The Previews Of The Roundtable: Atlantic Division
NBA basketball is going to be here before you know it and the staff of Hickory-High
is licking their chops. This is the second installment of our “Previews Of The Roundtable” series where we’ll take you division by division, through some of the things we’re most looking forward to. Monday we looked at the NBA’s Northwest Division
. Today we’re continuing with Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn and Toronto in the NBA’s Atlantic Division.
1. What is the most intriguing storyline in the Atlantic Division?
Ian Levy – @HickoryHigh - The Raptors’ resurgence. There’s plenty to be fascinated with in the Atlantic Division, but I won’t be able to take my eyes off the Raptors. In his first season, Dwyane Casey took them from 30th to 14th in Defensive Efficiency, shaving 8.2 points per 100 possessions off their average. The addition of Kyle Lowry‘s bulldog intensity in the backcourt, Landry Fields‘ and Terrence Ross’ defense on the wings, and Jonas Valanciunas’ relentlessness in the paint makes me think this team could take a giant step forward. I expect them to be fighting for a playoff spot, but either way they’ll be a regular in my League Pass rotation.
Matt Cianfrone – @Matt_Cianfrone - Can Andrew Bynum be trusted as THE guy? There are plenty of questions and story lines in the Atlantic division but the one that intrigues me the most is if Andrew Bynum can be trusted to be the best player on a team with no really clear leader. To me it can go one of two ways – Bynum can relish the opportunity, stay healthy and play better than we have ever seen him before. Or he can get injured, lose focus, and become Eddy Curry 2.0. The fact that Bynum is already going to be missing some time during training camp because of the German witchdoctor knee treatment may answer some of those questions right away. Will he come back in the expected time and play well, or will things drag on for a while? Once he gets back will he be the dominating force he was for the Lakers, even with less talent around him? Things will be very interesting in Philly this year.
Myles Ma – @mylesmannj - The Brooklyn Nets. They’ve got a new stadium, new unis and an expensive new shooting guard. Joe Johnson will eat into the minutes of MarShon Brooks, who showed talent on offense, but nowhere else. The Nets are getting a similar package in Johnson, for 20 times as much money. He had one of his best seasons last year, but still did not come close to earning his pay. Still, he’s an upgrade, and Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, who now also have bonkers contracts, are due for bounce-back seasons. The Nets should be better than they were last year, and owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s money will at least stimulate the local economy. Off the court, I’m curious to see whether Brooklyn hipsters will start wearing jerseys unironically, and whether Jay-Z invites Kanye and Kim to watch Kim’s ex-husband play basketball.
Kyle Soppe – @unSOPable23 - The Nets moving to Brooklyn. This could be a changing of attitude for a team that has missed the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons. They brought in Joe Johnson from Atlanta and will have a healthy Brook Lopez when the season begins this year, giving the city of Brooklyn a reason for optimism. The Nets have quietly improved each of the past 2 seasons, increasing their win percentage by 228% from 2009 to last season. The continued growth of MarShon Brooks is another reason to keep an eye on this team, who should have plenty of support from the home crowd.
Matt Swiman – @MSwiman - The Sixers’ new team. They totally remade their team and it won’t take long to see if it all paid off. Adding Nick Young to replace Lou Williams, has to be seen as a downgrade in the 6th man/scoring spark are. But adding Dorrell Wright and Jason Richardson, two serious three-point threats for Bynum to kick out to when he is double or triple teamed, will end up playing a key role in the Sixers success this season. Also adding tough nosed Kwame Brown to give Bynum a breather now and again should allow the Sixers to keep up their stout defense. Also with the loss of Elton Brand and Iguodala, Thaddeus Young will finally receive more minutes at both the 3 and the 4 spots, minutes which he should have had the past two seasons. The only real thing the Sixers did not do in the offseason is sign a backup point guard, which makes it clear that when Jrue Holiday needs a rest Evan Turner will bring up the ball.
Kris Fenrich – @DancingWithNoah - How big can the collective media’s erection get before it explodes in an ejaculation of millions of squiggly little sperms all over the tri-state area, dressed in Knicks and Nets jerseys, striving in vain for a title they can’t reach?
2. Who will be the top newcomer in the Atlantic Division?
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - Kyle Lowry. Bynum may be the obvious choice, but being a Middlesex County basketball player only a bit younger than Bynum, I had a chance to see plenty of him in high school; an experience which has taught me never to trust him. Instead I go with Lowry. After a rocky ending in Houston, the short but stout Lowry will have something to prove and that’s good news for the Raptors. Before being sidelined by an illness last season, Lowry was doing a little bit of everything for the Rockets scoring 15.9 points, dishing out 7.3 assists and grabbing 5.3 rebounds a game. Those numbers fell when he came back but I expect him to play somewhere around that point this season for the young and improving Raptors.
Myles Ma - @mylesmannj - Andrew Bynum. The 76ers managed to snag Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard fiasco, only because Orlando hates winning. Bynum is an efficient scorer, rebounder and defender. He also thinks he can shoot threes, has a history of injuries and whines for more shots. I would argue that he deserved more shots than Kobe Bryant, but I am afraid of Kobe Bryant. Luckily, Kobe Bryant doesn’t play in Philadelphia and Bynum should get the looks he wants. We’ll see if his bench meditation routine will catch on among the least zen fanbase in America.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - Jason Terry. Andrew Bynum is the most talented newcomer, but Terry could well be the most valuable addition. He brings championship pedigree in replacing Ray Allen, and figures to fit perfectly into the Celtics’ win-now mentaility. I believe Paul Pierce could regress a bit this season, leaving the door wide open for the dynamic Terry. With Rajon Rondo leading the show, Terry should find himself in a position to produce in a similar fashion for the Celtics as he did for the Mavs. Bynum will produce, but I question his leadership abilities on such a youthful team. Terry’s impact goes far beyond the boxscore, and he should be a great fit in Boston this season.
Matt Swiman - @MSwiman - Andrew Bynum. The Sixers finally get the star big man that they have been looking for. His addition ensures that they will not be harassed on the glass both on the offensive and defensive sides they way they were last season. Also this allows for 7’1″ Spencer Hawes to move to power forward which ultimately should create some interesting matchup problems for opposing teams.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Andrew Bynum. This was a toss up between the Knicks point guards who bring a mix of fatness and old age and Philly’s addition of Bynum. With all respect due to New York’s PGs, Bynum is the selection. Is he a modern version of Moses Malone? Probably not, but in today’s game where guys like Chris Bosh and Kevin Garnett can effectively play center, a man of Bynum’s size and ability will help Sixers fans finally forget about Matt Geiger and Marreese Speights.
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - Jason Terry. Andrew Bynum will get all the attention to start the season, but I’m riding with Terry. Bynum has the potential to push the Sixers from a good team to a very good team. Terry, on the other hand, is the difference between the Celtics being a very good team and a championship caliber team. While Ray Allen brought quiet confidence, Terry brings raucous confidence. Behind that confidence is a much more diverse offensive skill set than the Celtics’ have had off the bench the past few seasons, one that should about invaluable when everything tightens up in the playoffs.
3. Who has the most to prove in the Atlantic Division?
Myles Ma - @mylesmannj - The Celtics shooting guards. Like spurned lovers, the Celtics have talked a lot of garbage about Ray Allen. Despite suffering from injuries, Allen was still one of the best shooters in the league last year. Now he’s on the Heat, and he will be open a lot. The Celtics brought in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to supplement Avery Bradley at shooting guard. Terry’s production has dropped steadily since he was the 2008-09 Sixth Man of the Year. Lee has yet to find his niche in the league. Shoulder surgery will likely prevent Bradley from starting the season. It will be interesting to see whether this trio can back up all the criticism about The Best Three-Point Shooter Ever.
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - The Philadelphia 76ers. I may sound like a one string bango here, but the intangables of Andre Iguodala are going to be difficult for the 76ers to replace. They brought in a star in Andrew Bynum, but will the young center mesh with the abundance of young talent in Philly? Bynum has proven to be a head case at times and is the ultimate risk/reward acquestion. Philadelphia has to prove to me that they made the right move from a lockeroom standpoint, as Iguodala was not only the glue amongst the team, but also a symbol of the city of Philadelphia on the court. Much is being asked of the 24 year old injury prone center, and it’ll be interesting how he reacts to being “the guy” on a roster filled with upside.
Matt Swiman - @MSwiman - Evan Turner. He has to prove that he can fill the shoes of Andre Iguodala, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the basketball.If the Sixers are going to be a top three team in the East, it’s imperative that Turner is successful. We all know Bynum will produce, but there is a giant question mark over Turner.
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - The New York Knicks. This year’s incarnation of the Knicks feels like it has Isiah Thomas‘s fingerprints all over it. Four of their players are 37 or older. Experience is one thing, but asking Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace to be 82-game-plus-playoff contributors is like asking a dog to help you with the crossword puzzle. Why not save a spot for Hakeem Olajuwon while you’re at it? Of course there’s Melo and Amare, but I’m highly skeptical that these two shot lovers can visualize a winning basketball culture that doesn’t include them dominating the scoring. And yet, we’ll still be spoon-fed Knick-themed storylines long after Clyde Frazier is rolling over in his grave.
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - The Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn is buzzing, but buzz alone can’t buy you a playoff spot. The Nets were 23rd and 28th in Offensive and Defensive Efficiency last season. Joe Johnson, a healthy Brook Lopez and an interested Deron Williams will certainly help the offense, but what’s going to generate improvement on the other side of the ball? Once the season actually starts the focus will abruptly shift from new jerseys and new arenas to actually winning basketball games, something the Nets haven’t done a lot of in recent years. They’ll need to prove that they’re not the same struggling team, just wrapped up in a pretty new package.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s late season explosions and Olympic play proved to everyone but Melo, that what has been said about him for years was true. Melo is best as a power forward. Now that he has been teamed up with seemingly every aging veteran available on the market in Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Raymond Felton, and Marcus Camby things will only get tougher. If Melo is serious about winning he will willingly take on more minutes at the four where he can dominate on offensive. If he is more worried about proving that he is best while playing small forward the Knicks will only go as far as his jab step jumpers can take them; not very.
4. Who is the most likely to be moved in the Atlantic Division?
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - Jose Calderon. He almost left Toronto last season, and the addition of Kyle Lowry is far from a vote of confidence from the front office. Calderon just turned 31 and may be a tempting player for a playoff bound team to acquire during the season. He’s a pass first floor general with great vision and strong shooting percentages. In a league where “super teams” are being built around star players, he would serve as the ideal point guard for a team like OKC (if they were willing to move Russell Westbrook to the 2 guard). He can create for others, but the others he has to create for in Toronto don’t give him much to work with. Lowry was brought in to be the PG of the future, making Calderon expendable.
Matt Swiman - @MSwiman - Mike Woodson. When isn’t a New York coach on the hotseat?
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - Amare Stoudemire. I don’t disagree with my colleagues that Jose Calderon will likely be the first to go, but I’m going to speculate that the Knicks will move Stoudemire if they’re struggling as late as the All-Star break. By struggling, I mean seventh or lower in the Eastern Conference. Melo and Amare can hug and be politically correct and talk about how great the other guy is and get mad after losses (that’s what competitive players do, right?), but all the acting in the world won’t matter unless they’re willing to compromise on the court. And it’ll be Amare who gets the boot; because we all know Melo’s the star in NYC (wink, wink).
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - Mike Woodson. I’m just going to put it out there – I think the Knicks will be a disaster this year. Looking at their roster is like trying to make a picture with a pile of pieces from nine different puzzles. With just six returning players there will be almost no continuity to start the season, although that may actually be a good thing. Throw in the pressure of playing for a critical and voracious media, a vocal and frustrated fan base and an inept and intransigent owner, and it’s tough to imagine things magically coming together. As things deteriorate, rightly or wrongly, Woodson will end up taking the blame.
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - Jose Calderon. Considering I think Lowry will be the best newcomer in the division this one was pretty simple. Calderon is an aging veteran on a young team that just traded for a younger and arguably better player at his position. If that doesn’t spell an impending trade I am not sure what does. It may take an injury to a contender’s point guard for the move to happen before the trade deadline but I expect Calderon to find his way onto a team that could use better shooting or second unit playmaking, one that also has an expiring contract or picks to send to Toronto. Or if things go the way they have this offseason, somehow the Lakers land him and a first for Metta World Peace.
Myles Ma - @mylesmannj - Jose Calderon. The Raptors chose their starting point guard when they traded for Kyle Lowry. Most teams don’t have the luxury of having two starting-caliber point guards—the Knicks have zero! Calderon is one of the best passers on the league. I know some teams aren’t into that—the Knicks!—but they might also be interested in his expiring contract.
5. What will be the order of finish in the Atlantic Division?
Matt Swiman - @MSwiman - 1. PHI 2. BOS 3. NYK 4. BKN 5. TOR
Kris Fenrich - @DancingWithNoah - 1. BOS 2. PHI 3. BKN 4. NYK 5. TOR
Ian Levy - @HickoryHigh - 1. BOS 2. PHI 3. TOR 4. BKN 5. NYK
Matt Cianfrone - @Matt_Cianfrone - 1. BKN 2. BOS 3. PHI 4. NYK 5. TOR
Myles Ma - @mylesmannj - 1. PHI 2. NYK 3. BOS 4. BKN 5. TOR
Kyle Soppe - @unSOPable23 - 1. PHI 2. BOS 3. BKN 4. NYK 5. TOR