With the new NBA season around the corner, let’s take a look at each division. We’ll start with the Atlantic Division.
1. Boston Celtics
2. New York Knicks
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. New Jersey Nets
5. Toronto Raptors
Boston Celtics – The Celtics were ousted in the 2011 playoffs by their nemesis LeBron James and co. At times, the Celtics looked old. Shaquille O’Neal was not able to be any sort of factor in the playoffs, Jermaine O’Neal was ineffective, and Kevin Garnett just looked plain old! Maybe the extended lockout will have a positive effect on this team of veterans. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Garnett are 34 years old or older and point guard Rajon Rondo, in this now his 6th season, has still shown a limited offensive game. Power forward Jeff Green has shown glimpses of becoming a solid NBA player, but it’s consistency that makes a solid NBA player.
Player(s) to Watch – Jeff Green: He will be entering his 5th season in the NBA and it’s time to show that he can be a viable replacement for Garnett. Over his career, he has averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds a game. He needs to take his game up another level this season.
Why they will finish 1st in the Atlantic Division – Yes, they are old. Yes, their stars are on the last flame of their careers. Yes, they probably won’t win the title because they are “too old”. But for those reasons, that’s why they will win their division. They are a veteran team, with experience, on the last leg of their careers. They play excellent defense and can still score the basketball. New York is not ready to overtake Boston just yet.
New York Knicks – When they acquired Carmelo Anthony mid-way through last season, New York finally started buzzing again. They made the playoffs for the first time since the ’03-’04 season, but they got shellacked by Boston in the first round, losing the series 4-0. That being said, they have a talented roster that goes beyond Anthony and ’10 free agent Amar’e Stoudemire. They were able to acquire Tyson Chandler in a sign-and-trade, waived point guard Chauncey Billups and signed Mike Bibby to the minimum. They can bring scoring off the bench, led by Toney Douglas and Bill Walker. Both Douglas and Walker showed glimpses in the playoffs. However, I am not impressed with their draft pick. They passed on players like Chris Singleton, Nolan Smith, Kenneth Faried, and Jordan Hamilton to draft Iman Shumpert.
Player(s) to Watch – Toney Douglas, Landry Fields: Like it was noted earlier, Douglas provided glimpses of becoming a starting guard in the NBA last season. He has ability to shoot the three-pointer at a high percentage and he is able to make plays on defense. Fields had a very solid rookie season in the NBA. Most people didn’t know Fields was drafted until they saw him ball on TNT. He posted very solid numbers and should only improve playing with Anthony and Stoudemire.
Why they will finish 2nd in the Atlantic Division – They are not committed to defense like Boston is. They have more explosive players on offense, but their defense is not as stout as it should be. Combine that with the fact that Boston dubbed them in the playoffs last season, and that’s why they will finish second.
Philadelphia 76ers – Everyone thought that the Miami Heat would blow out the 76ers last year in the playoffs. Well, all those people were wrong. Doug Collins did a magnificent job in his first season as coach of the 76ers. Even though they lost the series in five games, the 76ers provided the casual NBA fan with a lot of excitement for the future. This team is has youth, depth and talent. Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Louis Williams, Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes, and Marreese Speights are 27 years old or younger. Holiday came into his own in only his second year in the league, averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game. The 76ers had six players average 10 or more point a game. Even though he is a lot older now, Elton Brand was healthy and effective last season, averaging 15 and 8. This team has an exciting future.
Player(s) to Watch – Evan Turner: The second pick in the 2010 NBA Draft didn’t have the impact that a rookie normally does in his first season. Nonetheless, he played on a team that made it to the NBA playoffs. He figures to play more than 23 minutes a game this season, but with the depth that Philly has, if he doesn’t play well he won’t be playing much.
Why they will finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division – They are still a little too young. They have a lot of nice pieces, but their offense is not as good as New York’s and their defense, while it’s really good, is not as good as Boston’s. This team is one year or one piece away from becoming a legitimate threat to contend for home court in the first round of the playoffs.
New Jersey Nets – For the first time in a long time, the Nets might become relevant. That will only happen if they acquire Dwight Howard. The trade for Deron Williams was a nice addition to compliment Brook Lopez. But besides those two pieces, the Nets are pretty bare. Yes, Kris Humphries had a nice season, but his recent “divorce” could still leave his shell-shocked by the time Christmas rolls around. Providence guard Marshon Brooks proved that he could score in college, so I hope they give this kid a chance at the NBA level. Also, let’s keep in mind that the Nets won 24 games last season, so don’t expect this season to be much different unless they can somehow spark another trade.
Player(s) to Watch – Brook Lopez: Lopez had a breakout season in scoring (20.4 per game). His rebounding numbers were down nearly three rebounds per game (8.7 to 5.9). I look for him to flourish with a full season of playing with D-Will.
Why they will finish 4th in the Atlantic Division – While they wait for Howard to arrive, they will continue to be one of the worst teams in the east. They don’t have as much talent or depth as the top three teams in the Atlantic Division. They are still a few pieces away from becoming a consistent team that can compete year in and year out for a NBA playoff spot.
Toronto Raptors – Well, there isn’t much to say about the Raptors. Their 22-60 record should speak for itself and how sorry of a team we are talking about here. Andrea Bargnani led the team in scoring (21.4 ppg), but he is a soft player. What I am trying to say is this team has no identity. They selected Jonas Valanciunas with the 5th pick in the 2011 draft. The problem with that is that he probably won’t come to Canada for about two more years. Jose Calderon is a nice point guard but who is he going to pass the ball to? Ed Davis? So he can miss another layup? Come on Bryan Colangelo, I expected more from you.
Player(s) to Watch – Jerryd Bayless: I don’t know why you would want to watch anyone of this team, but if you had to watch someone, it would have to be the 4th year guard out of Arizona. Bayless scored as will in college but has yet to be given a chance to show what he can do in the NBA. Since coming to Toronto in a trade last season, he averaged a career high in minutes per game (22.4) and points (10).
Why they will finish 5th in the Atlantic Division – As I explained earlier, this roster is awful. They are a few sensible draft picks and three years away from competing in the Atlantic Division.