NY Knicks' Game Plan for Beating Every Eastern Conference Foe
The New York Knicks definitely look like contenders in the Eastern Conference, so how are they going to make their way through it?
So far, they've had little trouble. Despite their November 26th loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Knicks sport an impressive 9-4 record, including a 6-1 mark in conference play.
Let's take a look at how New York has gotten off to that fast start and how the Knicks can continue to beast through the East. While we're at it, let's also power rank their conference opponents, starting with the Knicks' most favorable matchup and working our way to their toughest task.
14. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic don't have any of the necessary pieces to challenge the Knicks.
A speedy, efficient backcourt can run circles around New York's guards while limiting their steal opportunities. Guys like J.J. Redick and E'Twaun Moore are not capable of that.
In the Knicks' 99-89 win over Orlando, Redick shot 7-of-13 from the field, but he also contributed four of the Magic's 20 turnovers. Without a steady point guard, Jason Kidd and company wreaked havoc in the passing lanes. Jameer Nelson admittedly missed that game with a strained hamstring, but an average point guard is not going to beat the Knicks defense.
Orlando could also give the Knicks problems with a true post scorer. Once again, Glen Davis does not fit that billing.
A career .441 shooter, Big Baby has struggled with a bigger role in Orlando's offense, and his field goal percentage has dropped to a subpar .417 as a result. Davis may have the strength advantage against Carmelo Anthony at power forward, but he does not have the skill to exploit it.
New York does not need to specifically exploit Orlando. The Knicks can just play their game, and the Magic don't have the players to stop them.
13. Detroit Pistons
Only with monster performances from Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight could the Detroit Pistons beat the Knicks.
Knight and Monroe are the dynamic point guard and interior scorer necessary to attack the Knicks. However, the Pistons lack any substantial weapons beyond them. Even worse, they have no answers to New York defensively, which is what led to the Knicks' 121-100 drubbing of Detroit earlier in the season.
It's tough to beat a team that takes more than 30 threes and 30 free throws in a game. That's just what the Knicks did against the Pistons. With the arsenal of shooters on the Knicks roster, it's no wonder they converted on a high percentage of those opportunities. New York's newfound ball movement is just too much for the sluggish Pistons to handle.
If Monroe and Knight develop into star-caliber players, the Pistons might have a framework to take down the Knicks. So long as Tayshaun Prince and Kyle Singler get major minutes, though, they just don't have the supporting cast to realize that potential.
12. Washington Wizards
Crafty as they are, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd just can't stay in front of Wall. On any given night, he has the agility and speed with the ball to be totally unstoppable. That said, he has to play under control to reach that level. Even before that, he has to be healthy.
Wall has not played this season due to a knee injury, and there is no timetable for his return. Even if he comes back to full health this season, he would need to actually knock down his shots. He is a terror when he's shooting efficiently, but with an iffy jumper and a .416 field goal percentage, those games are few and far between.
Beyond John Wall, Washington doesn't pose a serious threat to the Knicks. Kidd or Ronnie Brewer can contain Jordan Crawford, while Tyson Chandler can shut down the Wizards frontcourt. As long as the Knicks double down on defending Wall and force him to take low-percentage shots, the rest should come easily.
11. Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving has all the makings of a true star point guard, but the Cleveland Cavaliers need him to cut down on the turnovers.
Not that he has many prominent scorers to distribute the ball to, but Irving is truly hurting his team with his sloppiness. His 1.37 assist/turnover ratio is 45th in the league amongst 46 qualified point guards, and is the worst amongst starting point guards.
Don't be surprised if Irving puts up gaudy numbers against the Knicks. He's that good, and New York is that opportunistic. The Knicks guards can play the passing lanes and let Irving get his, counting on Irving's tendency to turn over and his teammates' ineffectiveness. Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao just do not inspire fear in opposing defenses, whereas Irving's miscues represent prime opportunities.
In this scenario, there is an outside chance that Irving absolutely torches New York and goes for 50. Outside of that, though, the Cavs don't have many other options against the Knicks.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are in damage control, both figuratively and literally.
Andrew Bynum would have given the Sixers one of the best players in the league. They haven't had that luxury since Allen Iverson's heyday. But due to Bynum's severely compromised knees, he might not take the floor for Philly at all this season. (And if he does, Tyson Chandler is the perfect player to stop him,)
With Bynum indefinitely on the shelf, Jrue Holiday must carry the load for the Sixers. With 18.6 points and 9.2 assists (albeit in 38.2 minutes per game), he's done a solid job so far. He's a cut below Irving, though, and the rest of the Sixers roster is slightly better offensively than Cleveland's. If the Knicks hedged on preventing Holiday from driving, Philly would not have much other offense.
If not for Philly's solid team defense, this ranking would be even lower. But without Bynum, the Sixers leave the post prone, to the delight of Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. As long as that is the case, the double-digit victories should be the norm.
9. Indiana Pacers
Despite Danny Granger's injury, the Indiana Pacers are most comfortable in a defensive slugfest. Unfortunately for them, they cannot beat the Knicks at that game.
Look back at the Knicks' 88-76 victory over the Pacers. Both teams shot under 40% from the field, and Indiana's swarming held the Knicks to just 7-of-25 shooting from beyond the arc. Only five players scored in double digits, between the two teams combined.
Nevertheless, New York jumped on top early, and the Pacers never presented much of a challenge. Credit goes to Carmelo Anthony for that one. Granger or no, he's the only player on either side that can reliably score his team out of a defensive stalemate.
When points are hard to come by, even inefficient scoring is valuable because any kind will do. If the Knicks can play Indiana to a draw on defense, they have the guy who can get them a bucket more easily than anyone on the floor. A Knicks-Pacers game might not be pretty, but Melo will make sure New York comes out on top more often than not.
8. Charlotte Bobcats
The Charlotte Bobcats likely won't remain above .500 for long, but their depth could be a problem for New York.
That's not to say that the Bobcats as a team are better than, say, the Sixers. It's their specific set of skills that could cause the Knicks some annoyance.
Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon are all averaging double-digit scoring, and all of them have the speed to get past the Knicks' guards and to the hoop. None of them are particularly efficient doing so, but they'd find the paint uncharacteristically open when they drive.
Byron Mullens gets the credit for that. Charlotte's center is a low-percentage shooter, but he operates primarily in the mid-range game rather than around the rim. That will draw Tyson Chandler away from the hoop as well, limiting his impact and opening up opportunities for the Bobcats.
If Chandler sticks to Mullens, the guards have room to run. If he stays home to help in the paint, Mullens gets open looks. With this positioning quandary for Chandler, it all comes down to Charlotte sinking their shots. It's something that guys like Walker and Mullens don't do often, but if they do, the Knicks might end up dropping a game to a clearly inferior team.
7. Toronto Raptors
Believe it or not, the Raptors pose many of the same problems that the Bobcats do, only with better players working the inside-out game.
Kyle Lowry is one of the best in the league at getting to the rim. He's miles better than any of the Bobcats' guards in terms of explosiveness and finishing ability. The only drawback is that no other Raptor really excels as a slasher, meaning that edge evaporates when he leaves the floor.
Andrea Bargnani is usually a more effective mid-range big man than Mullens, but not this year. His shooting percentage is down to just .386 from a career .438. That slump, if it persists, could inspire Chandler to focus more on Lowry, but Bargnani is still more of a threat than Mullens if left alone.
However, Bargnani is an inferior defender, a liability despite any offensive strength he might provide. If the post defender is getting drawn out, the Knicks might do well to put Amar'e Stoudemire (when healthy) on him while Chandler sits to maximize their own offense. It's a flaw in Toronto's design, but the opportunity it affords them could potentially be an issue for New York.
6. Atlanta Hawks
Few saw it coming prior to the season, but the Atlanta Hawks are one of the only teams that can shoot with the Knicks.
It starts with Al Horford. Leading the scoring on a team with very even distribution of touches, Horford's .545 field-goal percentage makes him a steady presence inside. Atlanta then surrounds him with a strong slasher in Lou Williams and two three-point threats in Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver.
Combine that offensive versatility with Josh Smith's latent explosiveness, and you have a surprisingly potent attack. The Knicks have the defenders to deal with each individual facet of Atlanta's offense, but trying to keep up with all of them on any given play is a more difficult task.
Making matters worse, Smith is one of the few players with the strength and agility to guard Melo one-on-one. He won't stop him completely, but he can keep him in check in a way Melo is not accustomed to.
This is one of the rare but important instances where Melo makes his impact by taking a step back. He must pick his spots against Smith and facilitate the shooters around him. If he does that and Chandler bangs bodies with Horford, the Knicks have the firepower to carry them through.
5. Chicago Bulls
When they're working their offense through Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, the Chicago Bulls aren't going to beat anyone in a shootout.
That said, the combination of Deng, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson still gives them a top-five defense. Tom Thibodeau refuses to let Derrick Rose's absence alter his team's identity. That means the Knicks will get beat up in the paint. In turn, that will decrease Chandler's utility in the pick-and-roll game, and Melo has a tendency to get frustrated and overshoot from mid-range when he gets pushed around.
When Rose does reenter the fold, that will be terrible for New York. Even at three-quarter strength after ACL rehab, Rose would still be too fast for any Knicks point guard. That includes Iman Shumpert, who will be a step slow himself due to his own ACL tear. Even if the Knicks don't face vintage MVP-caliber Rose, he's still capable of putting up 20 points pretty easily, something no Bull can provide now.
This ranking compensates for both Rose's time off the court and his surely limited state when he returns. No NBA player bounces back easily from a torn ACL, but he should be healthy enough to pose a familiar threat.
Unless the Knicks can neutralize him by sagging a defender off of someone like Rip Hamilton, Rose and the Bulls will be the imposing matchup they usually are.
4. Boston Celtics
Let's start with the good news: The Boston Celtics are on the decline as a defensive juggernaut.
It really boils down to Kevin Garnett. When he's on the floor, the Celtics are still elite on D. Otherwise, they tumble to the other end of the spectrum, as no one else on their roster does a satisfactory job of defending the paint. If New York runs Chandler and Melo at him early and often, they can force KG into foul trouble, opening up the lane and the offense alike.
So why are the Celtics still ranked fourth? Rajon Rondo, that's why.
The guy is an absolute nightmare for the Knicks. He's easily the best distributor in the league right now, he's careful with the ball and he's an athletic freak on both ends of the court. All the Knicks can do is clog the lane and hope he can't connect with his jumpers and floaters, but he'll find ways to make it to the hoop regardless.
Rondo may not score much against the Knicks, but he's a near-automatic double-double. Heck, he might be the biggest triple-double threat the Knicks will face. Surround him with guys like Garnett and Paul Pierce, and Rondo can tear New York apart, making any defensive lapses by Boston an afterthought.
It's a controversial stance, but for the Knicks, Rajon Rondo is the worst individual matchup in the NBA. That's why the uncommonly middling Celtics are still so high.
3. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets kicked off the crosstown rivalry with a rousing overtime triumph at the Barclays Center, but the Knicks have the means to change the result next time.
First, the good news. Not shockingly, the interior presence of Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries did little to deter Melo and Chandler, who combined for 63 points and 23 rebounds. New York was also playing without Jason Kidd, who was suffering from back spasms, which put them down a shooter and a perimeter defender.
Kidd could've come in handy against Deron Williams, another elite guard who will give New York fits. Even on a poor shooting night, he still compiled 16 points, 14 assists and 6 rebounds to make a profound impact. Inside, Lopez was much more proficient on the offensive end, using his quickness to beat the sluggish-seeming Chandler for 22 points on 9-of-20 shooting.
Brooklyn has both of the major weapons mentioned earlier in Williams and Lopez. The Nets will be able to score both inside and out, and the Knicks must do the same. Their post players have the inside down; hopefully a healthy Kidd can help them rediscover their success beyond the arc and remind the Nets whose town this is.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Though the Milwaukee Bucks have their flaws, they do present New York with a conundrum: How on Earth do you guard Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis?
They're both among the fastest players in the league, and they give Milwaukee arguably the best scoring backcourt in the NBA. They're the Bucks' top two scorers, averaging a combined 37.4 points per game.
Though they don't shoot for a high percentage, their production creates opportunities for their teammates. Of the Bucks' next six leading scorers, four have field goal percentages over .500, with Beno Udrih bringing up the rear with a solid .463.
Chandler should knock efficiency guys like Larry Sanders and Samuel Dalembert down a tick inside, but there's nothing to be done about Jennings. Averaging 17.5 points, 7.5 assists and an absurd 3.45 steals per game, he's just a stud now. The only response is to punch Milwaukee back.
The best the Knicks can do is whip the ball around the perimeter and wait for Ellis to lapse defensively. That will create chances for everyone on the floor, though Jennings will likely turn that into a few fast-break points as well. And the Bucks have no good option to throw at Melo, so there's always that.
With a supercharged offense and a patchy defense, Milwaukee is going to be involved in a lot of blowouts. As good as the Knicks are at both ends, the Bucks are equally likely to run them off the court or to lose by 20.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat are a nightmare for any team on the strength of LeBron James alone. But while all eyes will be on Melo and LeBron clashing, be it at power forward or small forward, the tipping point for the Knicks and Heat is Chris Bosh.
Don't put too much weight on the Knicks' out-of-nowhere 104-84 drubbing of the Heat. Working out some kinks in the first game of the year, the Heat struggled defensively and Bosh couldn't solve Chandler in his new position at center. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds on just 5-of-13 shooting, unspectacular numbers surely not befitting the third piece of the Big Three.
Miami's defense has not yet returned to its stifling ways, but Bosh is producing at an All-Star level again. He has started every game at center, and he's averaging 20.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting .560 from the field. Considering he has the agility to beat this season's slower Chandler and the range to pull him out of the paint, that's bad news for New York.
The Knicks have done an impressive job of stripping big men of the ball this season. Hopefully guys like Kidd and Felton can keep Bosh honest and allow Chandler to stay inside, which will give Melo some help dealing with LeBron.
After that, it comes down to hoping the Steve Novaks beat the Ray Allens from beyond the arc, which is akin to flipping a coin.
The fact is, there's no sure answer to this Heat team.
On the other hand, Miami has no concrete solution for the Knicks, either. Only in hindsight will we truly know how either team can best the other in this matchup, a matchup that will remain compelling throughout the season and beyond.