The New York Knicks are shooting 36.6 percent from the 3-point stripe this season. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com
The Miami Heat and New York Knicks currently occupy the the first and third seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively and they’ve had some pretty compelling battles in 2012-13.
Actually, surprising battles would be a better way to describe their games.
The Knicks handily won their first two meetings against the Heat. They won 104-84 on Nov. 2 and 112-92 on Dec. 6. Stellar 3-point shooting was the underlining headline in both those thrashings. The Heat got back on the horse on March 3, winning 99-93.
The point is, both of these teams could easily wind up in the conference finals, which calls for a position by position breakdown.
Point Guard: Mario Chalmers vs. Raymond Felton
Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels, Flickr.com
This is an interesting comparison because Mario Chalmers isn’t the Heat’s primary point guard, per se. He starts the game at that spot and that’s where a traditional depth chart puts him, but you’ll often find LeBron James or Dwyane Wade acting as the primary ball-handler at the end of games.
Raymond Felton, meanwhile, has had a decent season in his return to the Big Apple. Actually, he’s having his best scoring season (14.7 points) since 2010-11 and his minute totals have seen a rise as well.
But a fractured pinky–he missed more than a month–seems to have taken Felton out of his beginning of the season groove. He was averaging 15.8 points and 6.3 assists prior to suffering the pinky injury, but since returning on Jan. 26, he’s down to 13.4 points and 5.2 assists.
Even with the decline, Chalmers’ numbers still can’t compete with Felton’s for one obvious reason: Felton plays the bigger role of the two, which equates to more minutes and superior numbers. Chalmers’ defensive efforts make this comparison closer, but his 8.2 points and 3.4 assists fall short of Felton.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Iman Shumpert/J.R. Smith/Jason Kidd
Photo Credit: Mark Runyon, Basketball Schedule
Regardless, Dwyane Wade easily has the advantage.
Despite taking on a lesser role to LeBron James, Wade is still one of the best two guards in basketball. He’s really taken off since returning from the All-Star break, averaging 24.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists in 13 games.
Additionally, Wade is one of only seven players in the league averaging at least 20 points, three assists and four rebounds per game.
His contributions go beyond the numbers, though.
For instance, if a team chooses to double LeBron, he’s the outlet, which makes teams think twice about doubling LeBron. Yes, this is a good thing.
In short, Wade makes LeBron and Chris Bosh better, because opposing defenses won’t find much success leaving him open or Bosh open.
The Knicks’ trio of guards is productive, don’t get me wrong. Smith is one of the favorites to win the Sixth Man of the Year award with his 16.5 points. Shumpert holds opposing shooting guards to a 16.8 PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and opposing small forwards to a 9.7 PER. Note: The average is 15. And Kidd spaces the floor with his 3-point shooting (he’s been a bit off-target lately) and provides veteran leadership.
Still, Wade is better than those three put together.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs. James White
Can anyone catch LeBron James or the Miami Heat? (LeBron James Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com)
I know what you’re thinking: Carmelo should be slotted as a small forward. That is true, based on past trends at least, but the Knicks’ newly configured starting lineup is foggy.
James White replaced Jason Kidd a couple games ago, which forced Carmelo to slide over to the power forward spot, where he can use his quickness to beat slower big men. Thus, White, who’s averaging a mere 2.3 points over his last 10 games, is technically their starting small forward, for now.
The answer to who has the advantage at small forward remains the same, though. LeBron still has the edge, but Anthony would’ve made the small forward comparison a bit more appealing, as White isn’t much of a powerhouse name; rather he is more of an experiment.
James’ numbers are all the more impressive on paper. He’s averaging 26.7 points, 7.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds, along with a true shooting percentage of 63.6 percent, which is a career-high by a sizable margin.
Of LeBron’s latest accomplishments, his dominantly-efficient month of February, when he shot 64.1 percent and averaged 29.7 points, is up there among the best.
I doubt there’s any debate.
Power Forward: Udonis Haslem vs. Carmelo Anthony
Photo Credit: Bridget Samuels, Flickr.com
Thanks to Mike Woodson’s latest lineup tweaks, Melo now occupies power forward, which gives the Knicks’ some additional spacing and for Melo, he can easily blow past slower power forwards.
Meanwhile, Udonis Haslem is easily having his worst season as a pro, averaging 3.7 points on 3.2 shots and 5.4 rebounds in 18.9 minutes a game.
That stat line looks awfully bad without some context. The context being his role, of course, as he isn’t expected to do much other then play solid defense and rebound. His scoring output has been on a downward slide since 2009-10 simply because LeBron, Wade and Bosh do most of the heavy lifting and almost everyone else is lost in the mix.
Anthony has been dealing with a right knee injury that Mike Woodson is “worried” about, according to ESPN New York. He’s missed four of the Knicks’ last five games, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Knicks will finish with a Top 5 seed, so resting their star would be wise.
Regardless, he’s having another solid year, averaging 27.5 points and 6.2 rebounds.
The choice is again obvious.
Center: Chris Bosh vs. Tyson Chandler
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr.com)
Finally, here’s an interesting comparison because both Chris Bosh and Tyson Chandler feed off of their teammates.
If we’re talking about straight-up offensive abilities, then Bosh has the upper hand because he is more dynamic.
Bosh shoots 51.1 percent on mid-range jumpers, which is actually his best mark outside of the restricted area, where he shoots a whopping 70 percent. Compound this with a couple of solid post moves and he’s not an easy assignment.
The thing is, while Bosh’s skill set may be advanced, he doesn’t get to showcase it a ton since that he’s the third option behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Instead, he’s often the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks or dump offs–shots he doesn’t create on his own.
Chandler plays a similar role, except his effectiveness doesn’t span out of the painted area. He’s the beneficiary of easy put-backs, alley-oops and feeds off of pick-and-rolls and cuts, evidenced by his 4.2 offensive rebounds per game. Additionally, more than 70 percent of his shots are assisted.
Still, Bosh adds a dimension to Miami’s offense that puts it over the top. If LeBron or Wade is doubled, Bosh is the outlet. Without him, defending the Heat would be a tad easier.