“I miss ’em,” said, glancing toward his injured teammates. “I miss Amar’e. I miss Iman. B. D. is not even here yet, and I miss him too.”
Anthony smiled. The last reference was to Baron Davis, whose Knicks debut is still many weeks away. In a depleted lineup, Anthony has been asked to do everything except tape his teammates’ ankles while the Knicks have wobbled through .
The sight of Shumpert and Stoudemire running full court was something of a relief. Both seem likely to return for Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats. They are listed as game-time decisions.
Stoudemire has missed two games because of a sprained left ankle. Shumpert has not played since opening day, when he sprained his right knee. The Knicks’ offense has sharply degraded in their absence.
Shumpert, the Knicks’ supercharged rookie, is their only guard who can break down a defense and create scoring chances, for himself and for teammates. Stoudemire is their best finisher on pick-and-rolls. They are as dynamic as their replacements (Mike Bibby and Josh Harrellson) are static.
In a , the Knicks attempted 35 3-pointers, high by even Coach Mike D’Antoni’s standards. They made only 10, and produced just 85 points.
After watching the game film, and evaluating the shots in context, D’Antoni said most of the 3-point attempts were the best shots available at the time. The Raptors, with the 7-footer Andrea Bargnani in the middle, had taken away the interior.
“It’s hard to tell a player, ‘Don’t take that shot, just drive it into the 7-footer and then see what happens,’ ” D’Antoni said. “Did we force a couple? Probably.”
Personnel makes a difference, too. Without Stoudemire and the injured Jared Jeffries, the Knicks’ power forward rotation consists of Harrellson and Steve Novak, both 3-point specialists with little else in their arsenals.
“You’re playing Novak and Josh Harrellson, you’re going to get a lot of 3s,” D’Antoni said. “You play Amar’e and Jared, you’re going to get a lot of 2s.”
And when you play Shumpert, you get a lot of “oohs.”
Although — per local custom — the 21-year-old Shumpert sparked a love affair with Knicks fans in the preseason with his dazzling dunks and athleticism. A rangy 6 feet 5 inches, Shumpert is eager on defense and aggressive on offense, with a still-developing jumper and a fully developed sense of self-confidence: he took 23 shots in two exhibition games (making 8).
Shumpert’s was tantalizing: 16 points, a 6-for-11 shooting line, a memorable dunk, 2 steals, 2 assists and 2 rebounds. His regular-season debut against the Boston Celtics was intriguing but flawed: 11 points, 10 misses in 13 attempts, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 22 minutes. But he got to the foul line five times with his powerful drives and showed maturity as well.
Leading a fast break in the first quarter against Boston, Shumpert slowed slightly as he entered the frontcourt, waited for a Jeffries screen, then bolted into the lane for a layup while drawing a foul on Keyon Dooling. A more impulsive young player might have sprinted straight for the basket.
This is what the Knicks are missing — one more skilled player who can hit open shots, beat defenders off the dribble and take some of the pressure off Stoudemire and Anthony. Eventually, health permitting, Davis can be that player. For now, it could be Shumpert.
At a minimum, Shumpert should re-energize the Knicks’ lackluster bench, which has been overdependent on Bibby, Bill Walker and Harrellson. When Shumpert’s jumper is falling, he brings broader skills than either of the Knicks’ starting guards, Toney Douglas and Landry Fields.
“Believe it or not,” Anthony said, “he’s kind of a game-changer for us.”
The high praise and high expectations are coming in tandem, and perhaps too soon for a player taken 17th in last year’s draft. The lockout wiped out the N.B.A.’s summer league, prevented rookies from training with their teams and reduced the preseason to a two-week sprint. Shumpert is talented and confident, but he is learning as he goes.
Yet he is already being cast as a key to the Knicks’ season, which might be slightly premature.
“A little bit,” D’Antoni said with a wince. “I mean, we can’t expect a guy that had no rookie camp, no training camp, didn’t get in here in September because he couldn’t, to come out and play at an All-Star level all year. He just can’t do that. Our expectation gets a little higher.”
Then again, roll the game tape and watch Shumpert flying through the lane, dunking in traffic or hounding Rajon Rondo, and the imagination understandably runs wild. In a season of outsize expectations, when the Knicks are being sold as title contenders, projecting Shumpert as a savior somehow seems reasonable.