Breaking Down How the NY Knicks Stack Up Against Each Atlantic Division Opponent
The New York Knicks play in the Atlantic Division which, despite also being the home of the Boston Celtics, is basically the weakest division in the NBA. However, after a busy offseason, New York is now in a prime position to make a big run for the divisional crown and considering how they finished just three games out of first place last year, they certainly have a great chance if everyone stays healthy and responds well to coach Mike Woodson's system. The team has set itself up for a great season, and all it has to do is deliver one.
However, a divisional crown is all but guaranteed for the Knicks. Other NBA Atlantic teams like the Nets and aforementioned Celtics have also done their fair share of offseason homework and are just as hungry for a championship as New York is. Regardless of how many moves GM Glen Grunwald made to improve the team, the Knicks' divisional rivals are going to fight tooth and nail to keep Carmelo Anthony (pictured) on the outside looking in once again.
Still, given how well the Knicks responded to Mike Woodson in going 18-6 after he took over following Mike D'Antoni's resignation, I will say this much. The 2012-2013 roster is easily the best the team has put together in over a decade, as the depth and balance will only help bring smiles to Knicks fans.
Compared to the rest of the teams in the Atlantic Division, it just might be the best of the bunch.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Raptors actually had a bit of a mini-rivalry going with the Knicks. The two met in the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, with New York winning the first time and Toronto the second.
Then, the Knicks fell victim to Isiah Thomas' poor management and the Raptors also struggled before enjoying brief success with Chris Bosh, who was drafted by Toronto in 2003 and left to join the Miami Heat in 2010.
With their best player on a new team, the Raptors of course struggled in 2010-2011 without a true star to carry them. They had a good draft that year when they used the fifth overall pick to select Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas (pictured), but contractual obligations in his home country kept him overseas last season.
Yet, he will make his NBA debut this season along with fellow rookie Terrence Ross and new point guard Kyle Lowry.
That said, do the Raptors look like the type of team that can compete this year? Well, it's tough to say. Valanciunas and Ross have yet to play in an NBA game, so there's no telling how successful they will be, though chances are they will be just fine.
Similarly, save for Lowry, the team doesn't really have anyone who can step up and take over in crunch time. Andrea Bargnani can score fine, but lacks the physical intensity to do much more than that.
In terms of DeMar DeRozan, he still needs to prove that he can score points consistently. Throw in a hit-or-miss bench that features the overpriced Landry Fields and Amir Johnson, and Toronto looks less and less like a threat to the Knicks' return to the top.
For a good amount of time last season, the Philadelphia 76ers actually sat atop the Atlantic Division. Coach Doug Collins had his roster embrace a style of team play in which no one player outshone the other and each man knew his role. To give everyone an idea of how team-oriented Collins' offense was, Philadelphia's leading scorer last year was sixth man Lou Williams, who averaged 14.9 points per game.
Yet, this playing style proved to be both a blessing and a curse for the Sixers. While it worked in the beginning, the team's lack of a true star who could take over in a close game caused a late-season collapse that saw Philadelphia just barely make the playoffs as a No. 8 seed, though Derrick Rose's knee injury cleared them a path to the Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics.
This year's team is different in that the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers netted the Sixers center Andrew Bynum and shooter Jason Richardson, both of whom are talented in their own right. These two could easily be the stars to put the team over the top, but what about their supporting cast?
Yes, Jrue Holiday is turning into a fine scoring point guard, but third-year player Evan Turner has yet to impress anyone and Spencer Hawes is way too slow for his position. Also, there is nobody on the bench save for Thaddeus Young and/or Nick Young who can really provide much of a spark.
Unless the new team gels immediately, it's going to be another developmental year in the City of Brotherly Love, which spells out good results for the Knicks.
Now that the Nets have moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn, their rivalry with the Knicks is about to reach a new boiling point in that each game between the two is almost like a turf war on the hardwood. Of course, both teams now match up well with each other after busy offseasons.
While the Knicks made great strides in shoring up their second unit in re-signing Steve Novak and J.R. Smith and bringing in veterans Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, Nets GM Billy King was focused on building a talented team around star point guard Deron Williams (pictured).
Thus, on the eve of free agency, he executed a blockbuster trade that saw Brooklyn acquire star shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. Combined with Williams, forward Gerald Wallace and center Brook Lopez, the Nets now had their "Core Four" that they could market as a winning team, with second-year player MarShon Brooks serving as the sixth man.
However, though I hope that this rivalry continues to grow and develop over the next few years, the Knicks have the clear advantage next season in that they are a deeper and better defensive team than the Nets.
Sure, Lopez is a fine center, but he is primarily a scorer and with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler covering him, he's going to have a hard time doing what he has to do to bring the Nets closer to victory. The same can be said for power forward Kris Humphries, who is a great rebounder but very hit-or-miss on the other side of the floor.
On top of that, besides Brooks, the Nets do not have much in terms of bench players. If anything, the team looks like a less dominating version of the Miami Heat in that most of their talent lies in the starting lineup.
That all being said, while they will definitely put up a good fight against the Knicks, the original New York team is the one with the advantage.
If there's one team that's going to get in the way of the Knicks taking home the Atlantic Division crown, it's the Celtics. Though headlined by older talent in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, this is a team that has been playing together for a long time and is the definition of toughness.
Throw in electrifying point guard Rajon Rondo and newcomers Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, not to mention first-round picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and Boston is not a team to be taken lightly.
Simply put, whenever the Knicks and Celtics play each other this season, it's going to be a dogfight. Both teams match up so well with each other that to say either team could win in a blowout against the other seems criminal.
Sure, Boston lost one of the most clutch shooters in NBA history in Ray Allen, but coach Doc Rivers is an absolute mastermind and will find a way to make his team compete despite that loss.
That said, if the New York wants to ensure finishing ahead of Boston in the standings, they must use their great depth and improved defense to keep the Celtics' aging stars at bay. Otherwise, it will be another episode of the legendary Boston-New York rivalry in which the New York fans walk away crying.
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