Leading up to the start of the 2014 NBA season, Swarm and Sting will be pitting the Hornets head to head with every team in the Association every Tuesday and Thursday. In this edition, we match the Hornets up with the New York Knicks.
2013-14 Series: Charlotte and New York split the series, 2-2.
Projected Starting Match-Ups:
Jose Calderon will be debuting with the Knicks this season, after a one year run with the Dallas Mavericks last year. Calderon is a serviceable NBA point guard, capable of anchoring an offense when the correct pieces are in place. Kemba Walker, on the other hand, is a much more aggressive point guard, capable of scoring, defending, driving, and distributing. Kemba is also much younger and quicker than Calderon, which will create problems at the top of the key for New York. Walker should give the Hornets the advantage at the one.
ADVANTAGE: Kemba Walker
Iman Shumpert is in a tough spot, given that despite starting more games than JR Smith for the Knicks, he played less minutes than Smith in the season. This hinders his production, statistically, especially against a stat sheet stuffer like “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson. This is a tough match-up for Shumpert, because Stephenson is such a multi-faceted threat. He is a superior scorer, rebounder, and distributer, and that doesn’t even include the great, aggressive defense that Stephenson brings to the table. If Shumpert gets more minutes than his back-up, we could see his numbers increase, but against Lance Stephenson, I have to give the edge to the Hornets’ newest blockbuster acquisition.
ADVANTAGE: Lance Stephenson
After an off-season spent flirting with Los Angeles and Chicago, Carmelo will return to the New York Knicks as their starting small forward. Simply put, Carmelo Anthony is a better basketball player than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. That’s not intended to be a slight on MKG; he’s an excellent defender with an ever-evolving shot, which one day should hopefully become another weapon. Still, Carmelo Anthony is one of the premier offensive players in the Association, and he showed that against Charlotte in a 62 point outburst at Madison Square Garden. If the Hornets want to beat New York, it starts with containing Carmelo Anthony and limiting his scoring output. While MKG, again, is a phenomenal defender, it will take more than just him to stop Melo. Anthony is likely the deciding factor in the series, and because of this, the Knicks have an overwhelming edge at small forward.
ADVANTAGE: Carmelo Anthony
This is an intriguing match-up, as it pits two players on opposite ends of their careers against one another. Amar’e Stoudemire is obviously not the Amar’e Stoudemire we became familiar with when he played for the Phoenix Suns, while Cody Zeller is still developing his NBA game on a daily basis. While one would normally chose the player on the rise over a player in decline, Cody is still so early in his learning period that his youth is almost a hinderance against the more experienced Stoudemire. Amar’e’s experience and savvy should give the Knicks an advantage at the 4.
ADVANTAGE: Amar’e Stoudemire
Samuel Dalembert is yet another serviceable, seasoned veteran coming to the Knicks after a one year stint from the Dallas Maverick. Dalembert’s statistics do not really jump off of the stat sheet, which is a complete contrast to the production Al Jefferson put forth in 2013-2014. Jefferson, as discussed in every preview before this, is arguably one of the best offensive big men in the NBA, especially when he is on the block, where he is as dangerous as any other player in the league. Dalembert’s job will be to simply contain Jefferson, similarly to how Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will have to contain Carmelo Anthony to give the Hornets a chance to win.
ADVANTAGE: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves (New York): JR Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr, Pablo Prigioni, Travis Outlaw, Jason Smith, Cleanthony Early, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy
Key Reserves (Charlotte): Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams, Jeff Taylor, PJ Hairston, Gary Neal, Bismack Biyambo.
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. The Knicks have great depth at shooting guard, and Hardaway Jr and Smith will be fighting Shumpert for the starting job all year. Cleanthony Early should be a solid rookie for New York, and Shane Larkin is a former ACC Player of the Year, but at the end of the day, I think Charlotte has a deeper bench, especially given that player such as Williams, Vonleh, Henderson, and Taylor could all reasonably fight for starting spots for the Hornets. The Hornets may not have an individual talent like JR Smith, but as a collective unit, their reserves are slightly better than those of New York.
Rookies (New York): Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Louis Labeyrie
Rookies (Charlotte): Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston
ADVANTAGE: Charlotte. Cleanthony Early was the driving force behind Wichita State’s miraculous run to #1 last year, and will likely develop into a solid, if not good, NBA performer. Thanasis Antetokounmpo is the older brother of Milwaukee/Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo, and only time (and tape) will tell if he can live up to the name his younger brother built in the United States. These two, however good they may be, are second rounders, while Noah Vonleh was a (lucky) lottery pick, and PJ Hairston became the first D-League player to ever be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. The Hornets simply have more proven talent in their rookie roster than the Knicks.
FINAL VERDICT: Over the past few years, the New York Knicks have found ways to absolutely rip the hearts out of Charlotte basketball fans, whether by JR Smith buzzer-beater or Carmelo Anthony career game. The Hornets will look to stop the heartbreak, and when comparing rosters, they should be able to prevent further bad memories for their fans. Look for the Hornets to play angry against their conference foes, and look for Steve Clifford to encourage the defense to really prevent Carmelo Anthony from scoring 60+ again.
PREDICTION: Charlotte takes the series, 3-1.