NBA Atlantic Division Preview – Derozan, Raptors look for division three-peat….

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DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry make up one of the NBA’s best backcourts. Can they lead the Raptors on a longer playoff run in 2016?

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Toronto Raptors
2. Boston Celtics
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. New York Knicks
5. Philadelphia 76ers

Division MVP –  DeMar Derozan (Raptors)

Best Newcomer – David Lee (Celtics)

 

 

 

It’s not saying much, but the Toronto Raptors (49-33) have owned the Atlantic Division over the last couple of years. Problem is, off the top of my head I can name at least 10 – 12  other NBA teams along with Duke and Kentucky that would also own this division if they played in it. OK. Maybe, Duke and Kentucky are a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea. Things don’t look to be much better this season either for the NBA’s worst division. Which means, barring major injuries the Raptors are a pretty safe bet to take their third straight division crown. Winning the division isn’t enough in Toronto anymore. The Raptors have to take that next step as a rising franchise and advance in the playoffs. They’ve been bounced in the first round the last two seasons by Brooklyn and Washington, respectively. Is the addition of swingman DeMarre Carroll from the Hawks, and guard Cory Joseph from the Spurs, enough to make that happen? Having Carroll’s defensive presence should help leading scorer DeMar Derozan (20.1 ppg). Having a veteran like Joseph that’s used to winning titles come in off the bench should help Kyle Lowry (17 ppg, 6.8 apg). However, the key to this team may be the continued growth of center Jonas Valanciunas (12 ppg, 8.7 rpg.).

Raptors projected Starting 5

SF: DeMarre Carroll
PF: Patrick Patterson / Luis Scola
C:    Jonas Valanciunas
SG: DeMar Derozan
PG: Kyle Lowry

 

Can anyone challenge the Raptors for the Atlantic Division?

Lots of new faces in Beantown led by David Lee could make another Celtics playoff run a real possibility in 2016.

Probably not. But, the Boston Celtics (40-42) were a pleasant surprise last season as they snuck into the playoffs. But, it wasn’t necessarily their talent that did it. It was because of a young team buying in to head coach Brad Stevens, and their way of out-working teams on a nightly basis. The Celtics did add a few veterans led by David Lee (7.9 ppg) to mix in with their youth. Lee, the former Golden State Warrior found Steve Kerr’s bench a lot more than he would have liked in Oakland. So, even though he was ready when called upon in the NBA Finals last season, it was time for a change. The change looks like a good one. Lee’s presence inside will help a team where their strength is definitely on the perimeter. Guards Isaiah Thomas (16.4 ppg), Avery Bradley (13.9 ppg), and Marcus Smart (7.8 ppg) are a good combination along with swingman Evan Turner (9.5 ppg, 5.5 apg). The interior is adequate with Jared Sullinger (13.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Tyler Zeller (10.2 ppg), and Kelly Olynyk (10.3 ppg). It will be interesting to see if rookies Terry Rozier (Louisville), and Jordan Mickey (LSU) will be able to make an impact. Look for the Celtics to be slightly improved, but still struggle to get to .500.

Celtics projected Starting 5

SF  Evan Turner
PF David Lee
C    Kelly Olynyk
SG Avery Bradley
PG Isaiah Thomas

 

The Brooklyn Nets (38-44) have also seen quite a few changes. However, one of those is not center Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young seem like a pretty good fit together in Brooklyn’s frountcourt.

Deron Williams is gone. So, that means this is Jarrett Jack’s team all of a sudden. Jack, has had his moments during his career and has proven to be an important piece for several teams coming off the bench. But, a starting role isn’t anything he’s particularly used to. One player who was thought to be as good as gone is center Brook Lopez (17.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg.). He’s still in Brooklyn and he’s still arguably the best true center in the Eastern Conference. One of the better acquistions during last season was Thaddeus Young (14.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg.) coming over from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Young, gives the Nets that flexible big that’s athletic and also has the ability to stretch the floor. Giving Lopez room to roam down low. Joe Johnson (14.4 ppg) is still the go-to-guy, but he is coming off a sub-par season for him. We all know about his inabilities to produce in the playoffs. But, this is the first time we’ve seen the now 34-year-old not produce at an All-Star level during the regular season in quite some time. That has to change if the Nets are to be at all competitive this season. Look for former Pacers guard Donald Sloan (7.4 ppg) to be a strong acquisition off the bench. Look for the same from former Knick Andrea Bargnani (14.8 ppg). The Nets will go only as far as Lopez and Johnson will take them. Just how far that is remains to be seen.

Nets Projected Starting 5

PF Thaddeus Young
SF Bojan Bogdanovic
C Brook Lopez
SG Joe Johnson
PG Jarrett Jack

Will the New York Knicks (17-65) get things turned around this season in the Big Apple?

 

Can Melo direct the Knicks to the playoffs via the ‘Triangle’?

Would Phil Jackson have taken this job if he knew that the Knicks road to respectability was so long? Who knows. But, going into his second full season as President of Basketball Operations, the road seems no shorter if not longer than it did when he took the job. That’s not to say it’s all his fault, but you would think things would be a bit farther along. While, a healthy Carmelo Anthony (24.2 ppg) could be looked at as a possible solution, but there are three reasons he’s also looked at as a big part of the problem. One. He’s not healthy. Two. He’s not exactly the player that puts team first. Three. His enormous contract, age, and health issues are not attractive to potential trade partners. One thing that will help the Knicks are two nice acquisitions in swing man Arron Afflalo (13.3 ppg) , and center Robin Lopez (9.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg) . Afflalo, should be a good fit next to Melo because he’s not a guy that has to have the ball on his hands at all times to make an impact offensively. Lopez, should be a nice fit inside. Especially, on defense. But, Lopez is a guy that works better next to someone, like he was next to LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland. The Knicks don’t have that guy. It will be interesting to see if Langston Galloway (11.8 ppg) can continue to be the surprise he was last season, and it will also be interesting to see if rookie center Kristaps Porzingis will look like he’s worth that first round selection, and if rookie guard Jerian Grant (Notre Dame) will eventually be able to take over starting point guard duties from Jose Calderon (9.1 ppg, 4.7 apg) .

Knicks Projected Starting 5

PF Lance Thomas
SF Carmelo Anthony
C Brook Lopez
SG Arron Afflalo
PG Jose Calderon

Luckless Philadelphia 76ers (18-64) look for anything Jahlil Okafor can give them in the quest for relevancy.

Jahlil Okafor looks to bring that Duke championship tradition to ‘The City of Brotherly Love’.

It’s hard to imagine things being much worse in Philly. They’re already looked at as one of if not the worst franchise in the NBA. But, to make matters worse they trade away potential star point guard Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) in the middle of last season to the Milwaukee Bucks and they then passed over what looked to be arguably the best two point guards (DeAngelo Russell, and Emmanuel Mudiay) in the draft. The void left by MCW was enormous. Now, there is the news that center and 2014 first-round pick Joel Embiid, will miss a second straight season due to a foot injury. Luckily, power forward Nerlens Noel (9.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) finally made his presence after injuries of his own. Noel, was impressive and gives the Sixers hope. But, who the Sixers place next to him in the paint? That answer appears to be Jahlil Okafor (Duke) at least for the time being. Okafor, obviously has the potential to be a nice back to the basket type player, but he lacks the ability to stretch the floor. Unfortunately, for Sixer fans Okafor may be the only thing they have to look forward to this entire season. Tony Wroten (16.9 ppg, 5.2 apg) has shown to be a nice go-to-guy on the perimeter, but when Isaiah Canaan (9.1 ppg) is your best lead guard the immediate future doesn’t look too bright. Head coach Bret Brown, does appear to be the right man for the job. But, when will their front office ever start making sound roster decisions? Who knows.

Sixers Projected Starting 5

PF Robert Covington
SF  Jerami Grant
C    Nerlens Noel
SG  Tony Wroten
PG  Isaiah Canaan

 

So, there you have it. I think it’s safe to say the next NBA champion will not be coming from this division. But, there are a lot of storylines to keep up with in the NBA’s Atlantic Division. Have a comment? Have a team or player that might surprise in this division? Feel free to leave a comment or follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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