Battle Of the Boroughs: Brooklyn Nets vs. New York Knicks

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Though neither team achieved what they hoped, the Knicks were clearly the better team last year.

Though neither team achieved what they hoped, the Knicks were clearly the better team last year.

When the New Jersey Nets moved into Brooklyn last season, it wasn’t just the increased proximity that intensified the rivalry between the freshly crowned ‘Brooklyn’ Net and the New York Knicks.  There was also a major upgrade in talent for both teams.  The Nets retained Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams and also brought in All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson and then rounded off their bench with veterans: Reggie Evans, Andre Blatche, Josh Childress, Keith Bogans and C.J. Watson, along with European prospect Mirza Teletovic.  The Knicks for their part brought in: Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace Raymond Felton and rookie sensations Chris Copeland and Pablo Prigioni.  The Knicks’ roster last season had more career All-Star/All-NBA team/All-Defensive team appearances than any other team in the league. The rivalry was born, and though fans didn’t get to see the two teams meet up in the playoffs, the Knicks were the better team last year, earning 5 more regular season wins and making it to the second round of the playoffs, which the Nets failed to do.

Toronto's number 1 disappointment will now be disappointing a new group of fans.

Toronto’s number 1 disappointment will now be disappointing a new group of fans.

This offseason has been just as busy for both teams.  The Nets named a new head coach and in the process appropriated one of the Knicks’ starters from last season: Jason Kidd.  They also swung a blockbuster deal that landed them some championship experience, bringing: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, while convincing Andre Kirilenko to take a pay cut and come off the bench.  The Knicks, for their part, have made a trade that has brought in Andrea Bargnani and though they have lost: Copeland, Kidd, sharp-shooter Steve Novak, veteran big men Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, they have added Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace (both of whom have championship experience).  So the question is: Who is the better team now?

The Nets have added some championship experience to their roster.

The Nets have added some championship experience to their roster.

Looking at the point guard match-up, I think one would have to give a clear advantage to the Nets.  Jason Terry will likely be spending some minutes at the point when Williams is resting, and should be able to keep up with Udrih, but when Williams is on the court, he is head-and-shoulders above Felton.  The shooting guard position is perhaps a wash.  Joe Johnson is a better all-around player than either of the Knicks guards: J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, but Shumpert is the best defender at that position between the two teams, and Smith is a better rebounder.  Johnson is a far better play maker and when it comes to shooting a slight edge goes to Johnson.  Terry will likely also be spending minutes at shooting guard as well. I wouldn’t expect this position to be the make-or-break position.

Metta World Peace and Andrie Kirilenko are both defensive specialists who will be coming off the bench and likely going head-to-head next season.

Metta World Peace and Andrie Kirilenko are both defensive specialists who will be coming off the bench and likely going head-to-head next season.

At the forward spots there are some interesting match-ups.  For small forward the Knicks have perhaps the best player between the two teams in Carmelo Anthony.  Paul Pierce is simply not at Melo’s level right now, though in his prime he was better than Melo has ever been.  Pierce’s defence is still good though, and he should be able to cause problems for Melo at least.  Metta World Peace and Andrei Kirilenko make for an interesting matchup as both are defensive specialists, but Kirilenko seems to be more discriminating in his shot selection and therefore less of a liability on offence.  The Knicks clearly win the small forward matchup, but perhaps not as soundly as the Nets win the point guard matchup.

New York's starting front could could be one of the best in the history of the NBA is health issues weren't preventing Amare Stoudemire from playing at the level he played at in Phoenix.

New York’s starting front could could be one of the best in the history of the NBA is health issues weren’t preventing Amare Stoudemire from playing at the level he played at in Phoenix.

Power forward is the hardest position to read.  It is unclear what Amare will be able to do next season.  Where will his health be?  Should Amare return to his glory days, the Knicks will be one of the best teams in the league.  But should he perform as he did last season, with limited minutes, the Knicks likely won’t be exploiting the power forward position the way they’d hoped they would when they signed Amare.  The addition of Bargnani is equally unpredictable.  Bargnani has been an inefficient scorer during his time with the Raptors, but he has also been the number-one option on a team with no other options and therefore the focus of opposing defences.  Perhaps with defences focused on Melo, Bargnani can excel.  Or perhaps he will continue to put up forced shots and be as inefficient as he was in Toronto.  Regardless, he will not be providing the kind of help on the glass that the Knicks will need.  The Nets will win the battle of the boards at this position, as well as the defensive match-up considering those are the things that Garnett and Reggie Evans specialize in, but Evans is inept on offense.  Garnett, though a solid jump shooter and post player, will not be demanding the ball on offence much.  He will be there as a viable and efficient option, but will not be carrying the load.  Given past performances, I think it is fair to award the power forward position to the Nets, but by how large a margin they will outperform the Knicks remains to be seen.

Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler are polar opposites, which makes their matchup difficult to gauge.

Brook Lopez and Tyson Chandler are polar opposites, which makes their matchup difficult to gauge.

A center there is an inversion of the power forward match-up.  It is the Knicks who are clearly the better rebounders and defenders at this position than the Nets.  Tyson Chandler, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and a solid rebounder will match-up against Brook Lopez, who though he is not an amazing rebounder, is a solid defender, or at the very least a solid shot blocker (which isn’t always the same thing).  Chandler will outrebound Lopez, but Lopez did improve his rebounding last season and will be playing alongside two of the best rebounders in the league in Garnett and Evans, so the fact that Chandler will probably grab 3 or 4 more boards a game than Lopez likely won’t be a game changer.  In favour of Lopez, he is perhaps the best offensive player at his position in the league right now. He is not the play maker that Andrew Bogut is, but his post moves and jump shot allow him to score as well as any center in the league.  When Lopez and Chandler are resting though is when the Nets will excel.  With the departure of Camby and Thomas, the Knicks do not have any legit options for a back-up center right now.  They could play Bargnani there, but he will be pushed around in the post and on the glass by Blatche, who is a superior rebounder to Bargnani, and considering his jump in field-goal percentage last season, it seems that Blatche has also come to appreciate the value of a discriminating shot selection, something that cannot be said of Bargnani who never met a shot he didn’t like.

Jason Kidd and Mike Woodson, who worked together last season, will be going head to head in the 2013/14 season.

Jason Kidd and Mike Woodson, who worked together last season, will be going head to head in the 2013/14 season.

Despite the fact that the Nets seem to be, on paper at least, the better team going by the match-ups, there is one match-up which is perhaps more important than any on the court, and that is the match-up between Kidd and Mike Woodson.  Woodson is an experience coach who has helped weak defensive players get better.  Outside of Greg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, there is perhaps not a better defensive coach in the league than Mike Woodson.  Kidd, on the other hand, has literally no head-coaching experience (though he has been a mentor on the floor and has a high basketball IQ).  Judging by past performances, I would guess that Kidd has the potential to be as good a coach as Doc Rivers or other successful point guards turned coaches, but there are a host of point guards turned coaches who have failed, namely Avery Johnson whom the Nets fired last season.  Managing the rotations and minutes and setting up the defensive schemes and plays will be of the utmost importance tologoNYvBK the Nets success.  They could have been a much better team last year with a difference coach, and this year could be much the same.  Most rookie coaches take over a lottery team and have time to develop their style without the pressure of contending, but this is not a luxury Kidd will have.  Lawrence Frank will be the lead assistant, and he will likely help with the transition, but the coaching matchup may be the one that decides who wins the battle of the boroughs.  In Kidd’s favour though is the fact that most of these guys don’t really need to be coached.   Kidd also has the inside track on Woodson’s coaching methods as he played for Woodson for an entire season last year, and so may be able to read Woodson’s defensive and offensive schemes better than any coach in the league and respond accordingly.  Barring injury, a blockbuster deal, or a historic comeback on the part of Amare, my money is on the Nets.   

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