Each day we peel off our little desk calenders, the closer we get to the beginning of the NBA season. We’ve previewed the Atlantic Division and how the Knicks stack up. Now, it’s time we expand those predictions out to the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at how the match-ups shake out between the Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks and Knicks battled for positioning near the bottom bracket of the Eastern Conference playoff standings, with the Knicks managing to pull away late. However, this is a new-look Milwaukee team then in years past. No longer is Milwaukee waiting around for a healthy Andrew Bogut, who they turned into Monte Ellis mid-season last year. This will be his first full season in beer and cheese country, and it will be a telling one.
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings (MIL) vs. Raymond Felton/Jason Kidd (NY)
This match-up is pretty cut and dry. There once was a time where I regretted the Knicks drafting Danillo Galinari over Jennings, but now that The Rooster was used as the centerpiece of the Carmelo Anthony trade, it’s hard to feel that bad anymore. Nevertheless, Jennings is not only a superior player than both Felton and Kidd, but he’s a guy that continually burns New York. He’s developing into one of the best young point guards in the league.
Shooting Guard: Monte Ellis (MIL) vs. J.R. Smith (NY)
Both of these players have a tendency to get trigger happy, but there isn’t any doubt that Ellis is the more feared offensive threat. He can shoot from beyond the arc and slash to the basket at will. It will be a more interesting match-up once Iman Shumpert is healthy. How Shump plays defensively would be a huge difference maker in Milwaukee/New York showdowns. Again, not to say that J.R. Smith is a slouch on the defensive end. It’s just that Shumpert is in the process of becoming an elite-level defender. For now, however, Ellis is clearly the better option.
Small Forward: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (MIL) vs. Carmelo Anthony (NY)
Head and shoulders above him, it’s Carmelo. That goes without saying. What The Prince does best is play defense and battle underneath. He’s a sneaky good player in the league that casual fans know little about because he’s never going to score in bunches. That’s not how his game is built. There is, however, the chance that Ersan Ilyasova could start at the 3 for Milwaukee, depending on the development of first round pick John Henson. But, with Milwaukee’s eyes set on a playoff berth, they’ll want to go with veteran experience and a known quantity. Either way, New York has the clear edge.
Edge: New York
Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova (MIL) vs. Amar’e Stoudemire (NY)
Ilyasova was probably the best player you didn’t hear about last year. He got off to a terrible start in January, one of the many players in the league who desperately could’ve benefited from a regular training camp. After the calender flipped to February, however, Ilyasova became a walking double-double who had the ability to grab as many as 25 rebounds in a single game. Knicks fans didn’t see this first hand, however, as Ilyasova struggled in their four match-ups last year (8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds).
Part of the reasons for the struggles last year was because the Knicks had an answer for him wherever he was on the floor. Stoudemire or anyone else the Knicks ran out at the power position didn’t have a problem following him out along the wings because they knew Tyson Chandler was stationed underneath the rim as a last line of defense. Expect the exact same type of game plan against the versatile Turk next year. I’m also still on the bandwagon that a normal schedule plus a deeper bench will only benefit STAT and allow him to return to the level of play which netted him his huge contract in the first place.
Edge: New York
Center: Samuel Dalembert (MIL) vs. Tyson Chandler (NY)
You can count on one hand the number of centers that have a significant advantage over Tyson Chandler. Dalembert is not one of them. Again, Chandler is perfect for this Knicks team because he will never demand the ball on offense, but when he does get it, he finishes at an incredibly high percentage. Dalembert is a serviceable big that can thrive given the right structure. But, matched up against Chandler, he isn’t the same caliber of player.
Edge: New York
Bench: Beno Udrih/Doron Lamb/John Henson/Ekpe Udoh/Drew Gooden vs. Steve Novak/Marcus Camby/Ronnie Brewer/Kurt Thomas
The Bucks bench is a nice mix of veterans and young talent. Lamb and Henson, their draft picks from the most recent class, have the potential to start at some points in their careers, obviously with Henson having a chance to start out of the preseason. Once a lottery pick himself, Udoh started to find his niche towards the end of the year as a change-of-pace forward coming off the bench. As for Gooden, he’s seemingly played for every team but the Knicks in the league, and continues to be a decent fill-in starter who can put up about 10 points and 7 boards each night.
I still think the Knicks depth is one of their great strengths going into the season, and the reason why their bench is going to be much better than in years past. Every player has their role, and the bench will get even more dangerous once Shumpert returns to the rotation. There are very few teams that can match the depth the Knicks have, and that is going to show throughout the season.
Edge: New York
Summary: While I do forecast the Knicks to have a better season than Milwaukee, I do believe these are two playoff teams that will be battling each other all season for positioning. I know its a rather uncommon rivalry, but every Knicks/Bucks game is going to mean a little bit more this season, which should provide plenty of drama and entertainment. These aren’t your parents’ Milwaukee Bucks anymore.