2012-13 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division
Here's the Atlantic Division, previewed by Annette Irwin.
Welcome to the Atlantic division, the most competitive in the Eastern Conference from top to bottom with four of five teams vying for the playoffs. Every team has significant new additions: Andrew Bynum (76ers), Jason Terry (Celtics), Joe Johnson (Nets), Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby (Knicks) and Jonas Valančiūnas and Kyle Lowry (Raptors). The Knicks picked up the pieces from the “Linsanity” hangover and have the tools to climb up the Eastern Conference.
The Nets made the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. The 76ers made the biggest splash by trading for Bynum, hoping that he inches the Sixers closer to the top in the conference. The Celtics are not getting younger and their window is closing. Could this be the year the Celtics’ grip on the Atlantic slips? Only time will tell.
1st- Boston Celtics
The Celtics, plain and simple, are the deepest team with the most experience in the Atlantic. They are arguably deeper than last year after the additions of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Darko Milicic, Chris Wilcox and re-addition of Jeff Green. Two of their three key players in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are aging but still have some juice left in the tank. They’ll need to save energy in order to make a deep run in the playoffs.
They still have one of the top point guards in the league in Rajon Rondo, who will run the show once again. Even though they lost clutch three pointer Ray Allen to the Miami Heat, Terry is a similar-skilled replacement. The Celtics had a good draft as well, picking up Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph. While none will be All-Stars, the rookies will provide depth as role players. I expect this Celtics team to win the division and finish in the top three in the East, being the Heat’s biggest threat out of the East.
Why the Celtics Will/Won’t Win: Rajon Rondo. If he can play like an MVP, he can be the difference maker for this team. Rookie Jared Sullinger will struggle in the transition to the pace of the NBA, but he could play a similar role as Glen Davis. He will be a good backup for Garnett and will be huge for rebounding. The key is for the Celtics to stay “young.”
2nd- Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are getting a lot of attention, as they should considering their move to Brooklyn, brand-new stadium and signing of key players. They spent heavily in the offseason in order to put a much better product on the court. After failing to trade for Dwight Howard, they resigned Brook Lopez, a big man with the rare ability to score 20+ points on a nightly basis. Shaquille O’Neal even considers Lopez the second best center in the league behind Bynum (shocking, I know). They made a trade for Joe Johnson, who is a good scorer despite his horrendous contract. They also brought back key defensive starters Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace.
Why Nets Will/Won’t Win: Can Brook Lopez come back healthy enough to continue with his offensive post moves? They have the pieces necessary to fight in the division, but the biggest deal breaker is whether the Nets can “gel” together.
3rd- Philadelphia 76ers
Watch out for the 76ers, who can easily be the biggest surprise in this division. Someone needs to step up as a leader, but making the move for Andrew Bynum was a big one. The combination of his talent and size can be a risk that pays off for the 76ers if he stays healthy (a big if). Bringing in Bynum cost the Sixers Andre Iguodala, but Evan Turner is ready to have a breakout year. Teams will focus on Bynum, opening up Turner and point guard Jrue Holiday on the wing.
Philly added a few good shooters in Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young. Young is streaky, but can provide an instant spark off the bench when his shot is falling. The new additions will open up the inside for Bynum to do work and they will succeed in transition offense, but the glaring issue is whether the Sixers can find the go-to-guy to lead the offense. Barring an injury to Bynum, expect this team to use a Doug Collins-led defense to make some noise and finish in the top five in the East.
Why the 76ers Will/Won’t Win: Andrew Bynum’s health. With a healthy Bynum, the Sixers are a top contender. Without it, things won’t be pretty in Philly.
4th Place- New York Knicks
Knicks are one of those teams I have a hard time believing will live up to their hype. They may be a “popular” choice, but there are still question marks. Critics worry about chemistry and selfishness being issues, and for good reason. The mercurial Carmelo Anthony will be the key to their offense, while Amar’e Stoudemire is not the same explosive player he was prior to his injuries. Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby are two of the best shot-blockers in the league.
Losing Jeremy Lin (“Linsanity”) and Landry Fields won’t hurt them as much as you would think, because veteran additions Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, and Ronnie Brewer can handle duties just fine in the backcourt. The Knicks may be an aging team, but the talent is there. If they can get off to a fast start they can prove the doubters wrong. The Knicks have to defend better and play as a team, otherwise it will be difficult to fend off the rising 76ers and Nets.
5th Place- Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have certainly made improvements to the team, but there is too much competition in this division for them to be legitimate contenders. One thing is certain: this young team will be fun to watch. Some key additions include Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, Terrence Ross and their 2011 first-round pick Jonas Valančiūnas, who many believe is the league’s next stud center.
It is up to Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan to be the leaders this team needs. Bargnani has the offensive skills but needs get tougher on defense. DeRozan is so athletic; he just needs to improve his jump shot to have a bigger impact in the league this year. The combination of DeRozan, Lowry and Bargnani is a solid attack on the offensive side of the ball, but defending will still be an uphill battle. The future looks bright for the Raptors, but this is not the year they become contenders.
Why the Raptors Will/Won't Win: Jonas Valančiūnas. Seven feet tall, the sky is the limit for the Lithuanian rookie. If he can live up to the hype, then the Raptors will be a lot better than expected.
Atlantic Division Player to Watch: Jason Terry.
Keep an eye on the new Celtics guard to replace Ray Allen’s outside shooting. One of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, it will be interesting to see how he transition into a new role in Boston. He is not Allen by any means (well who is?) and can be streaky, but has the ability to provide a huge offensive spark for the Celtics.
Atlantic Division Sleeper to Watch: Arnett Moultrie
The 76ers rookie power forward possesses an underrated pro-style game. At 6-foot-11, Moultrie has the length and abilities to help replace the departed Elton Brand. Although Spencer Hawes may play PF (even though he played center his whole career), Hawes is not very mobile. Moultrie is a more natural PF and possesses rare agility for his size, running the court like a guard. His post moves and basketball IQ needs work, but with experience he could become a steal for the 76ers late in the first round.