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Preview: Warriors to test Knicks’ claim to “super team” status

The Golden State Warriors host “unicorn” Kristaps Porzingis and the self-appointed, overachieving New York Knicks “super team.”

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors
Don’t go at Draymond for game...
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Golden State Warriors (22-4) vs New York Knicks (14-11)

How to watch?

Date: Thursday December 15, 2016

Location: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

Time: 7:30pm PST

TV: CSN Bay Area, TNT Radio: 95.7 THE GAME

Is New York really a super team?

Tonight’s game is a reminder that the reign of the largest markets in the NBA has ended. The Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and San Antonio Spurs have led the league in recent years but the New York Knicks were chirping about entering the conversation heading into the 2016-17 season. New York still has work to do.

This summer Derrick Rose memorably suggested that his trade to New York helped make the Knicks a super team on par with the Kevin Durant-infused Warriors. Well, tonight we’ll get a glimpse into the accuracy of Rose’s statement.

A quick glance at the standings shows the Knicks in third place in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. Wow, that’s a fast turnaround after going 32-50 last season! But New York’s 14-11 record is a little deceiving because their schedule has been pretty easy.

A win over the Memphis Grizzlies in October is arguably the most impressive of the Knicks’ season, but even then you have to consider that the Grizzlies got off to a slow start. New York also has wins over the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets, but those are the only other teams above .500 (prior to Wednesday night’s games) that the Knicks have defeated this year.

The Knicks were nowhere near super team status and the addition of Rose and Joakim Noah at this injury-riddled stage in their careers isn’t going to put them into that category. That said, New York has a developing star in Kristaps Porzingis who could lead the team up the charts in the years ahead.

So what’s happening with New York?

Carmelo Anthony may be slowing down at 32 years of age and appears to be deferring (appropriately) to second-year star Porzingis as the best player on the team. Anthony leads the team with 22.0 points per game (PPG) on 18.7 field goal attempts (FGA), but Porzingis is right behind him with a more efficient 20.6 PPG on 16.3 FGA.

Remarkably graceful at 7’3”, Porzingis towers over opponents while also using his speed to dribble past them after an effective pump fake. He’s shooting an impressive 40% from behind the arc and averaging almost two blocks per game. Perhaps it’s the shock of seeing so much talent in that tall frame that inhibits officials from recognizing that Porzingis keeps his jersey untucked for entire games, a clear violation.

Porzingis’ stunning combination of size and shooting skill inspired Kevin Durant to call him a unicorn last season, which is kind of ironic since Durant is also an unusually tall, gifted perimeter shooter. The two players have similar skill sets and height, suggesting that, if anything, Durant was the original unicorn. Of course, Durant claims to be just 6’9” while actually standing closer to seven feet, so maybe he truly does see Porzingis as a unique blend of height and skill.

In addition to Anthony and the unicorn, another player worth mentioning for New York is center Kyle O’Quinn, who’s playing the best ball of his career. O’Quinn is averaging 5.5 rebounds per game in just 15.5 minutes while shooting 57.5% from the floor. If Noah continues to shoot free throws at a 31% clip, rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek may soon insert O’Quinn into the starting lineup. O’Quinn is seeing more playing time during the fourth quarter lately as a result of his strong play.

Lastly, let’s just give a shout out to former Warrior Justin Holiday, who’s averaging 0.76 steals per game in 18.8 minutes for the Knicks. It’s nice to see him getting minutes and continuing to play solid defense.

How do the Warriors match up with the Knicks?

It will be interesting to see how the Warriors choose to defend this Knicks lineup, which presents a challenge due to Porzingis’ size and skill. Will Draymond Green be asked to guard Porzingis while giving up eight inches? Green ate up Porzingis last year, but there are alternative options this year with Durant in the lineup.

Whoever the Warriors start at center in the absence of Zaza Pachulia (JaVale McGee, please!) will likely guard Noah. From there I would guess that the Warriors will assign the original unicorn, Durant, to defend the new unicorn, Porzingis. If that’s the case, Durant will need to be patient and avoid biting on the pump fake that Porzingis uses so well at the top of the key.

That would leave Green to guard Anthony -– what a battle that could be! Anthony isn’t afraid of contact while posting up, which is where Green shines. If these two are matched up extensively, expect below average scoring from Anthony and a lot of trash talk.

As for the guard matchups, it’s unknown whether Rose will play tonight. Rose is quick enough to put Stephen Curry in foul trouble if Curry attempts to reach in, as he so often does. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson shouldn’t have much trouble staying in front of Courtney Lee.

On offense, Curry and Thompson should have strong nights. New York’s guards tended to go under screens against Phoenix on Tuesday night, so if that remains their strategy we can expect Curry and Thompson to score at will.

In addition to being slightly below average at defending the 3-point line, New York is among the worst teams in the league in putting opponents on the free throw line (27.2 attempts per game). This suggests that the Warriors should try to initiate contact with drives to the basket and play in the paint.

As the Knicks’ defense collapses in response to dribble penetration, three point shots should then materialize as the Warriors pass the ball back outside. Once the threes start raining down in Oracle, it’s hard to see the Knicks hanging with the real super team.

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