My friends and I used to play a game on the bus every time we had a middle school field trip. We called it “Who would you rather?”, and it would be pretty inappropriate to explain the rules in this space. Let’s just say one time, a girl found out about our game and my buddy got slapped across his face. Thankfully, he did not respond by slapping her back and repeatedly shouting, “How can she slap?” Although, if he had, it would have made a hell of a YouTube clip.
Anyway, I digress. I told you about “Who would you rather?” not to make you think I was once a chauvinistic pig (although, now that I think about it, you probably wouldn’t be wrong to believe that). I told you about “Who would you rather?” because I want to play it right now.
So who would you rather see in the first round: the Philadelphia 76ers or the New York Knicks? For the purpose of this exercise, let’s throw seeding out the window. For example, you can’t pick New York just because playing New York would likely mean the Celtics will get the second seed and thus home court advantage against the Heat in round two.
Without further ado, the candidates:
New York Knicks
Offensive Efficiency — 108.2 (7th in league)
Defensive Efficiency — 107.1 (22nd in league)
Strength: Star power.
What does teaming Carmelo Anthony with Amare Stoudemire mean to the Celtics? It means the Knicks, in a playoff series, could have the two most talented players on the court. When you add an aging (but still-productive) Chauncey Billups to that tandem, the Knicks have enough front-end talent to scare any team in the Eastern Conference. Of course, the rest of New York’s talent (with apologies to Landry Fields) and the team’s defense doesn’t scare anybody but Mike D’Antoni. Still, the star power makes New York a tough matchup.
Weakness: Depth and Defense
I already spoke to New York’s lack of depth and quality defense, so I’ll share a story instead. When I was in college, the Knicks came to my school for training camp. Since I was on the basketball team at school, I was offered the chance to be a ballboy during the team’s practices. I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to see Mardy Collins in person, so I agreed.
There were three highlights of my brief stint as a ballboy: 1) Jerome James, sitting on the sideline during the middle of a drill, asked my buddy to make him a ham sandwich. 2) Danilo Gallinari, who couldn’t practice but could shoot around, made about 13,000 straight jumpers . . . all with his left hand. And 3) Stephon Marbury drove to the middle of the lane while wearing his $10 Starbury sneakers and—this is really going to surprise you—the sole came straight off the shoe. The Knicks being the Knicks, Marbury’s backup pair of shoes didn’t actually fit. So Marbury asked me what size shoe I wore, but my size 13 wouldn’t fit either. He spent the rest of the practice session sitting on the sideline, watching his teammates play.
But the most amazing aspect of the three practice sessions I was a ballboy for? The Knicks didn’t do one defensive drill. Not a single one. There’s a reason why D’Antoni’s teams suck on defense year after year after year, and it has nothing to do with the team’s personnel. Okay, maybe it does have SOMETHING to do with the team’s personnel. But if this team ever wants to become a defensive-minded unit, one of two things has to happen: D’Antoni needs to be replaced, or the Knicks need to hire the next Tom Thibodeau as an assistant coach and de facto defensive coordinator.
Offensive Efficiency — 104.4 (16th in the league, tied with Boston)
Defensive Efficiency — 102.3 (8th in the league)
The 76ers went 27-55 last season, and then they added no players of true significance in the summer. Do you know who their three biggest offseason additions were? Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Andrew Nocioni. Hawes is the league’s latest big white stiff, a center who can’t bang inside and was actually a downgrade from Samuel Dalembert. Turner’s the league’s biggest draft bust, a supposedly NBA-ready pick. He was so “NBA-ready” that the Sixers just felt compelled to sign Antonio Daniels (yes, THAT Antonio Daniels) from the D-League rather than give the injured Lou Williams’ minutes to Turner. And Nocioni, prior to this season, had been in hibernation for years. Somehow, the Sixers are now 40-37 and have already sealed a playoff berth. You can thank Doug Collins and whoever revived Elton Brand from his death bed.
Doug Collins didn’t just do a marvelous job with this team. He took a young, immature team and molded them into his own. The Sixers still have flaws, which I will discuss soon. But they play hard every night, they’ve been a tough out for the Celtics (the three games the teams have played have been won by a combined eight points), and they make it tough for opponents to score the basketball.
It’s weird that I’m calling Philadelphia’s biggest weakness scoring, because their offensive efficiency equals Boston’s (ouch for Boston). But in a playoff series, where the defensive intensity rises, who scores for Philly? Andre Iguodala? He’s still better suited to be a third fiddle. Elton Brand? He just had his worst offensive month of the season, by far, and that month coincided with the time he broke his left hand. Hawes? Jru Holiday? Thaddeus Young? Jodie Meeks? I’ll. Take. My. Chances.
If the Celtics are legitimate title contenders, like I still (despite recent evidence) believe they are, they should be able to get past either of these teams without much trouble. Both of these teams have plenty flaws, in different ways, flaws the Celtics should be able to expose during a playoff series. So my pick doesn’t come from which team would pose a lesser challenge.
Instead, I’m picking the Sixers. Why? Because they play a stiff defense, and I’d love to see Boston’s struggling offense get the chance to work on their sets against an (almost) championship-caliber defense. Or maybe the Celtics would benefit from playing the Knicks and raising their confidence? Oh, I don’t know. I’m still sticking with the Sixers.