LeBron James (left) and Rajon Rondo
The New York Knicks have improved markedly this offseason, but there are still teams out there that will cause problems for New York.
Coming into the NBA 2012-13 season, the Knicks have a much deeper, tougher roster than they've had in recent years. Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are some notable additions, three guys who will provide physicality and heady play off the bench. The point guard position has also been revamped around reliable veterans, with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni now New York.
Despite the upgrades, this Knicks team still has some obvious flaws. Now that the Mike D'Antoni era is over in New York, running is suddenly no longer New York's forte. Even though the Knicks will win the talent battle on most nights, they will have issues with teams that have quick guards and/or push the pace offensively.
Here are the five teams that will most likely frustrate New York in 2012-13.
Note: No Western Conference teams were considered, as the Knicks will not see any of them enough to consider them a nuisance.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way.
The Miami Heat are a near-unstoppable force as currently constructed. Knicks fans learned that all too well last spring, when the Heat steamrolled their way to a 4-1 series victory in the opening round of the NBA playoffs.
New York now has another plus defender in Brewer to throw at LeBron James, though no one in the league is good enough to shut him down. To make matters worse, Miami comes into the new season with even more weapons. As if the Big Three didn't have enough three-point shooters lined up around them, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are ready to nail some open jumpers in South Beach.
Miami is too athletic and too good at spreading the floor for the Knicks to stop. New York has bridged the talent gap somewhat this offseason, but there is no bigger headache than an empirically-better team.
Rajon Rondo (front) and Kevin Garnett
The Knicks are arguably every bit as good as the Boston Celtics, but New York just might not be able to compete with those guards.
Rajon Rondo flat-out slaughtered the Knicks guards last season. Though the Knicks and Celtics split their four games in 2011-12, Rondo dominated all of them.
Look at it this way: Rondo shot .448 in the season last year, averaging 11.9 points, 11.7 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game. Against the Knicks, he shot .473, with 17.3 points, 13.3 assists and 8.9 rebounds. With a group of cagey but slow-footed point guards in New York, Rondo should continue to run wild.
When Avery Bradley gets back on the court, New York will have few answers for that backcourt tandem. The only Knick conceivably quick enough to cover either of them is Iman Shumpert. Unfortunately, he is coming off an ACL tear, and fans cannot expect him to be up to the task of covering a guy like Rondo. Maybe a year from now, but not this season.
New York's backcourt may be better this season, but it's also a step slow. Rondo and company will gladly run the Knicks off the court when they get the chance.
Don't call it a rivalry quite yet, but the Brooklyn Nets match up well with the Knicks at every position.
Deron Williams doesn't quite have Rondo's athletic ability, meaning guys like Felton will have a better chance at staying in front of him. However, Williams is the best scoring point guard in the East, until a healthy Derrick Rose can prove otherwise. The Knicks do not have the means to contend with his firepower.
At the wings, Brooklyn's biggest asset is its size. Joe Johnson is 6'7" and 240 pounds, meaning the Knicks cannot stick Shumpert on Williams and expect a point guard to cover Johnson. Gerald Wallace is one of the few players who can check Carmelo Anthony with his size.
In the paint, Kris Humphries is serviceable enough to make Amar'e Stoudemire exert himself on defense, while Tyson Chandler will have to focus on Brook Lopez rather than helping on the weak side.
In any given game, the Knicks could blow the Nets off the court. However, Brooklyn's balance means a competitive crosstown series is more likely than not.
Don't sleep on the Bucks, who will be able to score with any team in the league. The guard duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is almost unfairly quick, and both are offensive dynamos. Neither is particularly efficient, but if one catches fire, the Knicks have no answer on defense. If both are on at the same time, there might not be a team in the league that can contain this backcourt.
Then there's the issue of Ersan Ilyasova. The Turkish power forward played incredibly efficient basketball last season, averaging 13.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in just 27.6 minutes. Ilyasova also excelled both inside and outside, shooting .492 from the field and .455 from beyond the arc, second only to Steve Novak in that category. With starter minutes, Ilyasova could be an All-Star.
That gives Milwaukee three potential All-Stars in a sneakily explosive offense. When they're on, they'll light up the scoreboard, and the Knicks might not be able to keep up.
Yes, you read that right: The Washington Wizards could give the Knicks fits this season.
It all comes down to pace. The Bucks were the only Eastern team to play faster than the Knicks last season, but the Wizards were a close third. New York will be a much slower team this year: Felton, a recovering Shumpert and an aging Big Three aren't going to outrun anyone anymore. Washington will only push the pace more.
Speed is John Wall's greatest strength. At 6'4", a guy his size shouldn't be able to move with the ball the way he does. This season, Wall will have two luxuries he's never had before: A solid shooting guard in rookie Bradley Beal and a competent inside game with Nene and Emeka Okafor.
The conditions are all in place for Wall to break out. If he does, he has the potential to be one of the best players in the league.
Even if Wall does make a leap next season, the Wizards will not be anywhere near New York's level. Year after year, though, the best of the best get harried by a team in the cellar. For the Knicks in 2012-13, that team could very well be Washington.