Reasons Nets Will Be Looking Down on Knicks by Season's End
All the talk about New York basketball prior to the season centered around the Nets' move from Newark to Brooklyn.
Once the season began, though, the focus shifted across town to the New York Knicks and their hot start. The Knicks have kept up their winning ways, despite a rash of injuries, and have caused the Brooklyn Nets to become an afterthought.
Many are conceding first place in the Atlantic Division to the Knicks, pegging them as the main competition to the Heat in the Eastern Conference. Before they get to the Heat, the Knicks must first worry about the Nets.
Brooklyn has been on a tear of late, going 13-4 since Avery Johnson's firing and moving within one and a half games of the Knicks. Here's why the Knicks can expect this trend to continue and why they'll finish behind their crosstown rival when all is said and done.
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The biggest problem the Knicks face when they go small with Carmelo at power forward is their lack of rebounding.
While Anthony is a good rebounder when he wants to be, he goes through stretches where he looks disinterested on the defensive end, often giving up easy rebound opportunities for opponents.
He's not the only culprit, but on the season the Knicks are 27th in rebounding, averaging only 40.5 rebounds per game.
The Nets are a little better, ranking 15th with 42 rebounds per game, but are second in the league in rebounds allowed at 39.96 per game. The Nets also have two above-average rebounders at power forward, Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries, and have arguably one of the best centers in the league.
While Brook Lopez may not be the best 7' rebounder in the league, he has been effective when playing with off-season pickup Evans. Grantland's Zach Lowe explains:
The Nets have rebounded 81 percent of opponent misses when Lopez and Evans play together, but just 62.2 percent when Lopez plays without Evans, according to NBA.com. The former mark would rank first overall, while the lower number would rank dead last.
Lopez is not the most effective rebounder alone, but when placed next to an elite rebounder, he and the Nets improve significantly.
The most telling stat, though, is their rebounding difference.The Nets are ninth in the league on the season, averaging 2.04 more rebounds per game than their opponents. The Knicks, on the other hand, are 21st, grabbing 2.14 fewer rebounds than opponents.
When games get tighter towards the end of the year as the playoffs near, every possession will be that much more important. Giving extra possessions will ultimately sink a team, which is why unless the Knicks improve their rebounding, they will finish behind the Nets.
No Division for Old Men
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One could argue that Jason Kidd has been the Knicks' most important player this year. After keeping the Knicks afloat while Raymond Felton was out, Kidd has had a resurgence playing in Madison Square, averaging 8 points per game while shooting 41.8 percent from three-point range.
But Jason Kidd and many of the Knicks other contributors are playing on old legs. Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Pablo Prigioni are all at least 35, leaving them prime candidates to wear down as the season progresses.
Add the pounding Carmelo takes at power forward, Amar'e Stoudemire's balky knees, and Iman Shumpert fresh off of surgery and the Knicks are going to be tired when April rolls around.
The Nets, though, are better suited to hold up when the grind of the season catches up with them. Only one player on their roster is over 35, Jerry Stackhouse, and the only other important ones over 30 are Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans.
There is no need to worry about Evans wearing down, since shooting is not his game, but Johnson and Wallace are just a tad over 30, 31 and 30, respectively, so relatively speaking, they have fairly young legs.
Three for the Money
There is no debate on whether the Knicks rely on the three ball to win. The Knicks are first in the league in points from three-pointers (32.8 per game), three-pointers attempted (28.9 per game), three-pointers made (10.9 per game) and percentage of points from three-pointers (32.7 percent of their points).
What happens though, when the Knicks' legs get tired and they stop being as effective from three? Or what about when the game slows down in the playoffs and teams defend the three more efficiently?
The Knicks stop scoring, that's what.
The Knicks shot 42 percent from three in November, 37 percent in December, and are at 35 percent so far in January. As the season has worn on, they have progressively gotten worse, not a good sign for the rest of the year.
The worrisome part about this trend is the fact that the Knicks rarely get easy baskets in the paint. They are dead last in the league, averaging only 32.7 points in the paint this season. Having to work so hard for long twos and threes will take a toll on a team and a lower percentage those types of shots go in.
Brooklyn hasn't been phenomenal in the paint, 15th in the league, but they are significantly better than the Knicks. The emergence of Brook Lopez as an efficient scorer is the reason for this.
Having Lopez back in the lineup will improve their inside scoring and will give them a low-post presence the Knicks lack (Amar'e would have been this two surgeries ago, but not now).
Without the three ball, the Knicks would be dead in the water; luckily for them they are third in the league at 38.2 percent. I'd prefer the team with a more consistent way of getting points over the team getting points from 23 feet and 9 inches away from the hoop.
Defense Wins Divisions
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The Knicks have played much better defense this year under Mike Woodson than they did last year with Mike D'Antoni, but the Nets have actually been better on the defensive end of the court.
Surprisingly, the Nets have been better despite the Knicks having the best defensive center in the league. While the Knicks rank ninth in the league in points allowed (96.3 points per game), the Nets are fifth in the league, allowing 94.4 points per game.
It all starts up front with the improvement of Deron Williams from last year to now, as Zach Harper points out:
Last season, Williams' defense was really bad. He gave up a PER of 18.0 and an effective field goal percentage of 50.7 percent to opposing point guards, according to 82games.com. This season, those numbers have improved to a PER of 13.6 and an eFG percentage of 49.3 percent.
His improvement, plus the improvement of the defense under interim head coach PJ Carlesimo, has vaulted the Nets defense past the Knicks, despite Tyson Chandler.
The Knicks are thin in the frontcourt due to injuries to Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby, leaving Chandler as the only true center on the team.
Their backcourt should get a boost with the return of Iman Shumpert, but their interior defense will likely worsen with the return of Amar'e Stoudemire (unless there's a basketball version of Rookie of the Year).
Due to the massive amount of injuries the Knicks are currently undergoing, and the uncertainty of those players coming back, the Nets not only have the best defense now but the best defense moving forward.
Two Is Better Than One
When opposing teams game-plan for the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony will be the focus on the defensive end of the court. When teams game-plan against the Nets, they have two elite scorers to focus on.
'Melo is a much better scorer than both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, and the bigger superstar as well, but he's only one man. He's also always liable to go into "Kobe Mode" by taking every shot (good or bad), usually early in the shot clock. Even so, his offensive abilities can carry a team, which is none so more evident than this season.
What the Nets have, though, are two scorers who can score from anywhere on the court. You can say the Knicks have JR Smith and Raymond Felton, but both have their flaws (I would also say the scoring abilities of Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez offset those two as well, hence the focus on two elite scoring options to one).
Smith's shot selection is twice as questionable as 'Melo's, which is part of the reason his shooting percentage has declined every month (culminating with 36 percent in January, woof). He has made some huge shots this year, but he is one of the streakiest shooters in the league.
It comes down to consistency, and the Nets have more consistent options on the offensive end of the court. The Knicks can light up the scoreboard, but they are also prone to elongated shooting slumps, as seen in the Eastern Conference Playoffs last year.
If Deron Williams is having a bad game, Joe Johnson can pick up the slack, or vice versa. If 'Melo is having a bad game, the whole team has to chip in. There are too many things that have to go right for that to happen on a night-in-and-out basis.