Carmelo Anthony (left) and Kobe Bryant
Which of the NBA's two-team cities would field the superior team, Los Angeles or New York?
The league has seen its high-end basketball talent migrate to the two biggest media markets at an unprecedented rate. Never before have the Knicks, Nets, Lakers and Clippers been so successful at the same time, and never before have two cities been home to so many premier players.
These guys have combined for double-digit championships and dozens of All-Star appearances, lending even more star power to a few of the league's marquee teams. So if they were pitted against each other, Lakers and Clippers versus Knicks and Nets, which veritable All-Star team would come out on top?
Let's break this down position by position and figure out which city is the true seat of the NBA's talent.
Chris Paul (left) and Deron Williams
Three of the best point guards of the league have made their way into this matchup. So has Raymond Felton.
Chris Paul and Deron Williams would have to be the starters for L.A. and New York, respectively. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone better than Paul at putting points on the board and distributing the ball, but Williams is as competitive with him as anyone. Paul probably has a slight edge, but it's close enough that we'll have to settle this with the backups.
Felton is a fine point guard who should be a productive asset for the Knicks, but between him and Steve Nash, it's no contest. Though his defense has diminished with age, Nash is one of the most efficient shooters in league history, and his court vision is unparalleled. If Paul over Williams were not certain enough, Nash over Felton is absolute.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Shooting guard is a relatively shallow position for these teams, with several good or very good options, but only one great one.
Joe Johnson is the best of the rest, combining impressive size and solid shooting to play some of the better two-way basketball in the league. He's a borderline All-Star, but that's the best this New York team has. There are some more skilled defenders in Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer, as well as the mercurial play of J.R. Smith, but that won't be enough to slow down L.A.
Kobe Bryant is not like other players. Few players in NBA history have played as many minutes at an elite level as Kobe has, and though he has lost some explosiveness over the years, he's as deadly of a shot as anyone around. Johnson may be raking in a max contract, but in this matchup, Kobe is the only true star at the two. Jamal Crawford's streaky bench scoring is just icing on the cake.
Advantage: Los Angeles
For all of the stars in Hollywood, Broadway seems to be the place for small forwards.
Both the Lakers and Clippers have chosen to focus their attention elsewhere, leaving the three spot in the hands of capable but unremarkable veterans. Grant Hill, Caron Butler and Metta World Peace are all savvy players and strong defenders, but none of them can hold a candle to their New York counterparts.
Carmelo Anthony just has miles more talent than anyone he'd be facing in this game. He's one of a handful of truly elite scorers in the league today, and his physicality can cause problems, even for sturdy players like Metta and Butler.
Meanwhile, Gerald Wallace is a bulldog off the bench, the epitome of the energy player. Combine his hustle, size and ability at both ends of the court, and he is better as a reserve than anyone L.A. might choose to start.
Advantage: New York
Much like the point guard position, these teams are sending out three star power forwards and one serviceable player.
Kris Humphries actually deserves more credit than he gets. Only four other players have averaged double-digit points and rebounds in each of the past two seasons. Though he is not the type of player who commands a crowd's attention (on the court), he's consistently better than you might think, and he's earned his due for that.
That said, Pau Gasol and Blake Griffin are two of the other big men to double-double in the last two years, and they are both vastly more effective than Humphries on the offensive end. Both have flaws to their games (particularly Griffin), but they each have talent that Humphries can only dream of, and they would blow him off the court.
In fact, given his recent injuries and his substandard play when he has hobbled onto the court, it's not certain Amar'e Stoudemire ought to be mentioned in the same tier as Gasol and Griffin right now. Until he proves he still has the explosiveness to score the way he did when he first came to New York, both of the West Coasters get the benefit of the doubt over Amar'e.
Advantage: Los Angeles
There's Dwight Howard, and then there's everyone else, right?
Well, sort of. Howard is a perpetual double-double machine and a terror on defense, and no one in the league today can dominate from the center position the way he does. However, he is still not the most technically proficient post player, leaving him vulnerable to fundamentally sound defenders who are big enough to match his muscle inside.
Enter Tyson Chandler. He's right up there in the conversation with Howard for the league's best defensive center, and he's the league's most efficient scorer when he wants to be. There's no denying that Dwight is the better overall player, but when they've gone head-to-head recently, it's turned out much more evenly than the matchup appears on paper.
Off the bench, it's a battle between Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan. Lopez has mysteriously forgotten how to rebound over the years, while Jordan is still a raw player with little nuance to his game. The opposing starters would eat either backup alive, but based on his talent, Brook wins the coin toss here, and with it comes an unexpected outcome.
Paul (left) and Bryant
Ultimately, Los Angeles can play Kobe, Paul, Howard, Griffin, Pau and Nash, and that's nearly impossible to top. Any All-Star team would struggle against those guys, and unless LeBron James walked through the door for New York, the Knicks and Nets are not going to win this one.
Nevertheless, Carmelo and company could give L.A. a run for its money in a seven-game series. The Lakers and Clippers do not have any real answer for Melo, and save for maybe Kobe, he's the only guy on these two teams you can really say that about.
The matchup nightmare at small forward could swing a couple of games New York's way, but we would still reach the inevitable conclusion: The Staples Center is the talent base of the NBA right now, and L.A. has the best collection of basketball players in the league.