Wednesday, April 27, 2011

nuggets > knicks?

When the New York Knicks traded for Carmelo Anthony, there were whispers and rumors of a return to significance, if not a return to excellence. Yew York City has always been thirsty for great basketball, and has not often been rewarded with it. Amar'e Stoudemire had already been delivered to the Knicks via free agency in the summer and things had been looking up for New York's team. The chemistry that Amar'e had built, however, with Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari vanished when they did, in the trade that brought Anthony in from the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets, meanwhile, had been better than the middling team many predicted them to be during the 2010-2011 season. The drama surrounding the trade that Anthony was intent on forcing hurt the team, but they still managed to win at a greater clip than the Knicks. New York's record before the trade was 28-26, good for a 51.8%. Denver, on the other hand, clearly had a better team, and better chemistry, as they ran out to a 32-25 record, good for 56.1%.

Looking at the raw percentages and records, it's clear that, even though Anthony was holding the Denver Nuggets mentally hostage, the team was set up to succeed. The Western Conference is a tough place to win, with the championship pedigree of the Los Angeles Lakers and the size and wisdom of the San Antonio Spurs and the youthful upstarts of Portland and Oklahoma City hungry to take the crown. But the Nuggets were holding their own.

After the trade, New York was, essentially, the exact same team. The Knicks went 14-14 after February 21, finishing with a final regular season record of 42-40, winning 51.2% of their games. The aforementioned loss of chemistry between Stoudemire and the teammates that were sent to Denver for Anthony might have been to blame, but it's honestly hard to say. What can be said when a team trades three guys (four, in reality) for one guy, but their winning percentage remains almost identical?

On the other hand, the Denver Nuggets - who, remember, had already been winning at a greater clip than the Knicks - improved dramatically. After moving Anthony, the Nuggets went on a tear of 18-7, finishing with a regular season record of 50-32, improving their percentage by more than 4 points. It was impressive mostly because it was unexpected, Anthony is widely respected as one of the best closers in the game of basketball, and Denver was thought to have lost the trade, if the discussion was going to center purely on wins and losses.

That logic, clearly, was flawed.

And now, the Playoffs have revealed another wrinkle to this issue: The Boston Celtics just swept the New York Knicks. No matter how Denver finishes this season, they will have won more Playoff games than the Knicks.

So what does this mean? Does it all come down to chemistry? Is this something that'll have to wait to be truly judged until next season's Playoffs? Or is that over-complicating things? Is it a simpler matter of looking at the teams and saying, Bravo for team play, for coming together in the aftermath of one player thinking that he was bigger than the team.

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