For the first time since 03-04, the Knicks and Nets figure to be in the playoffs. Both teams have had their difficulties over the last ten years.
For the Nets, they have not made the playoffs since the 2006-2007 season where they lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. They finished with a 41-41 record that year in a mediocre East. In 2009 they finished with a league worst 12-70 record. Since the teams met in the playoffs, the Nets have a record of 305-417, not exactly a model of consistency.
The Knicks have been no better, in fact, they have been worse. Since 03-04 the Knicks record is a putrid 290-432. Two of those years they only won 23 games. They have made the playoffs the last two years, but the years leading up to that have been a horrible mess of financial stupidity, terrible on court performances and administrative idiocy. From lawsuits to losses, the team has been an embarrassment. The first time they did decide to show some financial restraint was with an early 20-year-old possible star, but I digress.
Both teams have made questionable roster moves to say the least. From trading away top draft picks, to signing marginal players to superstar type money. They have struck on top-tier free agents and settled for their second or third choices. But after adding big money players such as Amar’e, Carmelo, Williams and Johnson, there might actually be some substance to a rivalry has never really been one.
The two teams finally have expectations of doing well this regular season, at the same time-for the first time, in a decade. We will take a look at each position and see if we can figure out who will get the better seed this year.
The Nets have one of the top 5 (arguably) in the league. Deron Williams can do it all. He averages 20 points and nearly 9 assists for his career. He uses his body well on both ends of the court. Although he does not jump out of the gym, he has a great basketball IQ and can run a team better than most of his peers. He is very adept at getting to the rim and finishing around the basket by contorting his body as opposed to going over people.
The Knicks are bringing back Raymond Felton into the fold after letting Jeremy Lin move on to the Rockets. Felton’s issues have been well documented over the last year. He had a hate-hate relationship in Portland with Nate McMillan as well as weight and conditioning issues. The latter of the two should not be a problem this year. Felton is on a mission to prove the doubters wrong about his work ethic. But the fact remains; Felton’s best year was actually only 54 games under Coach Mike D’Antoni. I do expect him to play much better than he did in Portland, but how effective he can be will have a lot to do with how well Amar’e Stoudemire bounces back from a sub par, injury filled year.
Again, the Nets have one of the top players at his position. The knock on Joe usually has nothing to do with his on-court play. Most ridicule he gets is from the enormous deal he signed in 2010. One the court, Joe is solid in most facets of the game. He is a good passer, has extremely good handle for a shooting guard and is a deadly mid-range shooter. The one questionable thing from his season last year is his pitiful three-point shooting. Normally one of his strengths, he shot under 30% from beyond the arc. It would have to be considered a fluke, and I would expect Joe to again be in the high 30s in the upcoming season.
The Knicks went out and signed former Bull Ronnie Brewer for the veteran’s minimum this month. Brewer is one of the better defenders at his position, but he is very underwhelming on the offensive end. He does not make many mental errors, but his shooting definitely has something to be desired. The loss of Iman Shumpert was devastating. Shumpert has the ability to become the league’s best wing defender, if he isn’t already. But with the ACL tear he suffered, one has to ask if he will be as effective when he returns. He relies heavily on his athleticism and even when he is cleared to play; it should take some time to gauge how effective he will be. It might take until 2013-14 to honestly judge his recovery. The Knicks also have J.R. Smith, but he will likely be the team’s sixth man.
The Nets resigned Gerald “Crash” Wallace to a four-year, $40 million deal. They went into July knowing they would probably over pay Wallace, but after losing their first round draft pick to complete the trade for him, there was no way they were going to let him walk. Crash is a very athletic swing man with good defensive ball skills. He is consistently among the leaders in steals. He runs the floor very well on the break and is a decent rebounder for his position.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the top 3 scoring talents in the game. He has no weaknesses in his offense. He is a good ball handler for his position, with the size and ability to get to the rim at will. He is without a doubt the teams best post player. He can score with his back to the basket as well as facing up. His pull up mid-range jumper is among the best in the game, and his best weapon. His face-up, one dribble pull up is his go-to move. Carmelo really put a ton of effort into his defense last year, especially after Coach D’Antoni resigned. At one point he even admitted his defense was better than where his offensive game was. He needs to do a slightly better job on the boards where he averaged slightly above 6 per game last year. He has shown the ability to grab almost 8 a game a couple of times in his career. Carmelo has a lot to work for this year as the praise or wrath will focus squarely on him.
Kris Humphries is a walking double-double. Although he is hated in almost every arena he is in, he brings his hard hat every day. He is not a threat on the offensive end, but scores by working hard on the offensive glass. He is a very good post defender and gets to most 50-50 balls. With his new 2 year deal, the only question about Kris is whether or not he will be with the team all year or involved in a Dwight Howard deadline deal.
Amar’e Stoudemire could be the wildcard in the season series and in the overall standings. Will he be able to stay healthy all year? Even when Amar’e did claim to be healthy, he didn’t look it. We have talked about his back problems more than any of us would care to admit. From stupid trick dunks, to even dumber punches to inanimate objects-there are no more excuses this year. Stoudemire’s athleticism seemed to be slipping away at a rapid pace last year. But he did show glimpses of it. With the addition of Felton, will we see a return to the man who had MSG chanting MVP 2 years ago? The Knicks don’t need him to put in 26 and 12 a night, but they do need him on the court, healthy and effective. Amar’e is scheduled to work with Hakeem Olajuwon for two weeks next month to attempt to improve his back to the basket game.
Brook Lopez agreed to a max deal on the heels of an injury plagued season last year. He looks to be 100% healthy and should be ready to go November 1st. What Lopez brings is an extremely skilled offensive game to the court. He has a plethora of post moves and can score down low at will. He has killed the Knicks the last few years no matter who the starting center was at the time. What Lopez also brings is the rebounding totals of mini-me playing with a group of tall 10 year-olds. In his first two years in the league he grabbed a very respectable 8.5 boards a game. For some reason, two years ago his numbers dipped all the way to 5.9 in 82 games. He averaged only 3.6 last year, but that came in only 5 games, so I can’t really hold that against him.
Tyson Chandler did what was thought impossible by any level of NBA fan…turn the Knicks into a good defensive team. Chandler is the reigning Defensive Player of The Year. He even quipped that he had to give his teammates credit for letting their man by them so often to make him look better while accepting his award. His rebounding and block per game averages don’t blow you away, at 9.0 and 1.4 respectfully. But his post defense and help defense were amazing. Chandler completely out played Dwight Howard last year in their head to head match-ups. What Tyson brings to the defensive end of the court is light years beyond what he brings on the other side of the court, however. He really has no offensive game to speak of. He needs to add some type of jump hook or turnaround jump shot, if for nothing else but to keep the defense honest. To many times teams sag off of him and clog the lane.
Both teams have made a number of moves to completely change the makeup of their respective benches.
The Nets added Reggie Evens, C.J Watson and Mirza Teletovic via free agency. With the addition of Joe Johnson, they will move talented rookie Marshon Brooks to a reserve role and drafted PG Tyshawn Taylor. The most intriguing of these moves might be Teletovic. He can shoot the lights out and it will be interesting to see how his game translates to the NBA.
The Knicks had a big shake up as well. They added Jason Kidd, James White, Pablo Prigioni, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas and resigned Steve Novak. Kidd will bring some much-needed leadership and stability to the team. That was the word before his DWI recently, but nonetheless, he should be a good addition on the court. He will most likely play both guard positions at times. Even at his age, he is still a savvy defender. Camby should be a vital addition as the defense almost always suffered anytime Chandler had to exit the game. He and Kurt Thomas should bring some much-needed toughness back to Broadway. They both are old-school type players who will take no crap and will make no friends with their opponents. As with Teletovic, Prigioni could be a very good piece and help run the offense. He is a pass first point guard who will be able to give Felton and Kidd the ability to play some shooting guard.
Final Thoughts and predictions
Both teams have made an abundance of moves in the past 30 days. The Knicks have gone from one of the youngest teams in the league to one of the oldest. The Nets have gone from striking out on every free agent they have chased to spending #330 million on their starting five. Both teams are looking to earn a home series in the first round of the playoffs, but I only think one will. I believe that although the Nets starting five seem to fit better, Amar’e Stoudemire will have a vastly improved year. The additions of Camby and Kidd will help the Knicks most pressing need. Camby will be able to support the defense when Chandler has to go to the bench and Kidd will help the team with a back-up point guard who can truly run an offense. The Nets might end up with more players in the all-star game than the Knicks, but at the end of the season, I see the Knicks finishing 3rd in the East behind Miami and Boston. I can see the Nets making a huge jump to the fifth spot behind the Knicks and Indiana.
Follow Ralph Guerrero on Twitter @ralphguerrero