This week Buckets Over Broadway is breaking down how the Knicks stack up against their fellow Atlantic Division foes. Earlier we had the Knicks-Nets face-off and the Knicks-Sixers battle. Now we’ll look at how the Knicks match up to the kings of the Atlantic for the past five years: the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics have ruled the division since they brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce in 2007. This much comes as no surprise to Knicks fans. Over the last two seasons, as the Knicks have become an actually competitive team, they have still dropped ten of their last twelve games against the Celtics. However, coming into this season, both teams are boasting different looks from last year. The Celtics have broken up their Big Three, aimed to get younger and deeper upfront and on the wings. The Knicks, meanwhile, have gotten deeper all around and older in hopes to make the leap into becoming an elite team in the East. Here’s a look at how they stack up:
Both teams will return this season with almost entirely different back-courts than they started the 2010-11 season with. For the Celtics, Rajon Rondo is still around (as is Avery Bradley, but he will miss the start of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery), but they have two new key additions: Jason Terry, replacing Ray Allen, and Courtney Lee. Though losing Allen to the Miami Heat was like a punch in the gut for the Celtics, they may have gotten better. Jason Terry gives the Celtics another ball-handler and a similar threat from deep; Lee can also spread the floor and gives the Celtics more youth and athleticism. Rondo, of course, is one of the best point guards in the league and will be given an even larger role, which is good news for Boston.
For the Knicks, their entire point guard rotation from last season – Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis, Mike Bibby, Toney Douglas – are all gone. In their places are Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni. Felton at his best can be quite good, but last year was a tumultuous season for him, and Mike Woodson’s half-court offense may be a bad fit. Only time will prove if Felton was a good pick-up for the Knicks. Kidd, at 39, is in serious decline, posting career lows in points, assists, and rebounds last season. Prigioni is a 35-year old rookie playing in the NBA for the first time. At two-guard, the Knicks will eventually have Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer, and J.R. Smith, but Shumpert is out recovering from a torn ACL, and Brewer just announced he has a six-week recovery from meniscus surgery. In the meantime, the Knicks will rely a whole lot on Smith, which is not a great position to be in, as evidenced in the playoffs last year.
As opposed to both teams’ respective new-look back-courts, they mostly retained their front-court players. The Celtics re-signed Kevin Garnett, who just won’t slow down, and Brandon Bass. This year, they’ve also brought back Jeff Green (to a whopping four-years/$36-million), who could be a productive player off the bench with his scoring ability and athleticism. Likewise, upfront they drafted Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and brought in Jason Collins. While they’re still shallow and lacking productivity from any of their true big men, they are bigger and deeper than last year.
The Knicks’ two biggest front-court additions come in the form of Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, the starting front-court the last time the Knicks made the Finals in the ’98-99 season. Otherwise, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler will all return upfront, as will Steve Novak who re-signed during the summer. Novak will play a huge role as one of the only three-point threats on the team, but he success of the Knicks will ultimately depend on how well their Big Three can mesh. If they can find any degree of cohesiveness, the Knicks’ ceiling is a lot higher than most other teams in the East.
The Celtics will stick with Doc Rivers, and why not? Rivers has proven himself to be one of the best in the NBA, consistently bringing the Celtics, no matter how old, battered and bruised, to contending level. This year, Rivers has more depth to rest his older stars and younger players to mentor.
The Knicks have received a fair amount of flack for how they handled their coaching search this offseason, because… they didn’t. With a few great, notable names on the market – Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Nate McMillan, Stan Van Gundy – the Knicks took the easy route and extended Mike Woodson without testing the water whatsoever. Though Woodson is a questionable fit for this team, his results last year were impressive: an 18-6 finish to the season, missing key players, and never losing games back to back. However, his regular season history of coaching doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence to push the Knicks to the next level, nor does last year’s playoffs.
Going through a team’s individual positions does not necessarily determine their outlook or how they stack up against an opponent. In this case, however, it does appear that the Celtics are poised to once again win the Atlantic Division. While arguments could be made about how their new parts will fit, the same arguments could be made for the Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers, who all have plenty of new additions to their teams.
Head-to-head, though, the Knicks and the Celtics could be in for some good duels. The Knicks out-size the Celtics upfront and have more scoring threats, while the Celtics, excellently coached and always composed, will still boast an elite defense. If last year’s season split between the two teams was any indication, the 2012-13 season could promise us more exciting battles.