On Monday Night during the Knicks-Nets game, Charles Barkley and Shaq were arguing with Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith about which team had the better bench. Chuck and Shaq were in favor of the Nets, while Kenny sided with the Knicks. The Knicks’ bench played poorly in the loss, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s take a closer look at how the two benches match up:
Guards: J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni, and James White.
J.R. started the season off extremely hot, but no one assumed a streaky shooter like him could keep that going. He is now averaging 13.8 points, 1.4 steals, and 5.4 rebounds, which are all higher than his career averages. Since coming to New York under Mike Woodson, Smith has played better defense, but still inconsistent. He is instant offense, but his play in the past few games has not been at the level we need and know he can play at.
Prigioni has played limited minutes this season, but showed last night in Milwaukee that he is a more than capable back up point guard. He finished with 11 points and seven assists, but four turnovers. He has been an excellent defender all season long, averaging one steal in only the 15 minutes he plays a game, but he can sometimes get caught gambling a bit too often. His work in the preseason was enough proof to me that, especially with J-Kidd out, he can play an important role on this team.
James White has played limited minutes, but has provided decent defense and shooting when given the chance.
Forwards: Kurt Thomas, Chris Copeland, Steve Novak, and Rasheed Wallace.
Kurt Thomas has not played many minutes, but somehow has started a few games already this season. I like what he brings to the team, and his rebounding a tough defense is addicting to the rest of the team. The biggest issue with Thomas, besides age (he is the oldest player in the league), is that he is essentially a non-factor in the offense. He has a great mid-range jumper, but he still maybe will take only one or two per game. I like Thomas, and what he brings, and personally think that Woodson should be playing him a little bit more.
Chris Copeland was the last player to make the team after earning a spot with stellar pre-season and summer league play. He has not played in many games outside of garbage time. Copeland may play a larger role if the grind of the season starts to get to the older veteran big men on the team. He can score in the post, pick-and-roll, and shoot three pointers.
Steve Novak. Need I say more? I don’t care if this season hasn’t been as hot as other seasons. He is one of few players in the league that every time he puts a shot up everyone, including the other team, thinks its going in. He has been playing much improved defense this season, and is shooting 42 percent from the 3-point line.
Rasheed Wallace is one the biggest surprises of the season. After coming out of retirement, many people thought ‘Sheed would be playing few minutes until later in the season when he was in better shape. Well, Woodson has been playing him 16 minutes a game. He has played great defense, and more importantly he has played well in the low-post, and added a new dynamic to the offense.
Centers: Marcus Camby
Camby has been a big question mark this season. He he played extremely little at this point, and Woodson has said that this is because he has not had enough practice time with the team. I am a big fan of Camby, and think he can play a large role on this team. The biggest issue the Knicks have had this season thus far is a lack of rebounding. Camby has had one of the highest rebounding rates in the league for years. If Camby can crack the rotation I think the Knicks will be a far improved rebounding team.
Guards: Marshon Brooks, C.J. Watson, Keith Bogans, and Tyshawn Taylor.
Marshon Brooks has not played much this season after having a great rookie year. Brooks is a great scorer, but so-so defender.
C.J. Watson has provided decent support as the back-up point guard this season. He is not shooting very well, but is averaging almost one steal per game. Watson could increase his assists per game as they are only at 2.0.
Keith Bogans is another guard on this team that has trouble scoring. He is only averaging 3.7 ppg, but has played good defense so far this season.
Tyshawn Taylor has barely played any minutes this season.
Forwards: Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche, Jerry Stackhouse, Mirza Teletovic, Josh Childress, and Tornike Shengelia.
Reggie Evans is a rebounding monster. He rarely looks to score, but is leading the team in rebounds off the bench averaging 8.6 per game. Evans is one of the best rebound offensive rebounders in the league as well, and is average 2.7 a game.
Andray Blatche is playing very well off the bench this season. He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and shooting 45 percent from the field. Blatche was amnestied from the Wizards in the offseason, and was claimed by the Nets.
Stackhouse is turning back the clock this season. He is playing very well, and even scorched the Knicks going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Stackhouse is shooting 54 percent from the 3-point line this season, which is a career high. He is also averaging 6.9 ppg.
Mirza Teletovic signed a three-year mini-midlevel deal worth $9 million. Since then, he has been put on the regular DNP-Coach’s Decision list by Avery Johnson. It may have something to do with his field goal percentage, which is only at 33 percent. Teletovic is not shy offensively, and takes a lot of questionable shots.
Josh Childress and Tornike Shengelia have not played significant minutes this season.
Centers: The Net’s technically have no back-up center.
Although the Brooklyn (New Jersey) Nets are stacked up front, they lack depth in their back court. Their offense runs mostly though their starting lineup, and a serious injury to Deron Williams or Brook Lopez would dramatically effect this team. Marshon Brooks deserves more minutes, and if given the chance could play a great role off this bench.
The Knicks biggest flaw is their age, and it is the most clear when you look at their bench. At the same time, they have talented players who can score the ball and defend, and play important roles in Woodson’s strategy. Smith was playing like a Sixth Man of the Year candidate earlier this year, and if he can return to that level of play it could take the Knicks to the next level. On top of that, the team will only be deeper with the return of Iman Shumpert and Amar’e Stoudemire.
The Knicks have the better bench between the two teams. They have players who can play solid offense with and without the ball in their hands, and they have great defensive players. The Nets have great height and skill down low, but overall suffer from a lack of players who can create for themselves.