Still moving through the Northwest division, we take a look at a team the New York Knicks aspires to be: the Oklahoma City Thunder.
With the Knicks’ recent acquisition of Rasheed Wallace, it’s obvious the New York brass believes this team is ready to contend for a title from now on. To test this assumption, stacking the Knicks against the defending Western Conference champs Thunder, will be the best opportunity to see if their title aspirations are legitimate.
Here I analyze a potential—Yes I know it’s still early to call it this—Finals showdown between two title hungry teams.
Raymond Felton/Jason Kidd/Pablo Prigioni vs. Russell Westbrook/ Eric Maynor/ Reggie Jackson
If you thought Westbrook was a good basketball player before, he showed the NBA universe last season he’s is now an amazing one. There are only two words that can really describe Westbrook’s game: explosive and tenacious. On offense, Westbrook uses his blurring speed and explosive athleticism on drives to the basketball and to stop and pop for his free-throw line jumper. Despite not being the traditional point guard (in terms of facilitating more) that critics and fans would like him to be, he has made his game work for his team. On defense he has quick hands and is really aggressive with his on the ball defense.
To sub in for Westbrook we have Eric Maynor, who’s back after an ACL injury sidelined him last season. Maynor fits the mold of the traditional point guard your looking for to run your team. He’s smart with the ball and makes his teammates look better. Reggie Jackson probably won’t see many minutes again this season with Maynor back, but he has a similar scoring mentality to Westbrook so he will always try to make the most of his minutes.
The Knicks have virtually no chance against Westbrook’s speed and athleticism. He will be a matchup nightmare for both Kidd and Prigioni. Their best hope is Raymond Felton, who can be a capable defender but against a player as prolific and dynamic as Westbrook, holding him under 30 is a win for the Knicks.
Ronnie Brewer/Jr. Smith/ Iman Shumpert vs. Thabo Sefolosha/ James Harden/ Daequan Cook/ Deandre Liggins
Every team has a pesky wing player that they sick on the opposing team’s best scorer. For the Thunders that player is Thabo Sefolosha–who does it quite well. This long and lanky player can score if given opportunities but relishes when he’s giving his defensive assignment a hard time. Daequan Cook is very good long-range sniper and provides the Thunder with energy minutes.
It’s admiring the loyalty and humbleness of Jeff Harden. Harden is the best shooting guard after Kobe Bryant in the Western Conference. He can start for any team in this league but he understands his role on this team and comes off the bench. Even with multiple suitors this summer and next summer, Harden wants an extension on this team. On the basketball court Harden can do a bit of everything: facilitate, shoot, score, and run the break.
The Knicks won’t have to worry about offensive outburst from Sefolosha but who’s going to stop Harden? If left unchecked he can go for 30. He has a knack for getting to the free-throw line and lives to score in the 4th quarter. The Knicks will have to look to put a bigger defender to disrupt Harden’s game—hopefully Brewer is up to the challenge.
Carmelo Anthony/ Steve Novak/ James White/ Chris Copeland vs. Kevin Durant/ Lazar Hayward/ Hollis Thompson
There are only a handful of players on this planet today that have an offensive game that rivals Carmelo Anthony’s and sadly (for the Knicks) Kevin Durant is one of them. It’s very scary that he’s only 24 years old and can be scoring the way he does for another decade. That is because he has incredible range for his jumper making it possible for him to score virtually anywhere on the court. He’s a great finisher on the break and he’s now a tremendous closer in the final minutes of games.
The only chance the Knicks have to slow Durant down is to bully him out of his comfort zone. Durant is a rhythm jump shooter and Ron Artest has guarded him effectively in the past by being very aggressive with him. But now that Durant is more comfortable with this cover, the Knicks will have to keep doing this to wear him down a bit. But most importantly, Anthony has to make him work extremely hard on the other end of the court to limit his effectiveness.
Amar’e Stoudemire/ Kurt Thomas vs. Serge Ibaka/ Nick Collison/ Perry Jones
Serge Ibaka is one of the best rim protectors in the league today. He has great positioning and timing on his blocks which makes penetrating guards and post up players cautious when trying to score in the paint. As great of an improvement Ibaka has made since arriving in the league, he still has much more room for improvement. He can actually learn to post up, which would make his game even more dangerous.
Nick Collision is a great backup behind Ibaka because he hustle, rebounds, knows the system, and you don’t lose size when Ibaka sits down for a rest. The Thunders probably made one of the steals of the draft when they took Perry Jones who can eventually turn into a beast in this league.
I believe that Stoudemire will be a handful for Ibaka and Collision with his improved offensive repertoire but the depth and talent is much greater in OKC.
Tyson Chandler/Marcus Camby vs. Kendrick Perkins/Cole Aldrich/ Hasheem Thabeet
Perkins is the type of scowling intimidator you want clogging the lane on defense. He isn’t happy unless his opponent is unhappy which is something you got to respect. Although I feel that he hasn’t completely assimilated into the Thunder culture just yet, but he was an amazing acquisition for them and will bode well for them moving forward. Hasheem Thabeet has the size and defensive anchoring ability you hope for but has shown to be too raw—on both ends of the floor—in his tenure in the league.
But with defensive tandem of Camby, Chandler, and now newly acquired Rasheed Wallace, the Knicks have more than enough size and toughness to keep these guys in check.
Mike Woodson vs. Scott Brooks
Although Mike Woodson has more coaching experience than Brooks; he will have his hands full against this loaded team. Partly because the Thunder are chameleon like in the way they play. They can play both half court and up-tempo. And they pack tremendous amount of firepower, which can be a real problem because two of the positions the Knicks will have a hard time defending. Woodson will need to slow this game down use Stoudemire’s improved offensive game to create matchup problems.
Sadly the Knicks lose this matchup. The Knicks should see improvement next season and make some noise in the playoffs but they’re not ready to challenge this this team—who surely will be in Finals again come next June. The Knicks will probably be beaten 4-1 or 4-2 in a seven game series.