Knicks-Nets: What to Watch For

The 9-3 New York Knicks face off tonight against the newly minted 8-4 Brooklyn Nets. This matchup brings us the first Knicks-Nets matchup since the Nets uprooted from Chris Christie-territory and made the magnificent Barclays Center their new home arena. What makes this matchup fun is that both teams are good. This isn’t Knicks-Nets of the recent past, where New York has won 6 of the last 7 meetings between the teams. Brooklyn poses a formidable opponent for the Knicks and actually match up quite well with them. Taking into consideration that the Knicks are floundering as of late and that the Nets are 6-1 at home, we should have a good game on our hands.

Brooklyn and New York are pretty evenly matched across the board. New York boasts the NBA’s most efficient offense with a 111.5 offensive rating, while Brooklyn rates 6th at 104.4. Defensively, the Knicks and Nets are incredibly similar as they rate 17th and 19th respectively in defensive rating. Both teams play at incredibly slow paces and rank 28th (Knicks) and 29th (Nets) in that category.

Here is what to watch for:

  • The Knicks defense. New York’s defense has fallen off a cliff over the past week after starting off the season historically strong. They don’t play pick and rolls well, they’ve been obliterated by quick guards and Tyson Chandler looks like he’s running with cement blocks on his feet. So far this season, New York has allowed 0.79 points per possession to opposing pick and roll ball handler. 0.79 PPP ranks 15th in the league, according to Synergy. Brooklyn hasn’t gotten great use out of pick and roll ball handlers, producing just 0.61 PPP (29th in the league). However, expect Deron Williams to be on his A-game tonight. Williams has not had a good season, shooting just 27.3% from downtown, but I expect him to shoot the ball well in this game. Recall how last season Williams buried the Knicks in a mirage of three pointers in the second Williams-Lin matchup. He’ll come out fired up tonight. I worry about this because New York really has struggled in the pick and roll as of late. Other than Tyson Chandler, the Knicks don’t do a whole lot of hedging in the pick and roll. Often times, they’ll either go under the screen or switch, neither of which is a great strategy against Williams. Although he’s had his struggles shooting this season, and really the last couple seasons, Williams can absolutely light it up when he’s on. If I was coaching Brooklyn, I’d attack Carmelo Anthony in the pick and roll. Apart from 95 year old Kurt Thomas, Anthony is probably New York’s worst defender in the pick and roll. He never hedges and is quite slow to recover and pressure ball handlers. Assuming Anthony is guarding Kris Kardashian Humphries, I’d attack the Knicks with a plethora of Williams/Humphries pick and rolls. The Knicks have allowed 1.08 PPP (23rd in the league) to opposing roll men. Williams’ 0.8 PPP as the ball handler and Humphries 0.9 PPP as the roll man seem to indicate the Nets would have success running this. Williams can pop the three if New York goes under the screen and he’s quick enough to get in the lane of he chooses to do so. Humphries is capable as the roll man, as the stats indicate. The wild card in all this is Tyson Chandler. So far this season, even with the Knicks rolling on defense, he has looked nothing like the defensive goliath we saw last season. Whether his banged up knee is giving him trouble or if he’s still recovering from his lingering illnesses, Chandler has not been the same. There is a reason he won the DPOY award last season. Chandler does so much for the Knick defense. His help defense is invaluable to the success of New York’s defense and he makes everybody on that defense better. Without his presence down low, teams have feasted on the Knicks in the paint as of late which really has been a big part of New York’s defensive struggles. Chandler has to show up tonight.
  • Pace. Both teams play similar paces, but I think it is more imperative for the Knicks to keep the game slow. The Knicks really have gotten in trouble the past week or so when teams have sped up the pace of the game. New York ranks in the bottom half of the league in defensive PPP allowed in transition and are a much better half court defense. Especially with guys like Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace who can get out on the break, the Knicks must keep the turnovers down and keep Brooklyn’s transition breaks to a minimum. Speaking of turnovers…
  • Turnovers! The Knicks need to steal the ball and they need to not turn the ball over. The Knicks lead the league in not turning the ball over, while Brooklyn is in the top 10. I believe the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game, as is the case a lot of the time. With their recent defensive struggles, the Knicks need to get as many offensive possessions they can while taking away as many as they can away from the Nets.
  • The Knicks must keep Brooklyn off the offensive glass. Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans are guys that can each go for 8 offensive boards a piece on any given night. I don’t worry about Lopez’s rebounding prowess, simply because it doesn’t really exist. I do worry about Humphries and Evans though. With an offensive rebounding rate of 30.36, the Nets rank 7th in the league in this category. Carmelo Anthony is going to have to work extra hard on the boards, as will Rasheed Wallace, because they’ll likely be the guys boxing out Humphries and Evans. Marcus Camby, the league leader in total rebounding rate last year, needs to see minutes in this game. In his limited time on the floor, he has impressed me with his prowess as a technician on the boards. As a 50 year veteran, Camby has become excellent at boxing out and getting great position to keep his man away from the boards. Those skills could definitely be used tonight.
  • Three point shooting. Brooklyn has done well this season to limit teams three point shooting. According to Hoopdata, Brooklyn rates out 11th in the league in opponents effective FG% from downtown. On the contrary, the Knicks rate out second to last in that same category. This should make for an interesting contrast tonight as the Knicks have been the second best three point shooting team in the league while Brooklyn has been one of the worst. Despite their struggles, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can get hot and so I’m still worried about those guys. Ray Felton has to be aggressive tonight and create drive and kick opportunities for open shooters. Hopefully Novak’s strong performance yesterday will be a sign of things to come and he’ll break out of his slump. ESIII (Earl Smith III) has cooled off after his incredible shooting start so he may be due for a big game tonight.
  • The Knicks have to keep their composure. It hasn’t just been Carmelo Anthony, although he has been the poster boy for this, but New York has not been good at keeping their composure in the heat of battle. Whether it’s the Orlando game, the Memphis game, or most recently the Houston game, the Knicks haven’t handled adversity as well as they should. Anthony is tied for the league lead with 5 technical fouls. JR Smith and Rasheed Wallace each have two. We’ve seen Mike Woodson get T’d up before. If the game is close tonight, there will probably be a bad call or a series of bad plays that go against the Knicks. They can’t lose their heads. Anthony cannot let his man run down the court for an open dunk while he complains to the official. Woodson has to keep his composure. Tyson Chandler can’t be elbowing people in the neck and drawing flagrant fouls. ESIII can’t be getting in fights. In what should be a slower paced game, a few points off technical or flagrant fouls could make the difference. Cooler heads must prevail for the Knicks tonight.

I’m not feeling great about tonight’s game. The Knicks defense has really been poor lately, especially against teams with quick guards who can get to the rim. Deron Williams is one of the most talented point guards in the league and is capable for going for 45+ points any night. I expect Carmelo Anthony to continue his uber-efficient scoring tear, but I worry about his pick and roll defense. Brooklyn does match up well with the Knicks. Brook Lopez has the ability to pull Tyson Chandler out of the paint which could open up the offense for the Nets. The Knicks aren’t a great rebounding team and Brooklyn has some really productive offensive rebounders in their rotation. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson should both play well tonight and on paper would have an offensive advantage over the Knicks backcourt of Felton and Kidd. However, the Knicks aren’t a scrub team. If they can get Tyson Chandler back on track and keep Brooklyn out of the paint on pick and rolls, they should be okay on defense. Offensively, the Knicks must continue to move the ball and get open looks for their three point shooters. Anthony should have a great game tonight, continuing his tear of offensive efficiency. All in all, it should be a really good game and a good test for this Knicks ball club. They seem to be slowly falling back down to earth after their torrid start, but they could change that narrative with a dominant performance tonight.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @tarmosino

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