Today, we’re taking a peak at how the future showdowns between the Knicks and the Toronto Raptors may shake out.
In the case of the Raptors, they’re a very interesting team to forecast. Heading into this off-season, they had two clear objectives on their to-do list, and only accomplished one. They were able to bring over 2011 first round draft pick Jonas Valanciunas from Europe, but were unable to land their prize on the free agent market, Steve Nash. But, their off-season remained topsy-tervy after missing out on Nash. Plenty of experts around the NBA gave the Raptors tons of love for getting point guard Kyle Lowry from the Rockets for very little after missing on Nash. Yet, at the same time, nobody truly enjoys the contract handed out to former Knicks role player Landry Fields, which was offered, at the time, as a way to keep the Knicks out of the Nash sweepstakes. Still, the Raptors have seemed to improved on paper from what was a semi-competitive team last year. So, let’s look at how they match up with New York position-by-position.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry/Jose Calderon (TOR) v. Raymond Felton/Jason Kidd (NY)
Of the four players that will primarily be serving as their teams point guards, its possible that the Raptors have both the best of the bunch (Lowry) and the worst (Calderon). Lowry has steadily improved each year since being drafted by the Grizzlies in the first round out of Villanova, culminating last year in his best year to date, averaging 14.3 points and 6.6 assists a night while limiting his turnovers. He’s a steady hand that can guide an offense in both the half court set and in transition, and is a massive improvement over the play from Calderon last year, who’s been one of the biggest enigmas in the NBA for the past couple of seasons.
As for the Knicks, we’ve discussed the new point men for New York at length, and the jury is still out on how the likes of Felton and Kidd will react in the Mike Woodson offense. If Felton returns to his run-and-gun peak he flashed with the Knicks before being traded to Denver, he could emerge as the best option either team has to offer at the point. With Kidd, we know he brings leadership, defense and three point potential, but we aren’t sure how much he’ll be able to contribute on a nightly basis at age 38. On paper, the Raptors seemed to have more of a sure thing in their starter than the Knicks have in either of their options. For that, they deserve the slightest of edges in this aspect of the match-up.
Edge: Toronto (slightly)
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan (TOR) v. J.R. Smith (NY)
Many were expecting DeRozan to take the next step in his progression after averaging 17.2 points per game in his second season out of USC. Unfortunately for Raptors fans, that didn’t happen. While he still averaged 16.7 points a night last year, DeRozan saw his field goal percentage, rebounding and steals all take a dip, even though he saw more court time than the year prior. At this point in his career, DeRozan appears to be nothing more than a slasher with an ability to pop on a line score with a big scoring night from time to time. He doesn’t have any other peripheral skill that puts fear in opposing teams or the need to plan any extra for him as opposed to others that could see time at shooting guard in Toronto and may be best served down the road in his career as a sixth man.
Speaking of players better suited as sixth men, this brings us to J.R. Smith. With Iman Shumpert shelved at the start of the season as he recovers from that devastating knee injury in last year’s playoffs, Smith will more than likely take the role as starting two-guard for New York. In comparison to DeRozan, Smith’s game is much more dynamic, as he plays better defense and can kill a team from beyond the arc. While Smith commands more attention on offense, he also goes into funks where ball movement seems to die when it gets to J.R. for spurts during the game. Even when Smith is in his most selfish of moods, he’s still a better player, right now, than DeRozan.
Edge: New York
Small Forward: Landry Fields (TOR) vs. Carmelo Anthony (NY)
There is actually a lot of debate as to who will be the starting small forward for the Raptors this season. They could go small and start either Fields, their high-priced free agent acquisition, or even first round draft pick Terrence Ross. Or, they could insert Olympics sharpshooter Linas Kleiza into the line-up to add some more offensive punch. They could even play Amir Johnson, traditionally considered a power forward, to add more grit defensively. Then there’s the much ballyhooed Croatian Tomislav Zubcic, who could turn out to be the best of the bunch, though widely considered the least experienced. It may come down to a matter of match-ups as to who gets the start on any night.
Either way, none will even come close to the level of play Carmelo Anthony resides at. On his best of nights, ‘Melo is arguably the best scorer in the NBA and is in the conversation with Kevin Durant for the title of best small forward in the entire league (yes, I’m considering LeBron James more of a hybrid 4). Should Anthony’s play from the Olympics carry over into the regular season, the star forward could be on his way to a historic year.
Edge: New York
Power Forward: Andrea Bargnani (TOR) vs. Amar’e Stoudemire (NY)
On paper, it would seem that Stoudemire has the advantage. However, we all know games are not played on paper. And, Knicks fans are all too familiar with the games Bargnani has put up against New York in recent memory. For some reason, Bargnani loves playing the Knicks. He always has huge nights both on the glass and from beyond the arc, as the 7-footer can step outside and drain 3s at a Steve Novak-like rate. Even with the amount of joy I get every time Clyde tries to say “Bargnani” during a broadcast, few players in the league are as big of an offensive threat to the Knicks historically as the tall Italian.
Even with all that said, there are two reasons why I’m still in favor of giving Stoudemire the edge. The first of which is Mike Woodson’s new emphasis on defense with this unit. I don’t believe the looks Bargnani has gotten in the past against the team will be available to him anymore. The Knicks will have the ability to let STAT follow Bargnani out along the wing without sacrificing size underneath the basket with the likes of Tyson Chandler or Marcus Camby in the lane. Second, I still think Stoudemire was playing last season well below 100% in terms of health. I don’t know if we’ll ever see the MVP-type level Stoudemire first flashed when he arrived to New York, but he is certainly much better than he played last year. The Knicks will also have a much deeper bench, which will only give them more flexibility to keep Amar’e fresh.
Edge: New York
Center: Jonas Valanciunas (TOR) vs. Tyson Chandler (NY)
This is a case of the what we know against what we might think someone will be. For all the raves and reviews given to the big Lithuanian, we haven’t seen him perform on a nightly basis against the best competition in the world, so it truly is unfair to rate his ability against a well established center like Chandler, the defending Defensive Player of the Year. Until further notice, the Knicks will have the edge in the big man department.
Edge: New York
Bench: Terrence Ross, John Lucas, Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza (TOR) vs. Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas (NY)
The Raptors have a lot of young players with something to prove off their bench, while the Knicks boast veterans who know how to play their roles as far as the structure of the team. We know Steve Novak can drain 3s all day, every day and walk away with a 15+ point performance from time to time. We also know Marcus Camby will grab plenty of rebounds and play a strong defense while occasionally cleaning up the garbage offensively and getting some buckets here and there. The sneaky addition to the Knicks bench was Brewer, who puts an emphasis on defense and may play himself into the Knicks starting line-up without Shumpert because of his shutdown abilities and Smith’s instant offense capabilities.
For the Raptors, if you aren’t going to have veterans with established roles, their bench is what you would want ideally. Anyone who gets into the game will be hungry to prove a point to management and assert themselves to get more playing time. However, that type of strategy could backfire, as some players may in turn try to do more than they should and do more damage than good. Until the Raptors bench loses some of the green that is on them and get more experience, you have to like the Knicks depth more than what Toronto can counter with.
Edge: New York
Final Verdict: Knicks with a significant edge over the Raptors