NBA Preview: Atlantic Division
The Atlantic Division is going to be a two horse race between the two New York teams, the Knicks and the Nets. Both the Celtics and the Sixers are actively trying to lose in preparation for the vaunted 2014 NBA draft, with players such as Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker hopefully coming out. The Raptors are a team in flux that might be able to contend for one of the last three Eastern playoff spots, but it just seems unlikely. Here is a breakdown of the conference team by team.
This is the greatest tanking job anyone has seen in recent memory. The new CBA actually introduced a new concept called the salary floor. Every team must spend a certain amount of money. The Sixers are actually about six million under this floor. If they do not reach this floor by the beginning of the season the 76ers will have to split the difference between the players on their roster. Not only will Jason Richardson receive more money for doing nothing, the entire team has a chance at being overpaid to lose.
Philadelphia is going to struggle to score the basketball. Honestly this should one of the worst scoring teams in the league. The Sixers number one scoring option is going to be Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young. Neither has averaged more than 16 point per game in their careers. Young would probably be the more efficient option but he really has no jump shot to speak of. Everything would have to be around the rim and with Philadelphia already lacking in three point shooters, their opponents will surely pack the paint and force the Sixers to take outside shots. Turner has been disappointing since being the number two pick back in 2010. For Turner to make any sort of leap he must get better at scoring around the rim.
Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel should prove to be average pros, with Noel having the most potential but neither will be very good this year. Carter-Williams should be able to put up average assist numbers, but his turnover rate will be off the charts. Noel will not play until at least Christmas because he is recovering from ACL surgery. The 76ers are attempting to win the lottery to land Andrew Wiggins and they are doing a phenomenal job at being the worst team in the NBA.
Boston will definitely rival the 76ers for the worst offense in the league. This team does not have one player that averaged more than 15 points in his career! Even if Rajon Rondo comes back (and he will probably sit out so the team can be worse) this team is going to struggle. The Celtics couldn’t score with three Hall of Famers with Rondo and now they are supposed to reach 90 points with this mess of a team? There is absolutely no chance that will happen. Boston also has the albatross that is Gerald Wallace’s contract. Danny Ainge will go to great lengths to remove this awful contract and he probably will. Ainge would probably trade Kris Humphrie’s expiring deal paired with Gerald Wallace’s contract for a washing machine.
There is some hope for the future with Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynk in tow but Rondo and Jeff Green are already 27. Green had a couple of phenomenal plays and games last year but he is still an enigma. You never know what type of Green performance you are going to get, a 40 point explosion or an uninspired 4 point 2 rebound game. Rondo is a whole other story. As most of you know Rondo is recovering from ACL surgery. When healthy Rondo is a top 5 point guard in the league. He is unselfish with his passing almost to a fault, a fiery defender and a crafty scorer around the rim. Rondo should be the centerpiece of the Celtic’s future, but Ainge will most definitely be looking into trade options. Ainge wants to bottom out and unless Rondo wants to sit out the entire year, he does not fit into the plans for this year. The Celtics will be very interesting because their opening roster will definitely not look like there April roster, and change is always fun to watch.
The Raptors can be an interesting team this year, but their new GM, Masai Ujiri, should have an eye to the future that does not include Rudy Gay. Toronto has some great potential pieces in Jonas Valanciunas, Terrance Ross and maybe DeMar Derozan if he finds himself a jump shot. Realistically there is no way this team can make any noise in a top heavy Easter Conference. Ujiri should trade Gay for a future first round pick (if he can get one) or some prospects and bottom out this year. Gay is the poster-child for the argument between analytics and old basketball heads. Gay has completely lost his jump shot but can still score around the rim while contributing above average defense. Old Basketball heads love Gay for his ability to create his own shot while bringing good defense but the analytics people do not like him because his horrendous jump shot. To make a long argument short, a player discussed this much should not be making 18 million dollars a year.
You would be hard pressed to find reasons to watch this team other than Valanciunas and the in game dunks from DeRozan and Ross. However, Valanciunas is a great young center with potential to average a double double this year. The 21 year old Lithuanian has great shooting touch and a couple of tricky post moves. Valanciunas has proven to rebound much better than some other centers in the league and once again, he is only 21. The Raptors have to decide their identity before the year starts. Toronto must either bottom out, or ride with their current roster hoping that Kyle Lowry, Gay and DeRozan will make some noise in the playoffs. Ujiri is a smart GM and will bottom out, no team wants to get stuck in no man’s land in basketball and Ujiri knows this.
Brooklyn made by far the biggest splash in the offseason when the Nets acquired both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics. Many people are looking at the Nets to contend for the championship this year. Jason Kidd was also hired to be their head coach. The Nets have many new pieces that have to mesh quickly for them to be considered real title contenders.
Both Garnett and Pierce need to be healthy at the end of year and their minutes should be a focal point of Kidd’s coaching plans. Garnett cannot possibly play longer than 31 minutes a game, or he will break down in April. Pierce’s body might be able to hold up to the season long punishment but Kidd really should not take the chance. Of the other Nets “stars” Deron Williams is by far the biggest question mark. Joe Johnson’s stats will most likely drop but both Pierce and Garnett should pick up the slack. Brooklyn’s bench should also be a strong point with the additions of both Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. Brook Lopez will continue to improve on the offensive side of the ball if he stays healthy, but he must get better at rebounding. Williams is the main question mark because all of the pressure is on him. Williams has never showed that he can lead a team with other dominating personalities far into the playoffs. The Nets are going to have to slow the pace with all of the age on their roster, another thing Williams has never appreciated. How these new pieces meld, and Williams’s deals with them will determine Brooklyn’s place in the Eastern Conference. All eyes are on Williams as the Nets enter their biggest season ever.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are going to have trouble replicating their success from last year and returning to the number two seed. The Pacers should be improved, the Bulls returned Derrick Rose, the Heat have Lebron James and the Nets will be much more competitive. New York countered all of these moves by signing Beno Udrih and Metta World Piece while also trading for Andrea Bargnani. The man formerly referred to as Ron Artest should help on the defensive side but he is a real loose cannon on offense. Udrih allows Woodson to play his two point guard lineups more but other than that, it should not have that big of an impact.
The Bargnani trade is very interesting. Steve Novak was a statue on defense and could not create his own shot, so Bargnani should definitely be an upgrade on both sides of the ball. Bargnani is coming off one of his worst years ever, shooting only 30% from three but he will definitely have many more open looks playing for the Knicks. Bargnani also has a couple of post moves while possessing a good pump fake. The 27 year old Italian’s main issue is rebounding and defense. Honestly, Bargnani cannot possibly be worse than Amar’e Stoudemire and he will definitely play more games, so New York should have high hopes.
The most important player for the Knicks is Iman Shumpert. You know Carmelo Anthony is going to contribute his points and Tyson Chandler will attempt to get everyone to play defense, but Shumpert is a true wild card. Shumpert is the best on ball defender for the Knicks by far, and his offensive game is quickly improving. Shumpert shot 40% from three last year while showing an improved touch around the rim. For Shumpert to make the leap, he needs to develop an off the dribble game. If Shumpert can do that he can be a top five shooting guard in the league with his phenomenal defense already in tow.
The Knicks are an extremely interesting team. They are one of the deepest teams in the league but have two main issues, their defense and rebounding. For the Knicks to make good on their word and compete for the NBA championship, Carmelo Anthony has to learn how to pass and their defense and rebounding must improve. New York is one of the more intriguing teams in the league and will compete with the Brooklyn Nets for the Atlantic Division title.