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Who's Gonna Step It Up?

The Knicks have a handful of new faces on the roster. Guys like Gallinari and Duhon will change the complexion of the team in their own ways. The addition of Coach D'Antoni and his famously fast-paced style, though, will likely influence the greatest on-court transformation in the upcoming season. This begs the question, then, of who on the incumbent roster will most aptly take to the fresh system. There is much talk of who won't shine in a fast-paced game, but we at P&T are wondering who might just break out in '08-'09. Here's a list of potential candidates.

David Lee: D'Antoni never really had a guy of Lee's ilk in Phoenix, but Dave's got a lot of the tools to make waves under Coach Mike's watch. Lee's daylight in Isiah's "system" was painfully intermittent, but we've seen glimpses of a mid-range and facing-the-basket game that, coupled with his natural talents around the rim, could push him into the starting lineup. Upping Lee's minutes and the pace of play might, as Shoals puts it, allow Lee to evolve from "worker bee extraordinaire to brawny photon particle". He'll need to turn that mid-range J into a reliable weapon and show a bit more commitment on defense to make it happen.

Jamal Crawford- Crawford's game and D'Antoni's scheme should sync into perfect harmony very quickly. Coach Mike likes his guards to shoot and shoot often, while Jamal often fantasizes that he's the only guy on the court. On a good day, this means Crawford can make the court his playground and light it up from wherever he pleases. On a bad day, it'll mean that he's got the license to hurl fadeaway 20-footers off the top of the backboard at will. Your average Knick fan has either abandoned JC completely after one too many ill-advised jumpers...or still clings to the hope that he'll become a reliable 2. Naturally, I reside in the latter camp. Jamal's proving that he knows his reputation, and I think this is the year he assumes some responsibility on the court and takes the role of D'Antoni's pet and locker room ally. I believe Jamal's got what it takes to post more good days than bad ones.

Wilson Chandler- Simply staying in the rotation would be a coup for Wilson, but many think he's got bigger plans. With a textbook small forward build and springs for legs, Wil's got all the physical tools D'Antoni loves. It's the offensive knack and reliable jump shot we glimpsed in the preseason that has people believing Chandler's got a future in front of him. If he gets those J's falling consistently and begins to maximize his potential on defense, we might be looking at a MIP for Mr. Chandler.

Nate Robinson: Nate falls into roughly the same category as Crawford, though he lacks some of what Crawford brings to the table (stature, some semblance of a conscience). He does, however, have the boldness and magnetism to the rim that could someday make him a bona fide slashing point guard. Nate's more of a wild card to mesh with D'Antoni than Jamal is, but he's got the potential to prove he belongs if handled correctly.

Quentin Richardson: Perhaps a bit past his prime for a "breakout" season, but Q and D'Antoni have worked wonders once before. Perhaps this could be the year that Richardson shakes the reputation of being the Knick sharpshooter who can't shoot.

So, what do we think? Who's got the best shot of having a career season in year 1 of the D'Antoni effect? I didn't include Eddy Curry because I'd argue he had his "breakout" year in '06-'07 and would merely be returning to form if he stepped up his game. Nor did I include Zach Randolph, because I still hold out hope that Donnie Walsh has something up his sleeve. I suppose you could make a case for those two, but out of the five mentioned, who ya got?