By John Schmeelk
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New York basketball in 2012 is going to be a ton of fun.
The Nets are not only entering their inaugural season in Brooklyn with the core intact, but they added another All-Star in Joe Johnson. For the first time in a long time, both franchises are relevant and have the talent to make the playoffs.
So which team is better? Let’s find out.
PG: Deron Williams vs. Raymond Felton
Deron Williams is obviously one of the best point guards in basketball. Raymond Felton is not. I expect Felton to bounce back from last year’s poor showing with Portland, but he won’t approach Williams’ production levels. At times, Williams plays more like a two than a one, and I’m curious to see how he adjusts to life with a premier wing like Joe Johnson. He has never played with a perimeter scorer like that. Felton, on the other hand, played his best ball with Amar’e Stoudemire and he’ll hope to rekindle that effective pairing. Big edge Nets.
SG: Joe Johnson vs. J.R. Smith
Much like at point guard, the Nets have the superstar and the Knicks don’t have anyone to compete with him. Johnson is a very good NBA player but he falls short of greatness. At 31, Johnson is on the downside but his strength doesn’t come from his athleticism, so his game shouldn’t deteriorate too quickly. Smith is erratic and unpredictable, and even once Shumpert gets back this is no contest. Big edge Nets.
SF: Carmelo Anthony vs. Gerald Wallace
For all of Carmelo Anthony’s faults he is still the best isolation player in the NBA. He took a step forward last year with his defense, but he needs to improve moving the ball and making his teammates better. The Knicks can’t win running a stagnant offense through Anthony. He needs to figure out a way to be effective in the flow of the offense. Wallace is a good rebounder and defender at his position, and can finish around the rim. He’s a useful player, though a bit overpaid at 10 million a season. He can’t compete with Carmelo. Big edge Knicks.
PF: Amar’e Stoudemire vs. Kris Humphries
Stoudemire is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. He never recovered from his back injury the previous season, and didn’t get his athleticism back until March. Other than the fire extinguisher incident, he looked good in April and during the playoffs. With Felton back, Stoudemire will try to get his flow back with the pick and roll. He has also been working on his post game and expects to train with Hakeem Olajuwon later in the offseason. Humphries is an underrated player who defends and rebounds well. He complements the rest of the Nets starting five extremely well but is not in Amar’s Stoudemire’s class. Edge Knicks.
C: Tyson Chandler vs. Brook Lopez
Based on the offensive numbers this would go to Brook Lopez in a land slide. Tyson Chandler, however, is so much better defensively and on the boards that it swings the pendulum his way. He turned the Knicks defense into a strength last year and is invaluable on defense. Lopez, a center, averaged 5.9 rebounds a game in his last full season. That’s pathetic. Small edge Knicks.
The Knicks boast a young gun in Iman Shumpert and veterans Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas and Pablo Prigioni. That’s an experienced group that brings defense, intangibles, shooting, and leadership. The Knicks are now a very deep team and that’s a big advantage. The Nets, on the other hand, have Marshon Brooks, an unknown in Mirza Teletovic, CJ Watson, Reggie Evans and Tornike Shengelia. It’s not a bad group, but not up to the Knicks standards. Edge Knicks.
Avery Johnson and Mike Woodson very similar styles and approaches. Both preach defense first and accountability. They are known to be hard on their players, and neither is considered an offensive guru by any stretch of the imagination. Draw.
The Knicks have played together for a half-season, and are somewhat comfortable with each other. There is plenty of work to do with Anthony and Stoudemire but the team obviously started figuring things out at the end of the season. There’s no telling, on the other hand, how the Nets will mesh. Will there be enough shots to go around with Williams, Brooks, Lopez and Johnson? Slight edge Knicks.
These two teams are very close and they should finish anywhere between second and fourth in the Eastern Conference. I give the edge to the Knicks since they don’t have a huge injury risk in Brook Lopez and they have been together longer.
It isn’t by much. I put the Knicks at 52 wins and the Nets at 50.
One thing’s for sure: next year should be great.
Follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk.
Which team gets the edge? Be heard in the comments below…