NBA 2019-20 Atlantic Division Preview and Handicapping, Part I

Atlantic Division Preview 2019-20

The NBA season has arrived, with games due to tip off Oct 22nd, on Tuesday. Bovada has released odds of divisional crowns for the 30 NBA teams, and we are going to handicap that aspect as well as take a quick glance at each team as it enters the 2019-20 season.

There are no over/under for season wins currently available for betting on Bovada, but we are going to predict season win totals for each team in the brief synopses of each of the six divisions in the NBA, beginning with the Atlantic Division and stretching through the remaining five as we near NBA tipoff 2019. This will look at the top-three teams in the division, while Part 2 will focus on the remaining two.

Philadelphia (-160)

The Philadelphia 76ers have one of the strongest starting five units in the Eastern Conference, having moved away from Jimmy Butler (now a member of the Miami Heat) and settled instead with former Miami Heat 2-guard Josh Richardson. He starts the wing opposite of Tobias Harris, an underrated scorer who had yet to really settle in with the Sixers before last year’s postseason (in which Harris struggled somewhat). Al Horford adds a new face and veteran presence, not to mention some depth if Joel Embiid needs a little “load management.”

The second unit is a little less concrete, but Philly will rely on its starters for big minutes, and that begins with the unorthodox point guard that Ben Simmons is. He gives the Sixers starting lineup immense size, with no starter under 6’6” (Richardson). Philadelphia will be very good and present a lot of matchup problems for every opponent nearly. But is Simmons ready to guide a team deep through the hallows of the playoffs? Is he really going to shoot threes this year? Philadelphia is an Eastern Conference contender whether he does or not, and it should run away with the Atlantic division given the second-best team, Toronto, is now in something of a rebuild.

Prediction: 57-25

Toronto (+550)

The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship but were dealt a death blow to its roster when Kawhi Leonard signed with the L.A. Clippers. That turns all the responsibility more or less over to Pascal Siakam, who either at this point emerges as a superstar or misses his best chance to make that leap. Siakam has some glaring flaws in his offensive repertoire, namely a lack of a left hand, but his length and athleticism are so immense he succeeds in spite of these flaws, not because of them.

As to whether he can become a true No. 1 option, Toronto is trying to find out just that, if also because it determines how much money the Raptors will commit to him long-term. Kyle Lowry is now probably on the downhill portion of his career, but he is still a former All-Star starting point guard who anchors a team searching for an identity and number one option. It is not usual territory for a returning champion team, but handicappers agree that Toronto has declined with the loss of Leonard, setting the odds of taking the division behind Boston and behind Philly at +550. It would require a galvanization of talent on the Raptors part, as well as Pascal sliding effortlessly into a much larger role as a team leader. We have to see that happen first.

Prediction: 47-35

Boston (+400)

The Boston Celtics now should, at last, be Jayson Tatum’s team. The opinions on Tatum’s ultimate upside, however, range rather vastly. Some expect Tatum to assume the role of a franchise cornerstone and superstar, while others project him mostly as a complementary talent who needs a No. 1 alpha dog to run with. It is unclear which camp is right at this point, but Tatum is hardly alone on Boston’s now-Kyrie-less roster.

Kemba Walker signed as a free agent, and he can be an alpha No. 1 option in his own right, and he probably will be just that. Tatum can assume a role a shot-making wing player, while the attention and focus of the offense rely on Walker’s creative abilities. Expect Kemba to flourish, largely because he already had been on a much less talented Charlotte Hornets team. Gordon Hayward has also shown many signs of returning to the player he was while with the Utah Jazz, slowing shaking the last rust from a serious injury that held him out the better part of a calendar year.

The biggest issue for Boston may be at the 5-spot, where it will need Enes Kanter to play big minutes unless Robert Williams III is ready sooner, or Daniel Theis is a factor in a bigger way. Williams eventually could be the rim protector Boston needs, while Kanter could provide offensive punch when that is more in demand. Regardless, Boston’s scoring will be saturated by the other four starters, and the Celtics have decent depth at all positions, with Marcus Smart probably being a Sixth Man of the Year contender this season.

Boston is probably a scarier team in the postseason than it is a threat to amass a ton of regular-season wins and take this division, and for as overrated of a coach as Brad Stevens is said to be, he does typically get a good response from his rosters, in terms of translating the talent “on paper” onto the court, as well.

Prediction: 50-32

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