Competition is all about comparative advantage, and for the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, they are hoping that their franchise player, Deron Williams, attains that edge on a nightly basis at the point guard position. However, in the Atlantic Division alone, this expectation is freighted by a number of concerns.
Neither of these preliminary concerns take away from the fact that Williams is an outstanding offensive player with the creativity and shooting range to return to the 20 points and 10 assists per game he averaged when he was with the Utah Jazz between 2007 and 2010.
However, in order for Williams to execute at that level, he will have to face a challenging and versatile blend of Atlantic Division starting point guards next season.
2011-12 Stats (for the Portland Trailblazers): 11.4 PPG, 6.5 APG, 41% FG
The 6'1", 198-pound New York Knicks point guard will be a relatively easy matchup for Williams next season.
Felton is one of the slowest point guards in the league, in no small part due to his questionable fitness (via The New York Times) coming into the 2012-13 season.
These shortcomings bode particularly well for Williams, who relies on his superbly fluid ball-handling skills and quick lateral movement to get to the basket. Expect Williams to effectively penetrate the paint against Felton on a consistent basis.
Williams also has a size and length advantage over Felton, and will routinely be able to shoot over the Knicks guard when operating at the top of the key (Williams' strongest area of the floor).
On the defensive end, Felton shouldn't give Williams too many problems. Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire will set a number of picks against Williams to generate open looks for the Knicks point guard, but even when Felton is open he is not a high-percentage shooting threat. Felton is a career 41-percent shooter and only gets to the free-throw line three times per game.
2011-12 stats (for the Houston Rockets): 14.3 PPG, 6.6 APG, 4.6 TRB, 41% FG
Lowry is an aggressive, gambling defender who averaged 1.7 steals a game last season. However, as with Felton, Williams will have a nice size advantage over the 6'0" Lowry and has the speed and dexterity to handle the Toronto Raptor guard's attack-style defense.
Where Williams may struggle against Lowry is on the defensive end of the floor. Lowry's offensive game is a versatile blend of three-point shooting and slashes to the hoop. Last season, Lowry shot a solid 37 percent from the three-point line on 4.5 attempts a game, while also getting to the free-throw line 4.2 times a night.
Williams is a fairly good defender, but he struggles against the pick-and-roll and guards who spread the floor and shoot threes from areas other than the top of the key. In this respect, if Lowry can get hot against the Nets, he may stymie Williams' flow.
Still, expect the more seasoned Williams, who has a superior supporting cast to work with, to establish a nice point differential against his counterpart from Toronto.
2011-12 Stats: 13.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 43% FG
Perhaps the 22-year-old point guard's statistics aren't impressive, but they were amassed before he was paired up with All-NBA center Andrew Bynum in the offseason.
Holiday has considerable upside, and 2012-13 could be a breakout year for the young, dynamic point guard.
He has displayed terrific lateral movement and a fast first step in the early stages of his NBA career. With Andrew Bynum and Spencer Hawes working with Holiday off the pick-and-roll, Williams will have a draining defensive assignment against Holiday and the 76ers next season.
Alongside Bynum, the 6'4" Holiday may force Williams to struggle offensively as well. Holiday is an aggressive defender—he averaged 1.7 steals per game last year and amassed a solid 3.3 defensive win shares (via basketball-reference.com).
What makes Holiday an even more difficult assignment for Williams is that when the Nets point guard beats Holiday off the dribble (which won't be often), he may have to contend with strong help defense from stopper Thaddeus Young or capable shot-blocker Andrew Bynum in the paint.
Williams will have to settle for long jumpers against the 76ers defense and defer to Joe Johnson to run the offense from the wings and corners. Williams will get his assists, but expect his scoring average to be lower against the 76ers than other teams in the league.
Key 2011-12 Stats: 12 PPG, 12 APG, 45% field goal shooting
2011-12 Honors: All-NBA Defensive Team (second), All-NBA Team (third)
In two games against the Celtics last season, Williams averaged 12 points on 33 percent shooting to go along with four turnovers.
Part of Williams' struggles start with All-NBA defender Rajon Rondo, who will be salty going into the 2012-13 season after a bitter seven-game Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat.
Of course, Rondo's strong perimeter defense against D. Will shall be supplemented by strong help defense from specialist Courtney Lee at the 2.
Williams will have to adjust against Rondo and the Celtics by being a playmaker first and a scorer second. Expect Williams to alternate between taking mid-range jumpers and making quick lateral passes to Joe Johnson, who at 6'7" will hopefully exploit a size advantage against the undersized Lee.
Williams will struggle defensively against Rondo, who can operate at all areas of the court. While Williams is a fair defender, he is not accustomed to beating as many picks and screens as the Celtics will throw him in 2012-13.
Rondo will have a tougher defensive matchup against the Nets this year with the additions of Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson, both of whom will play help defense against the Celtics point.
Williams will put up good numbers against the Celtics, but expect Rondo to control this matchup more often than not.