Comparing Brooklyn Nets to NY Knicks Starting Lineup at Every Position

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2013

Comparing Brooklyn Nets to NY Knicks Starting Lineup at Every Position

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    Let the battle for New York begin. Again.

    Last year, the Brooklyn Nets never really threatened the New York Knicks during their turf war. Despite splitting the season series with two victories apiece, the Knicks were the superior team through-and-through.

    Following an uber-aggrressive offseason during which they've acquired Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics, the Nets are prepared make a play for the Knicks' city and division throne. Bringing in Pierce and Garnett gives Brooklyn a feared starting five, consisting of past and present All-Stars.

    To their credit, the Knicks have made some changes of their own as well. Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and Andrea Bargnani were all solid additions they secured on the cheap.

    But has it given them a starting lineup that can contend with Brooklyn's flashy outfit?

    Starting fives aren't always everything, but they say a great deal about which team is in a better position to unseat the other.

Point Guard: Deron Williams vs. Raymond Felton

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    Few things about New York's starting lineup make me uneasy as Raymond Felton.

    When he's engaged and under control, he's an unstoppable freight train. He slashes through the paint with ease and is one of the more underrated pick-and-roll catalysts in the league.

    Problem is, you don't know what you're going to get from him on a nightly basis. Sometimes he's out of control and he's always a defensive disaster. Watching him fight over screens hurts; it physically hurts. Because he doesn't.

    Even so, his 13.9 points and 5.5 assists per game are an integral part of what the Knicks do. He's not inept as a spot-up shooter either, which is huge for a team that runs with two point men quite often.

    Against Deron Williams, however, Felton barely stacks up.

    Williams is coming off what was, for the most part, an underwhelming campaign. His play picked up in the second half of the season, but more was expected of the $100-million man. 

    That we can look at a point guard who put up 18.9 points and 7.7 assists and then declare it an off year— without smirking—is a backhanded compliment. Three-time All-Stars don't grow on trees, even in a league teeming with capable floor generals.

    On any given night, Williams is a 20 and 10 guy who can carry a faction of superstars to victory on his own. The mass to him isn't cupcakes; it's muscle. And in addition to running the offense, he can defend. Defense being something of a foreign concept to his counterpart, Williams' two-way value gives him a clear edge.

    Felton can be a fine point guard. He can also be a nightmare. Williams, meanwhile, guarantees you more All-Star-esque displays than head-shaking outings. 

    Advantage: Nets

Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson vs. Iman Shumpert

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    Brooklyn's faithful aren't going to like this one.

    Looking at Joe Johnson's ceiling in the scope of the Nets' offense doesn't instill much confidence. Jason Kidd has already said he favors an uptempo style of play, which hurts Johnson perhaps more than anyone else in Brooklyn's starting five. 

    Johnson doesn't have much to offer outside of isolation sets, especially as a spot-up shooter. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), he connected on just 35.7 percent of those attempts last season. 

    Next to four other renowned scorers, he'll have to adjust on the fly in order to become more of a glorified role-player. He may not be the one taking the last shot anymore. At 32, I question his ability to defend more athletic guards, like New York's Iman Shumpert.

    The 23-year-old is coming off an injury-tainted campaign, but the extent of his potential and value to the Knicks was evident in the postseason. In Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers, he shot New York back into contention before they ultimately fell to a more cohesive team.

    Boasting an improved jumper (40.2 percent from deep) and a presumably elevated level of athleticism, Shumpert is the most intriguing member of New York's starting five. If he can balance his scoring with his suffocating perimeter defense, the Knicks will finally have a prospect worthy of the phrase "potential star."

    And opposing shooting guards will be in trouble, Joe-Joe included.

    Advantage: Knicks

Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Andrea Bargnani

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    You're crazy if you think the Knicks are playing Carmelo Anthony at small forward.

    'Melo experienced too much success in New York's floor-spacing dynamic to justify butchering it next season. Even if he's announced as the starting 3, he'll be playing the 4.

    Truth be told, I waffled between whether the Knicks would start two point guards or even World Peace. Then I realized that bringing Bargnani (as opposed to World Peace) off a bench that already included J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire would be an active admittance the Knicks won't be playing defense next year.

    Bargs stretches the floor like small forwards are supposed to and standing seven-feet off the ground, he's someone who can guard opposing power forwards so 'Melo won't have to. It won't always be pretty—well, it will never be pretty. But the Knicks must do anything to keep Anthony away from the elbows, shoulders and burly bodies of power forwards on the defensive end.

    Think of Bargs as a sacrificial lamb. When on the floor with Anthony, he'll shoot nothing but threes on offense—36.1 percent from beyond the arc for his career—while taking the defensive assignment his teammate's body shouldn't be forced to withstand.

    Which brings us to Paul Pierce, who is pushing 36 and still dwarfs Bargs' ceiling.

    Assuming Bargs could match Pierce's point total (eh), he's nowhere near as versatile as The Truth. It was Pierce who shouldered Boston's playmaking duties when Rajon Rondo went down. And it's him who can defend, rebound, score in the post and do just about everything else better than Bargs.

    Notching 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists at 35 is no small feat. Only three other players in NBA history, aged 35 or older have done the same. Disappointing No. 1 picks aren't liable to topple a player who has put himself in the company of Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird.

    Opposite Anthony, the results would be different. Up against Bargs, the future Hall of Famer towers over a statistically and physically unsound seven footer.

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Carmelo Anthony

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    This matchup won't only be interesting because of its cereal-related roots.

    Anthony and Kevin Garnett are two of the most talented forwards in the game. Whenever they take the court against one another, it's going to be entertaining. 

    Garnett's defensive dedication is unparalleled. Once that mindset collides with the bullying offensive ethos of 'Melo, there will be hard fouls, trash talking and fireworks in general.

    For a 37-year-old, Garnett still plays at a ridiculously high level. Those 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds of his last season were markedly lower than his career numbers (19.1 and 10.5), but the fire within him still burns brighter than most.

    Of all the league's defenders, he's one of the few who can get in 'Melo's head and beat him into submission down low. Upon journeying out to the perimeter is where he's at a disadvantage.

    'Melo can score from anywhere. Coming off a season in which he shot a career-best 37.9 percent from deep and hoisted up a career-high 6.2 treys, his offensive success isn't solely predicated on his ability to get to the rim.

    While lanky and agile enough to take his defensive prowess beyond the free-throw line, Garnett isn't equipped to consistently close out Anthony's jumpers or stop on a whim when he pulls up. That's perhaps why you may see more of Pierce on 'Melo when he strays beyond the post.

    Mostly though, this matchup is about age ceding control to younger skill set. Anthony is a top-10 superstar (maybe even top five). Those days are long gone for the 18-year veteran.

    Matching 'Melo's intensity won't be an issue. Rivaling his production, minutes and physical limits will be.

    Advantage: Knicks

Center: Brook Lopez vs. Tyson Chandler

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    Tyson Chandler isn't as complete a center as Brook Lopez.

    Although he averaged a double-double last season, Chandler's offensive game is less than limited. Aside from put-backs and pick-and-roll finishes at the rim, you're not going to see him score much.

    On the defensive end is where he's recognized most. The former Defensive Player of the Year isn't a touted shot-blocker, but his help defense is superb and he provides direction for his teammates.

    While Lopez averaged a career-best 2.1 blocks last year, he's not the polarizing presence in the post he should be. He doesn't pick up dribble penetration well, nor he is particularly deft when defending with his back to the basket.

    Man can he score, though. Lopez has notched at least 18 points in each of his last four seasons and as a center with some range, he's a matchup nightmare.

    Chandler can't guard against jump-shooting centers all that well, a problem he'll have when taking on Lopez or Garnett. Outside of his comfort zone, Chandler won't be able to have the profound defensive impact he normally does.

    And yet even if he does, he doesn't have the statistical potency to combat Lopez's gaudy point totals.

    Both players were named to their first All-Star game last season and neither one of them is the most durable of behemoths. But it's Lopez who's on the right side of 30, able to torch any version of Chandler on the offensive end.

    Advantage: Nets