Now that the 2012 NBA offseason is winding down, the Atlantic Division is now possibly the toughest division in the league today. After a very active summer from every team in the division–adding pieces and making big re-signings–each team is even better than they were last season.
Kicking things off, you have the older but still very talented Boston Celtics, who despite losing Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, look even better now after signing both Courtney Lee and Jason Terry. The Brooklyn Nets now look like playoff contenders after signing Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to hefty extensions and resigning Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. In Philly, the 76ers had easily the steal of the summer by adding All-Star center Andrew Bynum and shooters in Nick Young, Jason Richardson, and Dorell Wright. Even the Toronto Raptors are now showing promise with the additions of Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields.
The New York Knicks had a successful summer as well, adding Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd along with defensive pieces in Ronnie Brewer, Kurt Thomas, and Marcus Camby. Still it’s a pretty safe bet that the Celtics will win the Atlantic Division crown once again, but if the playoffs started today, it is very likely the Knicks and 76ers would find themselves against one another. Here I give my take on who has an advantage at every position if these two hungry teams clashed.
Raymond Felton/Jason Kidd/Pablo Prigioni vs. Jrue Holiday / Royal Ivey / Maalik Wayns
Jrue Holiday is already one of the better point guards in the league and surprisingly at only 22 years old, still has tons of upside. This year at the very minimum, Holiday will register another solid season for 76ers or make the next step toward superstardom. Royal Ivey is a solid defensive combo guard that can play serviceable minutes and Maalik Wayns can be something special for the 76ers down the road with scoring ability and leadership.
Now that Raymond Felton is back with the Knicks, he will certainly like to pick up where he left off two years ago, where he had an All-Star caliber season under Mike D’Antoni. Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni are both seasoned veterans that know how to run an offense and will both provide leadership and mentoring to their team.
Although, the 76ers have the best point guard in this group in Holiday, the collective experience and resume of the Knicks’ point guards give them the edge here.
Ronnie Brewer/J.R. Smith/ Iman Shumpert vs. Jason Richardson / Nick Young
J.R. Smith and Nick Young practically cancel out each other with their respective roles for their teams. Both can light up the scoreboard and inconsistent on the defensive end, but Smith is definitely a better defender when willing.
Jason Richardson use to be “the guy” back in the day for the Warriors, but his high flying days are now numbered. He’s is now more of a long range bomber with the occasional drive to the basket. And because of this the younger Ronnie Brewer and Iman Shumpert will be able to contain him on the perimeter while also scoring on the other end of the floor.
Carmelo Anthony/ Steve Novak/ James White/ Chris Copeland vs. Evan Turner / Thaddeus Young / Dorell Wright
Evan Turner is no doubt the second coming of Andre Iguodala for the 76ers because of his versatility and playmaking skills. While Thaddeus Young has been an absolute workhorse for Philly–on both ends of the floor–and is starting to make a name for himself. Dorell Wright will provide a nice a nice scoring touch and stretch the floor with his long range shooting.
Carmelo Anthony is easily the third best small forward in the league, behind Lebron James and Kevin Durant, but when he catches fire he’s as dangerous as either one of them. Steve Novak was one of the few bright spots at the Garden last season during the Knicks’ struggles because of his lights out shooting from three-point land. The addition of athletic freak James White and promising Chris Copeland will make for great back ups at this spot.
But with all the talent in the world that Carmelo Anthony has, it isn’t enough here with the up and coming forwards in Philly. Young can definitely make it difficult for Anthony to score (although he will still get his 30) but then you still have Evan Turner and Dorell Wright to contend with which the Knicks don’t have suitable subs to do so.
Amar’e Stoudemire/ Kurt Thomas vs. Spencer Hawes / Lavoy Allen / Arnett Moultrie
Spencer Hawes started last season for the 76ers on a mission before going down with an injury. But with the addition of Andrew Bynum we will see him play more of a Pau Gasol role for this team and showcase his versatility. Lavoy Allen showed poise beyond his years going toe to toe with Kevin Garnett in their playoff showdown last season and will look to improve on this. Arnett Moultrie probably won’t see much playing time but can play both forward positions and stretch the floor at 6’11.
Amar’e Stoudemire will no doubt be back to All-Star form after an offseason honing his post moves and new found commitment to defense. And backing him up will be the the very old but still serviceable Kurt Thomas to serve as a defensive anchor.
Despite the depth the Knicks have at this position, Stoudemire will be an unfortunate nightmare for Allen and Hawes with his evolved offensive game.
Tyson Chandler/Marcus Camby vs. Andrew Bynum / Kwame Brown
Andrew Bynum will be using his first year in Philly to stake his claim as the best center in league now that he’s the number one scoring option. Bynum will also see a lot more double (even triple) teams than he is accustomed to but he will adjust to this by passing the ball to his open teammates. Indeed Kwame Brown is one of the biggest bust in NBA draft history, but after a decade in the league he has found his niche and is solid backup center.
With the addition of Marcus Camby and already having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, the Knicks have formed an intimidating rim protecting duo that will make drives to the basket very difficult for opposing teams.
Still, Andrew Bynum is too much of a force down low even for both Chandler and Camby that the 76ers will no doubt use this to their advantage.
Mike Woodson vs. Doug Collins
Both coaches are great with their respective teams and both will definitely trying to establish chemistry with the new pieces they have attained this offseason and will no doubt be trying to move into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. And because of this both coaches still need more time before I could make an assessment on their progress with their teams.
In a seven game series, I would have to pick the Knicks in six games because the veterans, experience, and starpower they have on their team. Also because Andrew Bynum will still be adjusting to being “the guy” on the 76ers and it might take him a year or two for him to really do damage in the playoffs.