Buckets Over Broadway continues to breakdown how the Knicks match up with other Eastern Conference teams. This time around, we’ll take a look at the Knicks and their Central Division rivals, the Indiana Pacers.
In 2011-12, the Knicks won their season series against the Pacers 2-1. The Knicks swept a home-and-home weekend with a win at MSG, and a win in Bankers Life Fieldhouse the following night. Recall that the Knicks also led the Pacers by 15 in their third meeting of the season before Indiana used a strong fourth quarter to steal the win.
However, this season, while the Pacers haven’t made too many radical changes, the Knicks will have a different look. So, let’s see how the two teams compare.
The Pacers have remained a pretty quiet and steady team this offseason, but perhaps their biggest change was sending Darren Collison to the Dallas Mavericks and signing D.J. Augustin to a one-year contract. They also re-signed George Hill to a long-term deal, but otherwise the Pacers will return to the court with little depth in their back-court. The ruling on the Collison-Augustin swap is out until Augustin actually plays with the team. At one point, Augustin looked like a promising up-and-coming point guard (as did Collison), averaging 15 points and 6 assists per-36 minutes in 2010-11. However, he struggled last year, shooting a miserable 37.6% from the field and averaging nearly 3 turnovers per game. However, after being stuck in the doldrums of Charlotte his whole career, a move to a solid playoff team like Indiana may be exactly what he needs.
The Pacers also have Paul George, a back-court wing player busting with potential. In his sophomore year this previous season, George averaged nearly 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per-36 minutes. George is part of Indiana’s young, talented core. However, much of that core is in the front-court. While the three above-mentioned players are all skilled, rotation-worthy players, the Pacers’ back-court is thin. Unless guys like Sundiata Gaines, Lance Stephenson, or Orlando Jones breaks out, the Pacers don’t have much proven talent, which will force them to rely heavily on Augustin, Hill, and George.
The Knicks, on other hand, have will have a multitude of options once they’re healthy. However, the reliability of those options is in question. The Knicks are three-deep at point guard with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni, and three-deep at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Ronnie Brewer. Going into the season, though, Shumpert and Brewer are both recovering from knee surgery, while it is reasonable to doubt Kidd’s ability to last a full season, and Prigioni’s ability, as a 35-year old rookie, to adjust to the NBA game.
If healthy, though, the Knicks have a fairly deep back-court with a nice mix of defense, shooting, and athleticism. By virtue of having a deeper rotation, with more proven players, the Knicks have the better back-court.
Whereas the Indiana Pacers are a little shallow in the back-court, their front-court is much deeper, equipped with many different options. To start, they have Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert upfront, and then they can bring Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahimni, Sam Young, or rookie Miles Plumlee off the bench to fill in. It’s not just that the Pacers have a number of weapons to go to, it’s that their front-court soldiers all fit together while filling a purpose. This is especially true with their starting lineup – Danny Granger spaces the floor and can create for himself, David West can step out and hit a jumper while also finishing around the basket via post-up or pick-and-roll, and Roy Hibbert has made improvements in his post-up game as well. Collectively, the Pacers’ starting front-court has some of the best positional players in the league in the small forward, power forward, and center slots.
The Knicks’ starting front-court is not entirely different from the Pacers in terms of the individual positional accolades of each player; Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler are all arguably even better individual positional players than Granger, West, and Hibbert. However, questions still remain about how the Knicks’ Big Three can fit together. To date, the results haven’t been impressive. Likewise, the Knicks lack the front-court depth of the Pacers. While Marcus Camby and Steve Novak are both great role players off the bench, they, along with the 39-year old Kurt Thomas, are the only proven front-court players on the Knicks bench.
If the Knicks can stay healthy – something Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler had problems doing last year, now with two old veterans in Camby and Thomas – the Knicks front-court could be stacked. But for now, reliability and chemistry issues still remain.
Frank Vogel took over midseason in 2010-11 for the Pacers, still with an interim tag on his name. He coached the team so well that the organization made him the official head coach. So far, though, Vogel has been somewhat tough to judge due to the fact he hasn’t ever had a full season or training camp to really take control of the reins. What exactly is Indiana Pacer basketball? It’s a hard question to answer and it’s tough to pinpoint what style the Pacers really play. There is no doubting, however, that Vogel has taken a team lacking a true, defined superstar and made them real competitors in the East. They did, after all, have the Miami Heat, the eventual champions, down 2-1 in the playoffs.
Mike Woodson is in a similar position to Vogel. He took over midseason after Mike D’Antoni resigned, and did so well with the Knicks that the team removed his interim tag. The direction the Knicks are heading this year seems a little more obvious based on their offseason moves: a slower, grind-it-out, half-court style of basketball. Whether that system actually suits all of the players remains to be seen. However, Woodson will have the advantage of a full training camp and stable roster to try and prove himself.
For now, by virtue of experience and familiarity with the team…
The Knicks and the Pacers are two teams that will likely be linked all season long, as they figure to both be fighting for the third and fourth seeds in the East behind Miami and Boston. Other teams will be in the running as well, but the Pacers and the Knicks have advantages in not being completely brand new teams (Brooklyn and Philadelphia) and not missing their star players to injuries (Chicago).
The Knicks have the star players and the flashy names; the Pacers have the well-fitting, team-oriented system players. I think both teams will fight and could be interchangeable at the third and fourth seeds in the Eastern Conference. As for who will be better? I will go with the higher potential for greatness:
Overall Advantage: Knicks