Shaping Up the Atlantic Division: Are the 76ers the New Team to Beat?

Jordan SpectorContributor IIIJanuary 15, 2012

Before the season began, the New York Knicks immediately became the topic of conversation in the Atlantic Division. After the addition of Tyson Chandler, the media was abuzz over his arrival. Some believed his presence alone would propel the Knicks to an elite status.

Yet, as the season has begun to unfold, a few surprises have come along the way. 

First of all, nobody expected the Boston Celtics to start their season with a losing record. But as the Celtics' big three are beginning to age, the far more athletic teams have taken full advantage. The loss of Jeff Green definitely appears to be having an impact as well.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have failed to meet their sky high expectations as they currently sit at .500. One of the main reasons for the early disappointment could be attributed to the fact that Tyson Chandler hasn't really impacted the Knicks defense to make a noticeable difference. I would even argue that Iman Shumpert has become the real defensive catalyst this year. 

But what probably has become the biggest surprise to NBA fans, is the notion that the Philadelphia 76ers might be better than both the Knicks and the Celtics.

Perhaps one could argue that it's too early to make this assumption. But it should be kept in mind that there are only 66 games to be played this season, and so far the Sixers have dominated the Atlantic Division. 

With only three losses under his belt, Doug Collins has certainly whipped this team into shape, as the Sixers appear to have a plethora of talent at their disposal. Last year Collins rallied the Sixers from a 3-13 start to the playoffs, and as he continues to do a marvelous job as head coach, the team is only getting better.

Spencer Hawes has been incredible this year, despite dealing with early back problems. Jrue Holiday has also played at a very high level. His most impressive performance came in a win against the Hornets when he hit a trio of three-pointers to ice the game in the fourth. Let's not forget the lift Evan Turner has given off the bench and the tough play exhibited by fan favorite, Thaddeus Young. These are just to name a few of the multiple talents that lie within the Sixers roster.

Any way you put it, this team is undeniably solid. The Sixers’ lack of a superstar is why few people regarded them as a contender in the Atlantic Division. But the coercive and unified play of these young players has proven to be just as effective.

The chemistry is definitely there, and the Sixers are executing extremely well. 

“All things considered, for a season like this our team is kind of built well,” Hawes said. “Across the board we’re relatively young and we’re deep and we’re so balanced and that helps us out because night after night it’s going to be hard for guys to go back-to-back-to-back. It’s going to be hard to count on one guy every night, but when we have so many options and so much depth it gives us an advantage over some of the other teams.”

As the condensed season advances, that depth is going to be the key for Philadelphia as they make a push towards championship contention.

Even though there will likely be a few bumps along the road, the Sixers look primed to become a major force in the East. 

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