I haven’t been paying attention to the Knicks at all this season, but now that we’re a third through the season, I thought it might be interesting to do some comparisons between Lin’s current team and his former team.
The Knicks got off to a hot start and I had been expecting them to do pretty well this season for a number of reasons:
– The biggest reason is that Melo is playing with a different mindset and a lot of confidence. I also think being on the Olympic team helped his game (it made him more comfortable playing off the ball) and conditioning in the off season.
– Woodson is a solid coach who finally has a team full of superstars to work with for a full season.
– Kidd is a huge upgrade to Baron Davis et al.
– Felton is a slightly better fit for the Knicks than Lin, because he’s a better perimeter shooter and Lin’s game would take away from Melo’s dominance (this is debatable whether or not this helps or hurts the Knicks).
– They’re playing with a huge chip on their shoulders–especially Felton and Melo.
As a result, I haven’t really scrutinize their blazing performance, thus far, because it wasn’t unexpected to me. Currently, the Knicks stand at number 2 in the Eastern Conference, behind Miami and just a half game above Atlanta with a .677 winning percentage. A number 2 ranking looks excellent on the surface, but when you consider how ridiculously weak the Eastern Conference is the number 2 ranking is deceiving. A .677 winning percentage is only good for a tie for the 5th spot in the Western Conference with the Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets, on the other hand stand at number 6th in a very tough Western Conference that has 5 teams over .600 (the Eastern Conference only has three teams over .600). They’re currently 17-14 with a .548 winning percentage.
Currently the Knicks have a better winning percentage than the Rockets, but when we dig deeper this is about the only thing that the Knicks really have over the Rockets: a better win to loss record currently. Aside from this, I think a very good case can be made for the Rockets actually being a superior team to the Knicks–especially going forward.
– Rockets blew out Knicks both times they played with and without Melo, at home and away (the second time on a back-to-back road trip for the Rockets). So I think it’s safe to say that the Knicks are over-matched by the Rockets one-on-one. So in that sense, the Rockets are clearly > Knicks from a match-up standpoint. So this is a big factor in assessing whether the Rockets are > Knicks overall.
– Rockets have had a tougher schedule than the Knicks so far. They’ve played with 12 “top tier” teams (I’m including the Lakers in this group), while the Knicks have played only 8 games with “top tier” teams. Knicks beat Miami twice and San Antonio once. They loss to Chicago twice and Memphis once and traded games with the Lakers. In comparison, The Rockets beat Chicago twice, Loss to San Antonio three times, OKC twice and Miami once. They traded games with Memphis and Lakers. It should be noted that the Knicks have yet to face OKC (while Rockets faced them twice) and they have only faced San Antonio once, while the Rockets have faced them three times. So it’s conceivable that the Knicks could have a record much similar to the Rockets had they faced similar number of “top tier” teams. To make this point a little more simply, the Rockets are currently 12-2 against the weak Eastern Conference, while the Knicks are 13-3.
– Rockets have managed to keep pace with the Knicks even though they just had their team thrown together with a bunch of young guys who needed a lot of time to get any sort of chemistry going–not to mention a last minute trade of Harden. The Knicks have had some new additions to their squad, but there’s no comparison to what the Rockets have had to deal with in terms of getting new players on board, etc. So for the Rockets to even keep pace with the Knicks with only a third of the season to get some cohesion going is saying a lot about the potential of the Rockets going forward.
– Knicks started hot and are cooling off, while the Rockets started slowly (as expected) and are just starting to heat up. Knicks are 5-5 in their last 10 games, which include consecutive losses to the lowly Kings (without Melo and Felton) and the Blazers (despite Melo’s 45 points with an injured Felton). It’s unclear how long Felton will be out, but that’s a huge blow to the Knicks, although Kidd is very capable of filling Felton’s shoes. By contrast, the Rockets went 7-3 in their last 10 games, which include a terrible schedule of back-to-back games against the top teams in the NBA (Spurs and Thunder). Their latest performance has been highlighted by consecutive blow out games against top tier defensive teams, such as the Bulls and Grizzlies. The coaching staff is finally having confidence in Lin and letting Lin play more of Lin’s game. As a result, the Rockets have looked like a more cohesive team and their chemistry as a unit is building. Brighter days are ahead for the Rockets, while the Knicks could remain in limbo until Felton returns. Knicks could also get a boost from Shumpert’s return later in the season.
– Hollinger’s NBA Power Rankings has the Rockets at #5 and the Knicks at #10. Of course, these rankings need to be taken with a huge grain of salt and are extremely short term in focus, nevertheless it is a factor in assessing whether or not the Rockets are better than the Knicks.
So although the Knicks currently have a better record than the Rockets, I think the Rockets are actually a better team. And this is not something I had expected to say at the beginning of the season. I think Knicks will end up with a record similar to the Rockets or slightly better than the Rockets, but it’s because they’re in a much weaker conference. I think if the Rockets were in the East or the Knicks were in the West, the Rockets would end up with a better record. My bold prediction for the Rockets is that they finish with 50+ wins, as long as there are no significant injuries to their key players: Harden, Lin, Asik, Parsons. Rockets will end up 5th or better in the East. I’m hoping I haven’t jinxed the Rockets with this bold prediction, but I figured it’s about time to say some definitive things about this team and put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I’ve been saying from day one that I’m confident the Rockets will make the playoffs, so I figured it’s time to put some numbers to it.