1. Who will have the better defensive outing: The Cavs vs. Carmelo Anthony or the Knicks guards against Kyrie Irving?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: The answer here is that the Knicks will have a harder time slowing down Kyrie Irving than the Cavaliers will have defending Carmelo Anthony. This is largely due to personnel, as Luol Deng is an excellent wing defender. Per Synergy Sports, opponents are only shooting 30.4 percent in isolation, 29.2 percent in post ups and 30.9 percent as the primary ball handler in the pick and roll – three of Anthony’s most common plays. On the flip side, opposing ball handlers are shooting 59 percent in the pick and roll against the Knicks and this is something the Cavaliers will run time and time again with Irving as the primary ball handler. Irving also scored an absurd 1.37 points per possession last time out against New York. Oh and he did this to Pablo Prigioni.
Scott Davis, Buckets Over Broadway EIC: I think the Cavs are likely to have an easier time stopping Carmelo Anthony than the Knicks are stopping Kyrie Irving. This is particularly the case with the Luol Deng acquisition. The Knicks have trouble stopping anyone, really, let alone one of the speedier guards in the league. Raymond Felton is so bad defensively that the Knicks put 36-year old Pablo Prigioni on opposing guards. Iman Shumpert occasionally gets to chase PGs around, but not enough, and he may be out with a sprained shoulder. Advantage: Cavs.
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The Knicks have been better defensively of late with a healthy Tyson Chandler patrolling the paint, but they will always have trouble against explosive, quick penetrating guards like Irving. Without Shumpert, the team’s best perimeter defender, it will be even more difficult for the Knicks to corral Irving. Felton has never been a good defender and the 36-year old Prigioni doesn’t have the foot speed to keep Irving in front of him. Maybe Knicks head coach Mike Woodson turns to the rookie Hardaway Jr. who has excellent size at 6’6”. I don’t think the Cavaliers will fare much better against a scorching hot ‘Melo however. Deng is nursing a nagging achilles injury, though I expect him to tough it out as usual and make ‘Melo work for his points. I think Irving goes for 30-plus in this matchup under the bright lights of MSG.
2. True or false: The New York Knicks are a better team without Andrea Bargnani in the lineup?
CM: This is 100 percent true and it’s weird to say that since Bargs is the Knicks’ second leading scorer. But Bargnani, especially when paired with Tyson Chandler, absolutely kills the Knicks spacing. A year ago, the Knicks were often successful because they played Carmelo at the four and light teams up with a barrage of three pointers. They had shooters surrounding Chandler in the middle, and while there are several reasons why this Knicks team isn’t as a good as the one from a year ago, the change in offensive philosophy is a big reason. He also is a liability on defense in the paint on team loaded with minus defenders on the wing. Bargnani is a really bad fit with the rest of the Knicks roster and it shows.
SD: Absolutely true. When the Knicks made the trade for Bargnani, I didn’t so much care about his fit with the team so much as the Knicks giving up three draft picks for him (THREE!!!). However, Bargnani hasn’t fit in the offense, whatsoever, which was the only defense in acquiring him. The Knicks are considerably worse on both ends of the floor when Bargnani plays, and considerably better when he sits. He doesn’t spread the floor like he’s supposed to, and his offensive aggression comes and goes — and that says nothing of his atrocious rebounding and defense. Without him, the Knicks are a more spry team, still weak on defense, but far more versatile and explosive on offense.
MA: The Knicks were hoping Bargnani would find his outside shooting stroke after two dreadful shooting years in a row with the hapless Toronto Raptors. However, the former number one draft pick is having his worst three-point shooting season yet, taking 2.6 attempts per game from deep and making just 27.8 percent. He can’t do the one thing he was brought over to do and that’s a head-scratcher. Everyone knows his defense is hilariously awful and if he can’t shoot, he’s replaceable. The Knicks are better off starting three guards and Anthony at the four like they did last season.
3. As both the Knicks and Cavaliers are among the slower-paced teams in the league, which team would benefit more from picking up the pace?
CM: I truly believe that Cleveland would be better off at trying to push the ball at all times and playing a style that betters fits their personnel. The Cavaliers are a much more effective team when they increase the pace and avoid running isolation heavy offensive sets. Cleveland has a plethora of ball handlers – led by Kyrie Irving and sixth man Dion Waiters, aided by Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng – that are more than capable of pushing the ball up the floor and either attacking the rim, taking a pull-up jumper or feeding an open teammate cutting to the rim. The Cavalier bigs are also excellent at running the floor and finding their way towards the hoop on the other end. It also helps that Anderson Varejao is solid at finding the open man at the last moment on the break. The Knicks, on the other hand, seem only capable of running isolation plays with the occasional pick and roll set mixed in. If it’s possible, I think playing a faster pace could make the Knicks more of a mess.
SD: The Knicks are a weird team in that they have a good combination of athletic players who force turnovers, but they can’t run a fast break to save their lives. The Knicks are dead last in the NBA in fast break points, but they’re 13th in forcing opponent turnovers. A combination of Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. (a delightful athlete to watch in the open floor), and J.R. Smith, along with Felton and Anthony (who play well in uptempo offenses) would figure to make the Knicks a good fastbreak team. That said, the Knicks are certainly better when they get into their offense early. Often, they stagnate for too long, and end up rushing a shot when someone receives the ball with five seconds to go.
MA: It is odd that the Knicks don’t push the ball more often, as they have plenty of athletes and a point guard in Felton who likes an uptempo pace. Only Memphis plays at a slower pace than New York. On the fastbreak, the Knicks have a plethora of shooters who could spot up and get open looks against an unorganized defense in transition. Yes, Cleveland has multiple ball handlers but they lack the elite athletes and lethal shooters to be consistently effective in the open court. I think the Knicks would be more successful than the Cavaliers in an uptempo offense.