Atlantic Division 2016-17 NBA Season Preview

Isaiah Thomas made his first All-Star team last season and is hoping to take the Celtics to the next level in 2016-17.
Isaiah Thomas made his first All-Star team last season and is hoping to take the Celtics to the next level in 2016-17.

The Atlantic Division features two teams that could pose some sort of threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East in the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. The clear toast of the division, the Celtics and Raptors will battle for the division crown.

The other three teams are in various stages of rebuilding and retooling, with the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers all likely lottery teams.

The Knicks could surprise and make a postseason run, but Brooklyn and Philly are locked into developing young talent (or not even in Brooklyn’s case) and are several seasons away from any sort of postseason relevancy.

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(1) Boston Celtics

Odds to win Atlantic Division: -105
Odds to win NBA Title: +1800
Over/Under: 52.5 wins

The Boston Celtics seemingly added the missing piece when it signed Al Horford as a free agent this summer. The veteran and four-time NBA All-Star gives Boston the pick and roll piece to pair with Isaiah Thomas to really put it on teams in half court sets.

Horford is a very good mid-range shooter and can finish well in the paint, and he adds another dimension offensively that Jared Sullinger really did not. By all means, the Celtics upgraded in a major way in the frontcourt. Pairing an underrated rim protector like Amir Johnson with Horford’s defensive skills ensures Boston will once again be a top defensive team.

And it is not as though Boston struggles to score: This is a team that was No. 10 in offensive rating last season while averaging 105.7 points per game, ranking No. 5 in the Association. The Celtics won 48 games but could be poised to up that figure to around ’55’ this season. The next step will be for the team to have some postseason success. Boston has not made it out of the first round in the Brad Stevens era, and its best players is still the 5-foot-9 Thomas.

Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder are all absolute defensive hounds, though, and this is a team that can put the lid on the basket. Expect Boston’s defense to keep it in a series, though it just does not seem to have the offensive star power to hang with the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Thomas and Horford are a great pick and roll combo, but Boston’s lack of isolation scorers may end up hurting when games come down to the wire.

Adding No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown only adds one more weapon when he is ready to be a steady contributor. The Celtics were said to have reached with that pick, but many others believe he can be one of the best in the draft class. Boston is in a luxurious position anyway with the bounty of Nets draft picks, and Brown should prove to be one more talented wing player to load up Boston’s second unit initially.

That said, there is scarcely a team outside of Boston that the Cavs even have to figure are on the radar, so perhaps LBJ and company are already mentally preparing for the grueling nature of a playoff series with this defensively oriented club.

Prediction: 54 wins (over)

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Kyle Lowry is coming off a career year, but will the Raptors disappoint in the postseason again?
Kyle Lowry is coming off a career year, but will the Raptors disappoint in the postseason again?

(2) Toronto Raptors

Odds to win Atlantic Division: +105
Odds to win NBA Title: +4000
Over/Under : 50.5 wins

The Toronto Raptors were a great regular season team in 2016-17, and Toronto did make waves in the postseason finally in reaching the Conference Finals where it lost to the Cavs in six games. Toronto won games 3 and 4, but it proceeded to drop a crucial game 5 on the road before falling badly at home in game 6.

Bismack Biyombo had a huge playoff series and went on to sign with the Orlando Magic, and Toronto will miss his shot blocking and defense off the bench. Jonas Valanciunas is a second-tier quality NBA center, but Toronto really needs all the beef it can keep on its roster. They really need him to function in a Marc Gasol-like role if this team is to make the next step as a contender.

2016 free agent signee DeMarre Carroll disappointed last season, but he remains an elite defender on the wing and is an absolutely vital component when encountering the likes of James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and the various other tough swingmen league-wide.

But can Toronto make the leap from being merely a very good team? Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are legitimate All-Stars, but both have had issues with consistency and showing up in the postseason. At this point, it becomes difficult to imagine this roster really having what it would take to derail Boston in seven games, let alone stack up with the likes of Cleveland. That is not even to mention how Toronto would respond to a big hit from a juggernaut out West, if in some improbable world it did make it out of the East.

This is a team led by a very underrated point guard in Kyle Lowry, who really is one of the best-five at his position. DeRozan at times has looked as though he could make the leap to the next tier of NBA stardom, but his disappearance in the playoffs seems to indicate that will likely never happen.

Valanciunas is a walking double-double, but he seems unlikely to ever become a major top-three option type within an offense. It leaves the Raptors with a good collection of talent and they likely can scratch 48-52 wins on that alone, but does anyone really consider this team a threat to the real powerhouses in either conference?

Prediction: 49 wins (under)

Carmelo Anthony's clock is ticking, but the Knicks are reloaded this year.
Carmelo Anthony’s clock is ticking, but the Knicks are reloaded this year.

(3) New York Knicks

Odds to win Atlantic Division: +1000
Odds to win NBA Title: +5000
Over/Under 38.5 wins

The New York Knicks have too much talent to ignore. Kristaps Porzingis is a once in a generational freak talent who alone makes the Knicks worth watching. He ranked No. 2 in the NBA behind only Kobe Bryant in jersey sales, and remains the big ticket alongside the aging superstar that is Carmelo Anthony.

Add in a controversy-laden Derrick Rose, a deft passing still capable defender in Joakim Noah and an underrated two-way swingman in Courtney Lee. That picture still paints the picture of a team that should play .500 basketball. If Brandon Jennings is the assassin he has appeared to be thus far, that only makes this unconventional mix of talent that much more likely to surprise this season.

But it could just as easily be a train wreck. The players are not responding to the triangle, and Jeff Hornacek is only loosely running it at this point. Phil Jackson knows how to construct a team it is clear, but will the components really work?

Joakim Noah is a couple years removed from playing at a high level, Rose is nothing but a question mark, and Anthony for as good as he is has shown the limitations he has. He is a scoring forward in the mold of many, but clearly not a defining talent to take a team to the Finals. He has never got there.

The Knicks still are a team that cannot get over the hump, is the bottom line. Anthony has not had premier help since he was in Denver with Chauncey Billups, and the time line on his prime days has all but elapsed. He can still score with the best of them, but he chose New York over championship rings. Had he really wanted to chase a title, he could have signed in Chicago and had a much better chance.

That said, the Knicks should still eke out something close to a .500 record this season, and potentially even better if they improbably remain healthy and Rose is free of legal consequences. A best case scenario would be 45 wins and a playoff victory or two in a losing series.

Prediction: 37 wins (under)

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(4) Philadelphia 76ers

Odds to win Atlantic Division: +10000
Odds to win NBA Title: +50000
Over/Under 23.5 wins

The Process is finally yielding results, and of course Sam Hinkie is not around to see it. The Philadelphia 76ers apparently have struck gold at least twice with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but Colangelo will reap the benefits as the new GM, getting the chance to build around two premier young talents both with their own injury concerns.

For Embiid, it was a foot injury that kept him out of his rookie season. Now he is healthy, but he is facing minutes restrictions for at least the first half of the season. The Sixers want to be cautious with a talent they believe can be a franchise cornerstone, but keeping Embiid healthy remains the primary objective. Otherwise, it could just be a case of another Greg Oden. Big men with foot problems are not the safest to project greatness for, but Embiid’s flashes thus far this preseason have indicated he could indeed be a very special NBA center.

Simmons added 33 pounds of muscle and promptly got injured during preseason. He will miss six to eight weeks, but he had looked good prior to going down. It is unclear whether his upside really is on the level of a Blake Griffin or LeBron James, but he should at the minimum be a guy who can make plays and is a quality NBA star. Superstar is where the stretch occurs, but it is too early to make any definitive judgements other than that he has vision and some athleticism that could open the door to greatness. Pairing that with Embiid and one of the best defenders at the 4-spot in Nerlens Noel means Philly could really pose problems.

There is roster balancing to be done. Currently, they really have three centers with Noel (notwithstanding he has played power forward), Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. One is bound to be dealt, and the safest bet may be that it is Okafor. Until the Sixers massage their roster and add some better backcourt players, it is not a group that can really challenge any of the teams in the East. There is a lot of development and growth to occur, but Hinkie did not fail in his tanking. He added a couple premier talents, which is more than the likes of the Orlando Magic who rebuilt over the same span and dealt the closest thing they landed to a star (Victor Oladipo). The rebuild seems as though it might not have failed after all in Philly.

Prediction: 24 wins (over)

(5) Brooklyn Nets

Odds to win Atlantic Division: +10000
Odds to win NBA Title: +50000
Over/Under 20.5 wins

The Brooklyn Nets may have the worst roster in NBA history. Brook Lopez is a quality starting center, but no other player on their team is such on a quality team. Jeremy Lin will be the heavily-relied upon second scorer, and he is a third-guard at best on a good NBA team.

The rest of the roster offers a lot of no-names and guys who are fringe NBA talents. This roster was absolutely set into this years ago when the Nets gave their future to the Boston Celtics for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Now Nets fans have to reap the misery of what Mikhail Prokhorov has wrought.

With Lin and Lopez all playing their (absolute) best ball, this team can avoid the infamy of any all-time losing season records, but it will not be easy. Chris McCullough and Bogan Bogdanovic are starting at the 3/4 spots, and that is not a great proposition from which to operate with some of the frontcourts on legitimate NBA teams. Brooklyn is in for a long season. Lin already missed a layup this preseason that will hang him in the halls of infamy until his next one. The Nets are wasting a pretty cool logo and court on a horrible team.

Prediction: 16 wins (under)

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