This upcoming season should be an exciting season for the teams that reside in the Atlantic Division. From top to bottom I think this will be the tightest division in the NBA. The win difference between first and fourth place may be at the most eight wins.
The aging Boston Celtics are hoping to stay on top of the division and make a final chase at the NBA title while the New York Knicks attempt to continue their ascent up the Eastern Conference standings. The Brooklyn Nets made some big splash signings in honor of their move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Also the Philadelphia 76ers made a big move as well trading for Andrew Bynum, hoping he could take the Sixers to the next level. The Toronto Raptors are a team with no identity and will most likely be the basement dweller in this highly competitive division. Now here are my predictions.
First Place: Boston Celtics
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
After last year how could this aging Celtics team have anything left in the tank? Both Garnett and Pierce are getting up there in age so how will they be able to even repeat their success of last year? It’s quite simple actually, the young backcourt tandem of Rondo and Bradley. When Ray Allen was hobbled last season Bradley stepped up and put the NBA on notice, he’s ready to be a contributor to the Celtics. Before he was injured in the playoffs, he made the old Celtics look like a team poised to ruin the NBA title dreams of the Miami Heat. I think that Bradley takes an even bigger step then he took last year and becomes a big threat in the Atlantic Division.
Rondo is a huge reason why the Celtics will stay atop the Atlantic. He’s one of the elite point guards in the NBA. It’s no longer the big three in Boston, it’s now Rondo’s team and if he goes so will the Celtics. Don’t get me wrong, Garnett and Pierce are both a HUGE part of this team but due to their advanced age and judging by how head coach Doc Rivers managed their minutes last year, I don’t see them as the stars of the team. However, KG is still the heart and soul of this team and is still a huge presence on the floor and his health will be a huge factor in the Celtics title hopes. Also, Pierce is still a legit scoring threat and one of the most clutch players in the game. This season could be the last shot for the core of this team to win another NBA title, but I still view them as one of the few that can challenge the Heat from winning back-to-back titles.
Key Bench players: Jason Terry, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger.
All of these players are new editions to the Celtics roster (Green didn’t play last season). I love the signing of Jason Terry because he is a lethal scoring threat off the bench and provides a go-to option for the second unit. Green can do a little of everything and is extremely versatile on the defensive end. However, he’s coming off major heart surgery that required him to miss all of last season. He should be eased back into things but expect him to have a major role when the season is in full swing. Both Lee and Sullinger provide the depth, along with Green and Terry, which the older Celtics need. Sullinger is an interesting player off the bench for the Celtics but I think he will take on a similar role that Glen “Big Baby” Davis occupied during his tenure in Boston.
Team MVP: Rajon Rondo
Rondo is in his prime as a basketball player and this season should be the season he truly takes over the Celtics. He’s one of the best ball handlers and passers in the NBA today, however in order to become an elite player he needs to become a consistent offensive threat and this season should be the season for him. If Rondo takes it to the next level this season he should carry this team to an Atlantic Division title and deep into the playoffs.
This is it for the core players of the Boston Celtics. All of the teams below them that they have beat up on for the last few years are now becoming big threats to their Atlantic Division title of “Head Honcho.” It’s now or never for this team to get it done and win another title. If they don’t succeed expect some big changes in Beantown because this team may be headed for an overhaul next season.
Second Place: New York Knicks
PG: Raymond Felton
SG: J.R Smith
SF: Carmelo Anthony
PF: Amar’e Stoudemire
C: Tyson Chandler
The Knicks have made major changes each of the last three offseasons with the hopes of becoming an elite NBA team. They have made the playoffs the last two seasons and finally relevant again in the NBA. However, the Knicks exited the playoffs in the first round the last two seasons. This season they made a change at point guard, bringing in Felton who was with the Knicks two years ago and put up quality numbers. Head coach Mike Woodson hopes to get similar production out of Felton this season. J.R. Smith was re-signed this off-season after opting out of his two year deal with the Knicks. He’s starting at shooting guard for the time being with Iman Shumpert and Ronnie Brewer coming back from knee injuries. Smith is a streaky shooter, but if he catches fire can carry an offense for long stretches of a game.
The fate of the team rests on the core of the Knicks team, Melo, Stat and Chandler. Melo looked great in the Summer Olympics and the Knicks are hoping he can build off his performance in the games. He is the main guy on offense and towards the end of the season found his offensive groove. However, he needs to find it sooner or else it will be another up and down season for the Knicks. Now for Stat, this could be his last season with the Knicks. His play last season was awful and there is no better way to put it. It could just be him and Melo can’t both play together and succeed. If Stat can get back to the form he had before Melo arrived the Knicks will be hard to stop, if not, look for Stat to be dealt at the deadline. Tyson Chandler is the reigning defensive POY and is the heart of this Knicks defense. Look for the overall team defense with a full training camp and preseason under coach Mike Woodson.
Key Bench players: Jason Kidd, Iman Shumpert, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, and Steve Novak
The Knicks got exactly what they were looking for this off-season, quality depth at each position. Jason Kidd isn’t what he used to be but he will have the ability to make this second unit better offensively and is a leader on and off the court. Shumpert and Brewer are athletic twos who are coming off injuries. Look for them to play big minutes upon return because of their great defense. Marcus Camby is in his second go-round with the Knicks and will provide a huge help to Chandler. He’s still a fierce defender, shot blocker and rebounder off the bench. Steve Novak is back, he led the league in three-point percentage last season and he will continue to make it rain coming off the bench.
Team MVP: Carmelo Anthony
This is Carmelo’s 10th season in the league and he has only been out of the first round once. It is his time to take his game and team to another level. He needs to have an NBA MVP type season to help carry the Knicks to that elite level in order for the Knicks to compete for an NBA title. Melo is one of the top 10 players in the game; he is too talented to not be able to get his team past the first round. Expect a huge year out of Melo.
The time is now for the Knicks to take the leap from playoff team to championship contender. First things first they have to finally get past the top dog Celtics. There’s no excuse for the Knicks if they don’t take it to the next level, they simply have too much talent, depth and experience to not get it done. If the Knicks play to the best of their abilities, expect them to overtake the Celtics and make an appearance in the conference finals against the Heat.
Third Place: Philadelphia 76ers
PG: Jrue Holliday
SG: Jason Richardson
SF: Evan Turner
PF: Spencer Hawes
C: Andrew Bynum
The starting lineup looks a lot different compared to last year. The 76ers parted ways with Elton Brand, Louis Williams and traded away Mr. Everything Andre Iguodala, in order to get Andrew Bynum. They have a whole new identity now with Bynum in the middle. Last season they used a bunch of good role players to reach the playoffs and advanced into the second round, taking down the No. 1 seeded Chicago Bulls in the process.
Losing Iguodala could have a huge impact because he does everything well and was the leader of this team. Also losing Williams was pretty big as well, he was the sixth man coming off the bench but was the leading scorer on their team. Now they have a legitimate superstar in Bynum along with two very good, young role players in Holliday and Turner. With opposing teams focusing on Bynum I think they both will benefit. Richardson should be able to get open looks with opposing teams double-teaming Bynum in the low post.
Key Bench Players: Thaddeus Young, Nick Young, Kwame Brown and Dorell Wright
The bench took a serious hit losing Williams due to the fact he was a proven scorer. However, they did a good job replacing him with another good scorer in Nick Young. They also added sharpshooter Dorell Wright, who struggled last season in a starting role. If he can return to his form of two seasons ago this bench becomes significantly better. Thaddeus Young is their sixth man and one of the better players on their team. He fits in at the small or power forward and does a lot of intangible things to make the team better.
Team MVP: Andrew Bynum
Bynum is no question the star of this 76ers team. Last season was his best season as pro, averaging 20.5 PPG and 11.5 RPG and those monster stats were all under the shadow of Pau Gasol. Throughout his career Bynum has been labeled as a guy with a low motor and a clown. I look for him to have a bigger year than last year and stepping up as the star and leader of a young talented Sixer team.
As I mentioned before the 76ers were a good team last season, defeating the Bulls and advancing to the second round. However, they are a new team this season and with the addition of Bynum they are a serious threat in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. This team is young and talented, but I think it will take some time getting used to each other. They are built for the long haul and while I think they will contend this season, they will probably be much better next season and will be a team to be wrecking with for years to come.
Fourth Place: Brooklyn Nets
PG: Deron Williams
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Gerald Wallace
PF: Kris Humphries
C: Brook Lopez
The Nets have moved from New Jersey to a $1 billon new arena in Brooklyn, New York. With the change of scenery for the Nets they also made some big changes with the starting five. They were considered to be the front-runners in the Howard sweepstakes from the moment he wanted out of Orlando. However, the Nets went a different route in order to keep star point guard Deron Williams; they traded for shooting guard Joe Johnson and re-signed Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. By doing that, they eliminated themselves from Howard contention. They also re-signed Brook Lopez to a 4 year $56 million deal.
I believe the Nets did an incredibly smart thing by not trading for Howard, what they would have given up would have decreased there depth even more. Instead of adding one superstar they managed to add a star in Johnson, keep a top three point guard in Williams and re-sign quality front court players Humphries, Wallace and Lopez. The starting five is one of the best in the entire league. With Williams still running the point he should be able to help the rest of the starting five together.
Key Bench Players: MarShon Brooks, Reggie Evans, and C.J. Watson
This is the thing holding the Nets back from being a legitimate championship contender. They simply have no depth, which will put a tremendous burden on the starting five. Brooks is a quality scorer off the bench but has his times where he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Reggie Evans provides experience and toughness on the interior but provides absolutely nothing for the Nets on offense off the bench. Watson did a nice job filling in for Derek Rose throughout last year and will be a solid option off the bench. He’s good enough to give Williams much needed rest so he will remain fresh throughout the season.
Team MVP: Brook Lopez
Lopez was the most talked about player on the Nets last season, but for the wrong reasons. He was frequently brought up in the trade rumors for Howard. However, the Nets decided to stick with Lopez re-signing him to a big max contract. He is a lot better for the Nets then Howard simply because he is a legitimate offensive weapon. He is the key to the Nets playoff hopes. He was injured just about all of last season but prior to that he averaged 17.6 PPG and 7.5 RPG throughout his career. I expect Lopez to take a big step in his progression as a player this season with all of the talent around him. He should become a 20/10 player this season and lead the Nets to the playoffs.
The Nets spent a lot of money with the move to Brooklyn and to bring in quality talent in order to become a contender immediately. However, their lack of depth will probably be their Achilles heel. They have one of the elite starting five’s in the NBA and have a superstar in Deron Williams leading the way.
The Nets could possibly win the Atlantic Division but the starting five will have to mesh quickly and they will be racking up a lot of minutes along the way. If they are able to be a top team in the Atlantic and Eastern Conference, I see fatigue slowing them down towards the end of the year leading to this fourth place finish. They should still make the playoffs but like I said, fatigue for the starting five should hinder their ability to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Fifth place: Toronto Raptors
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Landry Fields
SF: DeMar Derozan
PF: Andrea Bargnani
C: Jonas Valanciunas
The Toronto Raptors are an extremely young team this season, with an average age of their starters of 23.8 years old. Although they are young they are not inexperienced. However, there are a lot of new faces in this Raptors starting lineup so it’s hard to see what their identity is.
Trading for Lowry was big for the future and while Fields didn’t have a great sophomore season with the Knicks, shooting 26 percent from 3-point range and averaging 8.8 PPG. He’s still a decent 2-guard who still needs time to grow as an NBA starter and Toronto has faith in him, signing him to a 3 year $20 million deal.
DeMar DeRozan is a former lottery pick of the Raptors and has struggled to find his identity as a player in the NBA. He’s only 23 years old but has been in the league for several years, the Raptors are hoping DeRozan can take his offensive game to the next level, especially on the perimeter. Bargnani is a former No.1 overall pick of the Raptors who missed more than half of the games last season and is struggling to live up to the No. 1 pick status. Valanciunas is the baby of the group, only 20 years old. He’s seven footer out of Lithuania. He was drafted in last year’s draft and has decided to come over to the U.S. this season. It’ll be interesting to see how the big man transitions from overseas to the NBA this season, but he has the skill set and size to become a threat for the Raptors.
Key Bench Players: Terrance Ross, Jose Calderon, and Linas Kleiza
The Raptors don’t have a lot of depth. Terrance Ross is their latest lottery pick, selected eighth in the 2012 draft. He’s a lethal three-point shooter but some consider him being selected No. 8 a reach for the Raptors. He should provide instant offense for the Raptors off the bench if he can knock down three’s. Calderon is their best option off the bench; he was the starting point guard last season. He could be a starter on a few NBA teams and expect him to see a lot of minutes this season even though he won’t be starting. Kleiza is a good player coming off the bench, averaging about 10 PPG for the Raptors over the last two seasons.
Team MVP: Andrea Bargnani
Last season Bargnani looked good in the time he was able to stay on the court, which wasn’t often (missed 35 of 66 games). If he can stay healthy this season he is the key to the Raptors success. The Raptors are a young team in need of a superstar and Bargnani has the skills to be that star. If Bargnani can stay healthy I predict he has a monster year because he is a mismatch for opposing teams.
The Raptors aren’t rebuilding but they are at the same time. They have some proven NBA talents who could help them have a good year and possibly push for the eighth seed in the Easter Conference. However, they do have some young players who will need time to develop before they can be serious contributors. There is a small possibility for them to be a surprise playoff team but I don’t see it just yet especially with how good of a division they play in. They will be the basement dwellers of the Atlantic Division this season and will be on track for yet another lottery pick.