Joe Johnson Speaks Too Soon: The Knicks Are Still the Best Team in New York
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The Brooklyn Nets have had a busy offseason, most of it involving bringing back the players who led them to a 22-44 record last season.
The Nets added Joe Johnson through a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. They signed Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic to bolster their bench. It appears that they will retain the service of Kris Humphries (Howard Beck).
In the hysteria, that has surrounded the Nets' offseason, Johnson claimed that the Nets stand as the best team in New York (CBS Sports). This statement is irrefutable if the Nets acquired Dwight Howard, but without that acquisition, they have the following projected lineup:
PG: Deron Williams/Tyshawn Taylor
SG: Joe Johnson/MarShon Brooks
SF: Gerald Wallace/Mirza Teletovic/Tornike Shengelia
PF: Kris Humphries/Reggie Evans/Ilkan Karaman
C: Brook Lopez/?
We can immediately see major flaws with this roster.
The Nets do not have more than two players with consistent three-point range (Johnson and Teletovic). They have a legitimate non-shooter in Gerald Wallace, who will allow teams to pack the paint more and make dribble penetration more difficult. This takes away from Deron Williams' ability to get into the paint and create scoring opportunities for his team.
Against the weaker teams, this should not matter. In fact, the Nets should be able to blow weak teams out of the arena simply by outscoring them.
Against a team with elite perimeter defenders (like Miami or Boston), though, this team will struggle to score due to their inability to stretch the defense.
The Nets do not have a backup center for Brook Lopez. Forget the fact that foot injuries limited him to five games last season, Lopez does not play 40 minutes a night consistently. Coming off a couple foot injuries and having never averaged 37 minutes per game, Lopez likely plays 33-35 minutes a night, leaving 13-15 minutes where Lopez sits on the bench.
This team is not built like the Miami Heat; the Nets do not have the athleticism at small forward or power forward to run teams off the court.
They could have Teletovic stretch the floor at the center or power forward positions when Lopez sits down.
Not many people know about Teletovic, but thankfully we have men like Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress to inform us about these unknown commodities.
Who is the best team in New York?
Talking with Howard Beck (The New York Times), Givony compared Teletovic to Al Harrington, praising Teletovic for his scoring ability and shooting stroke. He criticized Teletovic for his porous defense, poor rebounding and lack of desire to pass the basketball, which sounds exactly like Harrington.
While you can never have enough three-point shooters (the Nets have two), Teletovic does not address the biggest weakness of this Nets roster: defense.
Looking at the roster, the Nets do not have a single elite-level defender.
Williams plays in the wrong era for his skill to translate to good defense. As one of the strongest point guards in the NBA, Williams lacks the lateral foot speed or a Rondo-sized wingspan to stay in front of point guards. Had Williams played in the 1980s or early 1990s, he could have hand-checked opposing point guards and used his strength to force point guards to go where he wanted them to go.
Since that option no longer exists, Williams is, at best, an above-average defender.
Johnson has never shown either aptitude or effort on defense. That combination leading to his defensive ineptitude makes it less likely to see improvement in his ability on that end of the floor.
Plus, he also does not have Josh Smith behind him to clean up his mistakes.
MarShon Brooks has shown an ability to score similar to Jamal Crawford. However, Brooks does not have elite lateral quickness. He also displays a lack of defensive feel and often looks uncommitted to playing defense.
If the you think the Nets are not better than the Knicks, would a trade for Dwight Howard have made them better?
His potential backup, Tyshawn Taylor, showed he is be able to lock down point guards in college. While we have to see if Taylor can stop NBA shooting guards, his size, quickness and hands should allow him to defend point guards in the NBA.
The problem then becomes whether or not Taylor gets playing time over a better scorer (but a below-average defender) in Brooks.
I find it hard to believe that a coach like Avery Johnson would want to put Johnson at small forward and keep an above-average rebounder and solid (high-energy) defender in Wallace on the bench.
I do not see the Nets playing him at power forward. Taylor's offensive game also has completely relied on having the ball in his hands; with Williams and/or Johnson on the floor, Taylor will likely not have the ball in his hands.
Taylor shot the three well in college, but did not exhibit NBA three-point range (NBA three-point line is 1.25 feet farther at the corner and three feet farther on the three-point arc). His playing time (and consequently the Nets perimeter defense) will rely on him knocking down threes.
Down low, Lopez and Humphries vacillate from below average to downright atrocious on defense. Their pick-and-roll defense can look like the worst in the NBA (Howard is the NBA's best in pick-and-roll defense for all those wondering why the Nets need Howard to contend for titles).
In fact, both Reggie Evans (who got terribly exposed on the defensive end in the playoffs) and Humphries are one-dimensional players. Both rebound well, but it is difficult to utilize that skill when a team is scoring at will.
That is not to say this team will not make the playoffs. With Derrick Rose out for the season in Chicago, Philadelphia taking a step back (no Elton Brand), Orlando looking to trade Dwight, Atlanta looking to clear cap space and Boston likely looking to pace itself in the regular season, the Nets look like either the fourth- or fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference (potentially third- or fourth-best record depending on how committed Boston is to winning in the regular season and how Paul George develops offensively).
No contest. Anyone would take Williams over Jeremy Lin (as long as dollars do not play a factor).
However, let us not turn Williams into Chris Paul.
Paul took the 2008-09 Hornets to 49 wins in a tough Western Conference (49 wins got them the seventh seed; Tyson Chandler only played 45 games). Paul made David West into an All-Star with his ability to run the pick-and-roll (really the pick-and-pop with West).
Last but not least, Paul had to carry a team with a declining James Posey, a catatonic Peja Stojakovic and a one-dimensional (and not even great at that dimension) player in Rasual Butler who served as his third-best player for 37 games.
Paul then pulled a similar act with the 2010-11 Hornets, leading them to 46 wins (seventh seed) with only one above-average player (West).
With far superior rosters and the flex offense (the best system for Williams as it best utilizes his strength advantage at the point guard position), Williams led a far superior supporting cast in Utah (Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and a very good perimeter defender in 23-year-old Ronnie Brewer) to 48 wins (eighth seed).
If the Nets had Paul instead of Williams, then you could argue that the Nets are better than the Knicks.
With Williams, though, Brooklyn will have to settle for having the superior point guard.
On the basis of overall talent, Johnson takes the cake. However, when Iman Shumpert comes back, the Knicks will have the superior defender.
In every facet of defense, Shumpert beats Johnson (even though Shumpert's off-the-ball defense is average). In a game, Shumpert has the ability to shut down the opponent's guards and contribute on offense.
On the other hand, it is more likely that Johnson gives up to opponents as much as he scores than him shutting down any competent shooting guard.
So while Johnson is the better player, the gap in terms of affecting wins and losses is not as wide.
This is the same as point guard, except in the Knicks' favor. Like comparing Williams to Paul, Carmelo Anthony does not belong in a discussion with LeBron James. Therefore, one cannot deem the Knicks the better team simply because they have Anthony.
Throw in the fact that Wallace's high energy and reckless play leads to a high injury rate. With a lack of depth (especially defensively), the Nets are gambling that Wallace stays healthy for the season and playoffs; the 30-year-old has played only 81 percent of games since getting regular playing time or about 66 games a season.
Additionally, players whose game revolves solely around athleticism tend to fall off a cliff at or around 30.
This belongs to the Knicks.
Humphries is the superior rebounder, but that is the only aspect in which he is superior to Amar'e Stoudemire. Stoudemire is as bad of an individual defender, but he has shown some ability to protect the rim from the weak side.
No one is going to argue that Humphries is the superior offensive player, either—it is not like Humphries rebounds like Moses Malone.
Even with obvious issue of fit that can potentially be remedied with a point guard, time to build chemistry and a trip to Hakeem Olajuwon's Temple of Post Play, Stoudemire brings more to the Knicks than Humphries does to the Nets (along with him being a better player).
Lopez can score, and that is all he can do.
I have already explained his defensive shortcomings; add in his poor rebounding (a combination of a lack of tenacity and feel for rebounding, which are not teachable), and he becomes almost a liability now that he is the third scoring option on this team.
With two scorers in Williams and Johnson, the Nets need a big man to protect the rim, rebound, run the pick-and-roll and defend the pick-and-roll. By comparison, Howard's NBA ranking in those categories are Nos. 1, 2, 1 and 1.
That is why the addition of Howard makes this argument pointless. Clearly the Nets would be the better team, but that is only because Howard represents an enormous upgrade over Lopez.
Chandler is an elite defensive player, a good rebounder and a fantastic pick-and-roll player. He acts as the middle linebacker of the Knicks defense; he calls the rotations, the switches and confronts anyone who gets behind the first level of defense.
Unlike the Humphries/Lopez frontcourt, Chandler helps to make up for the defensive mistakes Stoudemire makes (along with cleaning up for everyone else). Along with joining Stoudemire in the quest for greater post efficiency, one Knicks offseason acquisition will help deal with Chandler's biggest issue, and that's foul trouble.
Nets: Taylor, Brooks, Teletovic, Evans, Shengelia, Karaman
Knicks: J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Jason Kidd, James White
This might be the greatest advantage the Knicks have.
Unlike the Nets, they have a proven backup point guard in Jason Kidd. Kidd excels at orchestrating an offense and making his teammates better. With the scorers the Knicks have, Kidd can focus on that.
J.R. Smith is the best scorer off the bench between either team (and yes, he is maddeningly inconsistent). With a healthy Shumpert and Lin, the Knicks can use Smith more judiciously to keep him in when he has it going and to take him out ASAP when he does not.
The Knicks have the best three-point shooter (in addition to having legitimate catch-and-shoot three-point shooters in Kidd and Smith) between the two teams. Some even consider Steve Novak as the best three-point shooter in the NBA.
Arguably, the most important addition to the Knicks is back up center Marcus Camby. Camby is still a high-level rebounder and can protect the rim. He has always played with a defensive anchor's mentality, which means the Knicks can seamlessly substitute Chandler for Camby when Chandler needs rest or gets into foul trouble.
The Knicks gave up 99 points per 100 possessions with Chandler on the floor. Without Chandler on the bench, they gave up 104.7 points per 100 possessions (league average was 104.6 points per 100 possessions). The Knicks should not see such a drop-off with Camby coming in off the bench.
Additionally, this should allow Chandler to play without concern the concern foul trouble because he will trust Camby to hold down the fort. No one is saying Camby has the ability to start, but he has the ability to play 15-20 minutes a night.
Maybe Johnson did not get the memo that the Nets ended negotiations with the Magic over Dwight Howard (ESPN). Adding Howard to the Nets not only would've made them better than the Knicks but he also would've made them actual contenders for an NBA title. Without that addition, the Nets are a good, but not great team that can potentially score in bunches and give up points in bunches.
It will take more than that to make the Brooklyn Nets the best team in New York City.
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