the Knicks reserves outscored the Timberwolves reserves 38- 28. Leading the Knicks reserves that night was 1st round rookie selection, Iman Shumpert who finished the game with 20 points, 4 steals, 2 assists and 1 rebound. Shumpert provided timely baskets during the fourth quarter of play prior to fouling out. During the Knicks' five game winning streak Shumpert has quitely improved his overall (11.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.4 spg, 2.0 Topg) production from his current season's average. Despite not being selected to the roster for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Shumpert's defensive prowess -- reflected in his 2.13 steals per game -- continues to place him amongst the league leaders in that category.
Knicks sophomore, Landry Fields, chipped in 19 points in Minnesota along with 4 assists and 4 rebounds. Fields, who was selected to the NBA All Rookie First Team last year, was recently invited to partake in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. Despite a slow start to the 2011-2012 season, Fields has picked up his production and returned to form in nearly all statistical categories from a season ago. Fields has increased his assists per game this year from 1.9 per game last season to 3.0 this season. Fields who has also ratcheted up his defense and his 1.5 steals per game -- compared to 1.0 last season -- places him amongst the league leaders in that category. Most importantly, Fields has returned to the aggressive and energetic style of play that made his rookie season one of the many bright spots last year. Fields’ play off the ball on back door cuts, curls and when crashing the boards adds another dimension to the Knicks’ overall offensive attack.
No mention of the Knicks' youth movement is complete without reference to Jeremy Lin. Lin became an overnight sensation in his break out game against the New Jersey Nets, when he came in as a reserve guard that night to tally a career high 25 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals in a much needed win. Since that win, Lin has been inserted into the Knicks starting lineup as the team’s starting point guard. During that stretch of time, Lin has continued to impress out dueling stars like Kobe Bryant, John Wall and the Timberwolves rookie phenom, Ricky Rubio. During the Knicks’ five game win streak, Lin has led the way by averaging 22 points and 8 assists per game to go along with his 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. Although somewhat turnover prone-- he is averaging 4.6 turnovers over his past 5 games-- Lin's 8 assists per games would put him amongst the league leaders in that category. Although weary Lin was limited to 20 points in Minnesota, his drive in the closing seconds of the game got him to the free-throw line where he drained one of two free throws that would put the Knicks ahead for good.
Honorable mention goes out to Josh Harrellson the Knicks 1st year reserve power forward/center. Harrellson, affectionately known as "Jorts" for wearing jean shorts was earning steady playing time prior to fracturing his wrist during a double overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets. Harrellson, who should be out about six weeks since surgery to repair his wrist, provided the Knicks a stout post defender and rebounder. Harrellson also demonstrated the ability to stretch the court with his three point shooting range.
There is a common theme amongst the Knicks’ young core of reserves. Many went unnoticed or were undervalued: Landry Fields and Josh Harrellson were drafted in the later round of their respective drafts; Jeremy Lin went un-drafted altogether; even Iman Shumpert, was serenaded with the obligatory chorus of boos when he was selected by detractors amongst the ranks of Knicks fans.
Nevertheless, all of the Knicks’ rookie and sophomore reserves have accepted the challenge of playing in Gotham and have surprised their doubters, while providing depth and production at their respective positions.
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