The Chicago Bulls were the only Eastern Conference team the New York Knicks did not defeat at least once last season. As training camp gets underway, here’s our latest rivalry breakdown.
Point Guard – Raymond Felton/Derrick Rose
The last time Derrick Rose played in an NBA game LeBron James was ringless, Dwight Howard was in Orlando, and Jason Kidd was a Maverick. It’s been awhile. Still, back then Rose was also the reigning league MVP. While it remains to be seen what form Rose will return in, this matchup is clearly his.
That being said, Felton presents an interesting case study in player ability versus fit. He is indisputably inferior to Derrick Rose, however exquisitely fits the Knicks’ schemes. His pick-and-roll oriented, low-turnover game may be just as crucial to the Knicks’ success as Rose’s explosive penetrate-and-dish style is to the Bulls’. Consider this: Felton’s win shares (an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player) last season was 4.9 compared to DRose’s 6.0 his last full season, a surprisingly small difference.
Shooting Guard – Iman Shumpert/Jimmy Butler
It’s hard not to love these two defensive-minded 2011 draft picks. Both are quintessential “3-and-D” players who can at times struggle to assert themselves offensively. Jimmy Butler had a more consistent season (playing all 82 games), while Iman Shumpert had a beastly postseason that included by an electrifying putback slam against the Pacers. You can’t go wrong with either player at the two, and I consider this matchup a wash.
Small Forward – Metta World Peace/Luol Deng
Perennially underappreciated, Luol Deng is one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau often tasks Deng with stymieing the opposition’s best player, which he does with great effectiveness – last season Deng held opposing SFs to a miniscule 11.2 player efficiency rating (PER). The Bulls are going down the path to letting Deng walk at season’s end – which would be a mistake – but such are the ways in Jerry Reinsdorf’s luxury-tax averse organization. Regardless of his future with the club, Deng wins this matchup.
Power Forward – Carmelo Anthony/Carlos Boozer
Carlos Boozer is the Bulls fan’s version of Amar’e Stoudemire. Signed in the summer of 2010 and never quite living up to lofty expectations in Chicago, there have been persistent calls for the Bulls to use the amnesty provision on Boozer. Coming off the worst season of his career, he’s no match for Carmelo here.
Center – Tyson Chandler/Joakim Noah
A year ago I’d probably give this matchup to Tyson Chandler. However, with the Knicks’ center coming off a season of reduced defensive effectiveness and Noah continuing to grow as the anchor of Tom Thibodeau’s defense, it’s slight advantage Bulls. Noah also exhibits a more diverse offensive game, capable of hitting mid-range jumpers and showing exquisite passing from the high and low posts.
J.R. Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Andrea Bargnani, Amar’e Stoudemire, Beno Udrih, Kenyon Martin
Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Marquis Teague, Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell
Up until last season, the Chicago Bulls had never paid the NBA’s luxury tax. The bench is where the casualties lie when you have a cheap owner. The first three players off Chicago’s bench (Hinrich, Gibson, Dunleavy) are solid, experienced veterans – but after that it’s much more questionable. While the eighth, ninth and tenth guys off the bench may not seem important, at some point over the course of an 82-game season they will win you games – I feel confident in the Knicks’ guys, but can’t say the same for Chicago’s.
Coaching – Mike Woodson/Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau instantly changed the culture around the Bulls when he arrived on the scene in 2010. He essentially took the same team Vinny Del Negro won 41 games with and added 20 more wins. Some concerns remain with his minutes management, as well as whether his coaching act will wear thin – often after three seasons of minimal roster turnover it becomes harder for coaches to find new ways to deliver the same messages. Still, and no offense to Mike Woodson, Thibodeau has shown a consistent ability to get the best out of his players.
Although the matchup comes out in the Bulls’ favor 4-2, to me the two teams are equals. This is because the Knicks are a case where the sum is greater than the parts, as illustrated with Raymond Felton earlier – he doesn’t have the ability of Derrick Rose, but creates nearly as many wins. You don’t look at the roster and see a team that could win two-thirds of its games, but that’s precisely what they did last season.
Because of the effect replicating with several Knicks’ players, the Bulls’ advantage is not as large as it appears. I’m looking forward to these teams squaring off this season – and who knows? Maybe the Knicks will even win a game.