The Nets and Knicks meet Wednesday for the third time this season (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). Can Carmelo Anthony continue his early-season push for MVP? Will Deron Williams regain his All-Star form in Brooklyn? Our 5-on-5 crew digs in.
1. Fact or Fiction: Carmelo Anthony will be the 2012-13 MVP.
Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: Fiction. He's behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant in player efficiency rating by a significant amount, so if that holds true and the Thunder and Heat end with better records, Melo probably will finish third, at best. The key could be if his numbers improve, or worsen, with Amar'e Stoudemire back in the fold.
Spencer Hall, Salt City Hoops: Fact. Count me among those who expected the MVP race to start and end with LeBron and Durant, but watching Carmelo abuse the Lakers last week in Olympics-versus-Nigeria mode made me a believer in his outstanding season statistics. If the Knicks stay on top of the East, the MVP will be Carmelo.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Fiction. My preseason pick was Durant, and I see no reason to abandon it now. The Thunder lost the league's second-best shooting guard but still got better, thanks in no small part to Durant's expanding game. If the Knicks win 60 games, this might be close, but Durant still has Melo at arm's reach. And those are very long arms.
Robert Silverman, KnickerBlogger: Fiction. Melo is coming the closest anyone has seen to replicating an in-his-prime Bernard King. The move to power forward has unleashed a truly unstoppable offensive weapon capable of shredding an opposing defense in the paint or from long range with equal aplomb. But even at this stratospheric level, he's still a half tick or two behind James and Durant.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Fiction. LeBron remains among the living. But Melo is as reasonable a second suitor of the trophy as there is in the league.
2. Fact or Fiction: Deron Williams isn't the same player anymore.
Gutierrez: Fiction, but this remains a puzzler. As I've watched Deron Williams this season, it seems his quickness is there, but his shot and his elevation (not that it was ever spectacular) aren't. That's a strange combination. I'm still willing to blame the lack of talented teammates last season and the adjustment to so many new ones this season. But it is odd that he calls himself a "system player."
Hall: Fiction: Williams is exactly the same player he always has been -- on the court and off. His numbers post-wrist injury in 2011 are down, but I agree with the vintage D-Will tweak of his own team and his explanation for the decline: He's playing with inferior teammates in an inferior system since being traded to the Nets from the Jazz.
Mason: Fiction. Williams is the same talent, but he's in a new environment. The nature is the same, but he's no longer being nurtured by the flex offense that so suited his talents as a power pick-and-roll guard. Williams isn't getting to the rim with so few respected shooters on the court, and the Nets' slow pace mutes his impact in transition. All that said, he needs to knock down some jumpers, too.
Silverman: Fact. His numbers are eerily similar to Baron Davis' at roughly the same age. It's unsurprising when you consider that both players, after they'd lost a step or two, began to increasingly rely on an unreliable perimeter game. That's not to say Deron isn't an upper-echelon lead guard, but the days of debating whether he's better than Chris Paul are long gone.
Wade: Fiction. He has thrived in the past by running excellent systems. Since leaving Utah, he hasn't played in one. Brooklyn is building a capable offense now, however, so just give him a few more months. Come March, he will again look like the guy in the Illini uniform who captivated the basketball world in March 2005.
3. Fact or Fiction: The Knicks won the trade for Melo in 2011.
Gutierrez: Fact. This is kind of an easy one. It might not have looked like a slam dunk until this season, but Melo is a franchise-altering player and has been playing like one of late. As a bonus, the Knicks got Raymond Felton back, and he's playing like he did the first time around.
Hall: Fact, but trick question. Denver also did well in the trade -- the Nuggets are in nice shape after picking up Danilo Gallinari et al. The Melo trade alone isn't a huge win without the follow-up wins. Those include resisting the urge to cash in on Linsanity, sticking with Mike Woodson and this from July 12, 2012: Signed G Jason Kidd. Re-signed F Steve Novak.
Mason: Fact. Boy, did I get this wrong. I never saw Melo mutating into the unstoppable monster he has become. Meanwhile the players they gave up, most disappointingly Gallinari, haven't progressed as many expected. Pass the crow, please! I'll take mine extra crispy.
Silverman: Fact. I was a fairly outspoken critic of the James Dolan-led bidding frenzy (and it boggles the mind how good the Knicks might be if Melo had waited until free agency to take his talents to Times Square), but I'm pleased as punch to admit I was wrong. There isn't a Knicks fan alive with an operant cerebral cortex who wouldn't redo that deal in a heartbeat.
Wade: Fact. In a sport where only five players are allowed on the court at once, no package of assets headlined by Gallinari is worth more than Carmelo. In the NBA, there is the elite and then there is everyone else. Anthony is not everyone else. On the contrary, there is no one else like him.
4. Fact or Fiction: New York is better off with Melo than D-Will.
Gutierrez: Fact. (See question No. 2.)
Hall: Fact. Jason Kidd (in 2012 and nearly at age 97) is somehow giving the Knicks everything they might have hoped to get from Williams while also allowing New York to get Carmelo. Kidd can lead and allow Anthony to run amok and pick up wins in a way Williams alone wouldn't have been able to do.
Mason: Fiction. Just too many variables. What would Mike D'Antoni have done with Williams and Stoudemire? Would the Knicks have had to give up Gallinari to get him? I'm not willing to call this one, though there are fewer forwards who can do what Anthony has done this season than there are capable point guards.
Silverman: Fact. Given the abundance of quality floor generals in the NBA versus the paucity of dominant scorers, even if Deron hadn't seen his skills erode since arriving in New Jersey/Brooklyn (See question No. 2), it'd be hard to argue that the boatload of young talent, picks and cap space was an unwise investment on New York's part. Again, I was 112 percent wrong.
Wade: Fact. What have you done for me lately? Before the season, this was a debate, but Melo is playing the best ball of his career and Deron is scuffling on the other side of the bridge. Add in how easily the Knicks have found high-level point guard play in 2012, and the choice is easy.
5. Fact or Fiction: Melo will win more titles than D-Will.
Gutierrez: Fiction. This is one of those unanswerable questions, really, because you don't know whether one or both of them will grab a title late in their careers. But if I tried to predict the future right now, I would see them winning the same number: zero. That might sound harsh, but not every superstar gets a ring.
Hall: Fiction. Neither will win a title unless he picks one up as part of a lifetime achievement tour on a super team at the end of a career. Both players are fun to watch -- and a spicy rivalry between good Knicks and Nets teams is great drama -- but LeBron and Durant might have all the championships reserved for the foreseeable future.
Mason: Fiction. I probably should consult Tom Haberstroh on this, but I'm pretty sure zero, as in titles either will win, isn't more than zero. I think both teams are still outside the ring of real title contenders, and that doesn't seem likely to change.
Silverman: "Faction." If the question were, "Who's more likely to win one in the next three years?" it'd be Melo, hands down. Brooklyn has a roster that is fairly cemented as a midlevel playoff team/perennial second-round exit, but Carmelo's veteran-laden squad has an outside chance of making the Finals in the next season or two. Beyond that, there are too many variables to say definitively.
Wade: Fiction. I'll give them one apiece.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Israel Gutierrez covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Beckley Mason contributes to ESPN.com. Spencer Hall, Robert Silverman and Jared Wade are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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