The Knicks have now established their place as one of the NBA’s great enigmas. Ostensibly, the Knicks are a team loaded with talent, but things can’t seem to go further than that, because the team lacks chemistry.
They’ve attempted to address their point guard situation by bringing Raymond Felton back aboard. They did so because there was no way they could hang on to Jeremy Lin, who is on his way to doing big things in Houston. Backing up Felton is NBA legend Jason Kidd, but the Knicks just have a lot of question marks that keep them from being mentioned in the same breath as Boston and the other contending teams in the East.
Let’s look at a position-by-position breakdown:
Rajon Rondo / Keyon Dooling vs. Raymond Felton / Jason Kidd / Pablo Prigioni
There’s no way to deny that the C’s have a huge edge here. Rondo is a top-five NBA point guard and Felton is barely above replacement level as a starting point. Having Kidd backing him up is a great aid to the Knicks, but Dooling isn’t worlds worse than what Kidd has become.
Yes, I realize there is still the leadership-aspect to Kidd, but he could perform that in a suit as an assistant coach. His value as a player is proceeding towards minimal. In fact, promising Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni could see time backing up Felton. Prigioni is not young, he’s 35, but he’s been one of the best point guards to never play in the NBA, and he’s going to help the Knicks.
It just won’t be enough help to counteract Rondo’s speed and talent. None of the Knicks’ three point guards can matchup against Rondo.
Courtney Lee / Avery Bradley / Jason Terry vs. J.R. Smith / Ronnie Brewer / Iman Shumpert
Shumpert could be the key to the Knicks having any advantage here. If Shumpert continues to develop and retains his status as a premier defender, they could have the best player of these six shooting guards between them. Shumpert doesn’t do everything the other guys do — J.R. Smith is a better scorer; and Terry is a proven sixth man winner, but Shumpert has the potential to be the best of this group. The thing is, he isn’t yet.
Right now, the Knicks have about as good a three man rotation at off guard as the C’s do. Brewer is underrated, and the trio of guards are going to help compensate for one another’s weaknesses. The Knicks are going to be able to get scoring (Smith) or defense (Brewer and Shumpert).
The Celtics trio brings a lot of defense with Lee and Bradley, and Terry brings the offense. If it seems awfully similar to the Knicks, it is.
Paul Pierce / Jeff Green / Kris Joseph vs. Carmelo Anthony / Steve Novak / James White / Chris Copeland
Melo is in his prime; Pierce isn’t. Green is a sixth man candidate of the year; Novak is a deadly shooter. Joseph is a proven scorer coming out of Syracuse; James White is a high flyer. Copeland impressed in summer league and is an undersized power forward who likely won’t see a lot of minutes, but could surprise.
All in all, the C’s stack up, but just not all the way. Melo is too strong for Pierce, and most other small forwards in the NBA, and Novak is going to spread the floor and nail treys like no one’s business. The real x-factor is how good Jeff Green can be. If he can step up and play to the best of his abilities, possibly averaging 14 to 16 points per game with good three point percentages, then the Celtics could take the edge here. Green’s backup potential is much higher than Novak’s, notwithstanding the fact Novak is likely the best shooter in the league.
Nonetheless, until Green becomes the small forward of the present, the C’s are going to struggle with Pierce covering Melo.
Advantage: New York
Brandon Bass / Jared Sullinger / Chris Wilcox vs. Amar’e Stoudemire / Kurt Thomas
Amar’e is clearly the best of this group.
Or is he?
Bass at this point may be nearly as good as Amar’e, who has only continued to regress and rely more and more on jump shots. That may sound like blasphemy to some, but check Amar’e's game. It’s just not what it used to be.
The fact that the Celtics bring a scorer off behind Bass in Sullinger only makes it worse for the Knicks. Kurt Thomas still has enough left in the tank to defend, but Sullinger is going to wear him out in the second unit. If Bass can use his superior athleticism (again, now it is!) on Amar’e, the Celtics could have a much bigger advantage here than what one would expect purely based on stats (namely, those from Amar’e's past).
Kevin Garnett / Jason Collins / Fab Melo vs. Tyson Chandler / Marcus Camby
Both the Celtics and Knicks bring a lot of defense here. Garnett is a former Defensive Player of the Year, and Chandler won it in 2012. Both are good shot blockers and communicators on defense, and they make their teams far better defensively than they would be with any one else manning the middle. The Celtics bring in Fab Melo’s shot blocking, the Knicks counter with Camby.
The fact that Garnett is a true power forward isn’t that relevant to me. He’s 6’11″, and while slight of frame still, very strong, and able to play center. Moreover, Chandler isn’t a big threat offensively and doesn’t really post up much. KG will be fine.
Still, backing up a guy like Chandler with an ageless Marcus Camby is a nice proposition. I’m just not sure it’s enough to counteract the spender of Jason Collins. OK, I can’t even type that with a straight face. He doesn’t matter at all.
So, it’s experience at backup and depth vs. the awesomeness of Garnett….
Doc Rivers vs. Mike Woodson
I don’t think there’s any way not to give the edge to Rivers here. He’s a superior coach at relating to players and Woodson is a glorified intern coach, or a former head coach of the Hawks, depending on your outlook.
Rivers has accomplished more than Woodson in his career and is where he is because the Celtics wanted him. Woodson is just a remnant of the D’Antoni staff who happens to still be coaching. I don’t expect the Knicks to stick with him long term, and am surprised they didn’t bring in a big name this offseason to coach.
The Celtics have an advantage at two positions (PF & PG), are evenly matched at two others (C & SG), and have a slight disadvantage at SF. They have the better coach. That 3-1-2 record between the six comparisons renders the C’s the better team.
By how much?
I’m not going to say a sweep, but the C’s take it in five or six games.
Prediction: Celtics win seven-game series 4-2