The Knicks have every right to fear the North in this season’s Atlantic Division showdown.
As we enter the 2018–19 season, a few things have changed for both the New York Knicks and the Toronto Raptors since last year.
There’s a LOT of excitement around the Knicks’ future with this year’s rookie class of Kevin Knox and potential wild cards Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. In Toronto, they made headline news firing of Coach of the Year Dwane Casey and going all-in on a could-be rental of Kawhi Leonard.
New York and Toronto will match up four times this season on these dates:
- November 10 @ Toronto
- February 9 in New York
- March 18 @ Toronto
- March 28 in New York
The Raptors and Knicks remain on opposite ends of the totem pole with much different goals in mind. After pushing their chips into the middle and acquiring Leonard, the Raptors have aspirations of being the team that makes it out of a LeBron-less Eastern Conference. On the other hand, the Knicks would like to reach that stage, but their time won’t be this year.
Barring injury, the Knicks will be expected to finish the season near the bottom of their division once again while Toronto will duke it out with both Boston and Philly for the best record of the Eastern Conference, let alone the Atlantic Division. The books from this list of offshore sites will agree that putting your money on the Knicks may not be worth it due to the odds being so distant. While the Celtics are the clear favorite to have the one seed and go the Finals, the Raptors are expected to finish not too far behind. The Raptors’ problem is not winning regular season games, but rather how they play once they get to the playoffs year in and year out—a persistent issue that prefaced Casey’s dismissal.
Unless Kawhi doesn’t return to form pre-injury or doesn’t have chemistry with his new teammates, the duo of him and Kyle Lowry should be at least as effective as the Lowry/DeRozan duo, if not better, with Leonard’s defensive prowess. One thing is look for is how well Kevin Knox will be able to not only guard Leonard, but how he plays while being guarded by him and how he uses what he learns from each of the four games.
Here is the projected starting lineup for the Raptors:
PG Kyle Lowry
SG Danny Green
SF Kawhi Leonard
PF Serge Ibaka
C Jonas Valanciunas
Throughout the season, there’s going to be many a night where the ‘Bockers simply don’t have enough depth to win game against top tier teams in the league. The lack of depth across the board with be a problem for this season’s matchup once again. While Frank Ntilikina will be able to guard Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred Van Fleet and company, what other Knick backcourt players are going to consistently defend? With Tim Hardaway Jr. all but penciled in to start at the 2 or 3, the rest of the young backcourt in Ntilikina, Trey Burke, and Emmanuel Mudiay will have their work cut out for them.
Lance Thomas is the next willing defender and will have the task of keeping Kawhi in check, one that few in the world are able to do on a consistent basis. He can also be matched up on Serge Ibaka with Knox helping in a pinch. The Knicks could win the rebounding battle in a few of these games if Enes Kanter can out-duel Jonas Valancuinas, but that’s a matchup that at the very least will end up canceling out. Depending on Mitchell Robinson’s role with the team, his athleticism may be enough to get the Knicks’ frontcourt an advantage it’ll desperately need.
For the reserves, the Raptors had the best bench in the NBA last season statistically and just about have the same unit. There will be nights where Kanter, THJ, and Knox can explode but the team still loses due to this lack of depth. Hopefully, this can happen while catching Toronto on an off night.
Style of Play
What we’ve seen so far in the preseason matches exactly with what Fiz has been saying from the jump; New York will being playing fast this year. The faster pace will lead to an increased three-point opportunities, something NYK has needed for years now. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be exciting to see the team take baby steps this season and get out on the break every chance they get.
THJ in transition ooooweeee pic.twitter.com/peqG78bXbn
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) October 1, 2018
Last season, Toronto’s offense was notably more free-flowing than previous under Coach Casey and it created better opportunities for the ex-backcourt duo and the role players. Assuming new coach Nick Nurse implements a similar philosophy, they’ll have one of the top offenses in the league once again. Former Spurs Danny Green and Kawhi should be making a very smooth transition from playing in the pace and space offense in the NBA.
Realistically, what won’t change will be the outcomes of the series between these two Atlantic Division teams. While New York’s culture is changing by the second, Toronto has one already established itself as elite and should remain as one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks were outmatched last year against the Raptors and lost the season series 3-1. Don’t be surprised by the same outcome this season, or even if a clean sweep comes to pass, especially with the Knicks’ best player potentially missing all four games.
On paper, the Raptors should
get bounced in the second round sit near the top of the East, if not at the very top, while the Knicks will be playing for another lottery pick come season’s end. I know, it seems like forever since there has been a season preview with the Knicks being the better team in this matchup. The good news is this could very well be the last year that this is the case.