Wednesday, October 31, 2018
NBALord.com Atlantic Division Preview
Up next in my division preview series is the Atlantic Division, home to the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, and Philadelphia 76ers. This division projects to be the most competitive in the Eastern Conference with three teams that all have a real shot at reaching the NBA Finals.
Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference, I believe the Boston Celtics are the most talented and on top of that, they are the most experienced. Kyrie Irving has won an NBA championship while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both got invaluable experience last year, leading the Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals with Irving and Gordon Hayward sidelined. This Celtics team is really good and are the odds on favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
The biggest challenge for the Celtics will be finding a way to integrate all the talented pieces that they have without messing up the chemistry they developed last year. Specifically, finding minutes for Hayward, Brown, and Tatum since they all play the same position. The Celtics didn't expect Tatum and Brown to burst on the scene like they did and now that they have, they have a bit of a problem on their hands. It's a good problem to have, but one that still needs some sorting out.
I wouldn't be shocked to see the Celtics get out of the gates a little slow, but by the end of the season, Brad Stevens will have things figured out and they'll be right at the top of the Eastern Conference. They have too much depth and talent to not be playing deep into May and possibly June.
Many feel the biggest challenger to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference is the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers have a talented roster of their own consisting of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, and Ben Simmons. Simmons draws comparisons to LeBron James while Embiid draws comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon with a better perimeter game. After years of losing games and racking up high draft picks, the 76ers are back and ready to make a serious run for an NBA title.
The biggest concern for the 76ers is health. Simmons, Embiid, and Fultz have all dealt with serious injuries in the past and it's no guarantee that they stay healthy going forward. Brett Brown needs to do all he can to give these guys as much rest as possible. It's a rather unique situation in that they're pretty young but also vulnerable to injury. Usually it's older teams that are more worried about the injury bug.
In regards to their championship chances, I think these guys are a couple years away from being serious title contenders, but the Eastern Conference is up for grabs with LeBron James going to Los Angeles. If they are able to survive the grind of an 82 game season and stay healthy, they will once again make a deep run in the playoffs. They're simply too talented not to with all the pieces they have.
The Toronto Raptors have a new identity after trading DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Pöltl to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Raptors have had a lot of success in the regular season, but they have failed to do much in the playoffs. Their front office felt a big change was needed and so they rolled the dice on Leonard, who they only have as a one-year rental.
With Leonard as their top player, I do expect the Raptors to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. Leonard has an NBA Finals MVP under his belt and knows what it takes to win a championship. The Raptors needed somebody to show them the way and there's no reason to doubt Leonard's abilities.
Like any contender, staying healthy is the biggest key for this Raptors team. Leonard missed nearly all of last season due to a quadriceps injury and was never able to get into a rhythm. The Raptors need him to stay healthy if they are to have any chance at winning a title.
Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, and Danny Green form a really nice core around Leonard. Even though those guys weren't able to get over the hump, they're still really good. If Leonard is able to stay healthy and be the superstar this team needs him to be, don't be shocked to see the Raptors in the NBA Finals.
The New York Knicks are led by shooting guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is averaging 24.4 points per game so far this season and power forward Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a torn ACL. So long as Porzingis remains out without a firm return date, it's going to be a long season in New York. Even with him, they don't have a ton of talent, but without him, they really don't have much to lean on.
One bright spot for the Knicks early on this year is rookie forward Allonzo Trier, who is averaging 8.6 points per game. Trier went undrafted out of Arizona, so it has been a real surprise to see him producing like he has. If he continues on playing like he is, he not only will have a permanent spot on the team, he'll also be commanding a lot more money next year, similar to Wesley Matthews, Jr. after his breakout rookie season with the Utah Jazz.
For the Knicks, this year is all about player development and figuring out who belongs on their team for the long-term. Enes Kanter will be an interesting player to keep an eye on as he is very talented but also comes with some baggage. If he can get along with head coach David Fizdale and accept whatever role is given to him, he could be a nice piece for this team going forward.
The frustrating thing for Knicks fans is that their team is forever in a state of "development" without actually yielding any fruit. Hopefully for them things will be different in the near future, but as far as this season is concerned, it's going to be another rebuilding type of situation whether they like it or not.
Similar to their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets are also in a state of rebuilding and figuring out an identity. D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert are doing an admirable job of leading this team for being so young. LeVert in particular as he is having a breakout season, averaging 18.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game.
For the Nets, what they need to hope for is that this young trio can mature and grow into something special. As an extension of that, they need to hope they can find the right pieces to put around them to help make that happen. It's going to be a long season in Brooklyn in terms of wins and losses, but hopefully for them they'll start to figure out an identity and get a feel for who belongs on their team for the long-term.
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