This offseason, while the Nets were acquiring teams, hiring former Knick players, and being accused of collusion, the Knicks were flying under the radar, making trades that some fans decried and signing Metta World Peace. With the significant roster turnover in Brooklyn, (I still call them the NJ Nets internally) many NBA experts are now identifying them as a top contender, putting them just below the Heat or in the third slot for the playoffs, while the Knicks are sitting around the middle of the Eastern Conference. Apparently, Paul Pierce has gotten word of these high expectations.
Whether it was because of pure pride, (Pierce is notorious for his) longstanding tension from the Boston-New York rivalry, or a sobering assessment of both rosters, Paul Pierce statement that the Nets should run the city certainly caused a stir. Now, any reputable player at this level of basketball will tell you that he believes in his team, especially a player who was the guy for years for a franchise. But let’s take an honest look at these claims to see if the Nets truly are the new Kings of New York.
PG: Raymond Felton vs Deron Williams. Nets. Felton is a serviceable point guard, but Deron Williams is a certifiable 20 and 10 guy when he’s playing well. He hasn’t put up those numbers in a few seasons, but he also hasn’t been a big fan of his coaches the past few years the way that he supports Jason Kidd. Look for him to have a great season with a coach that he is fond of at the helm. Felton can get in the lane and sometimes create off the dribble, but he’s not the guy you build a team around or give a max contract to, like Williams is.
SG: Iman Shumpert vs. Joe Johnson. Nets. The Nets have the advantage here but not by much. Joe Johnson has a few issues (huge contract, criticism from fans and analysts, age) but last season he was the go-to guy for the Nets and he won a few games for them. Iman Shumpert is a defensive stopper with great potential offensively, if he can tap into what produced this. Still, Shumpert’s offensive game is a work in progress, while Joe Johnson’s defense is subpar. Shumpert’s defense is slightly worse than Johnson’s offense, and Johnson’s years in the league give him a savvy that will be apparent when he plays Shumpert. The matchup between these two when they play four times this year should be the highlight of each game and potentially key to victory/defeat.
SF: Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce. Knicks. By a landslide at that. Carmelo Anthony is in his prime, as possibly the best pure scorer in the league. Paul Pierce had his day, but offensively he’s no longer the guy that a franchise is built around, although the decline hasn’t been precipitous. Pierce averaged 18.6 points a game last season, only .8 points down from his 19.4 total in 2011-2012. This a tale of two different career trajectories: Melo wholeheartedly embracing and appreciating his role as “the man,“ while Pierce is being phased out of that role altogether.
PF: Andrea Bargnani vs Kevin Garnett. Nets. Although Garnett is 37, ancient in today’s NBA, that bag of bones is still crafty, savvy, and clever enough to make an impact on both sides of the ball. Bargnani can shoot a bit and space the floor, but he’s not going to do for the Knicks what Garnett will do for the Nets. Bargnani can only add on offense, while Garnett is a leader on defense, a huge figure in the locker room, and a threat to go off for 20 on any given night.
C: Tyson Chandler vs Brook Lopez. Knicks. And they get this by a hair. At this point, Tyson Chandler is more of a defensive presence than he is an offensive contributor. The same can be said for Brooks in reverse—much better on offense than he is on defense, although his block average shot up last year to 2.1 blks per game vs 0.8 in 2011-2012. With Garnett on his team, Brook will certainly be a better defensive player by the end of the season, but Tyson Chandler has a history of being a stopper (see what he’s done to premier center Dwight Howard), has been key parts of very good teams, and is a proven commodity.
Bench: Knicks. Jason Terry, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko vs. JR Smith, Metta World Peace, and Amare Stoudamire. A few years ago, those six players would be key starters for decent NBA teams, but their coming off the bench for these two high-profile teams. To be honest, this comparison can hinge on health, because if Amare and Metta are healthy and competitive, then the Knicks have veritable stars coming off the bench while the Nets have a few players who were great mid-level players (Terry and Kirilenko). Besides the potential for Amare and Metta to be great, the Knicks are far deeper than the Nets with Kenyon Martin and Pablo Prigioni also on the bench against the Nets limited role player, Reggie Evans.
Coach: Mike Williams vs. Jason Kidd. Knicks. The nod naturally goes to the guy who last season found a way to continue the resurgent momentum that the Knicks created in 2011-2012. He seems to have a great relationship with Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, the two most important players who he needs. Jason Kidd is entering his first year as a coach, and while he does have Lawrence Frank. You can be sure that there will be learning experiences and growing pains. Still, many wonder how Pierce and Garnett will view taking didactic, authoritative direction from a friend.
On these categories, the Knicks are seemingly the better team, but what happens on the court can be drastically different. This will be a marquee series filled with intrigue.