NBA Season Outlook: Atlantic Division

Melcolm RuffinContributor IIAugust 24, 2010

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Boston Celtics

Projected Lineup:
PG- Rajon Rondo
SG- Ray Allen
SF- Paul Pierce
PF- Kevin Garnett
C- Shaquille O'Neal

Key Reserves: Nate Robinson, Glenn Davis, Jermaine O’Neal

Season Outlook:

Everyone wanted to call this team done last season - only winning 50 regular season games and barely finishing above .500 in their last 30 games- but the playoffs brought a resurgence of this team. Fighting their way to the NBA Finals, they epitomized the “playoff team,” a team of wiley veterans who caught their second wind during the playoffs. But, clearly Danny Ainge saw that the team needed some fresh legs to make it through the regular season and their 2nd team should be better because of it. Considering last year’s playoff run, Coach Rivers will likely preserve the most important players (other than Rondo) even more to limit the chances of crucial injuries. Quality play from Nate Robinson, Big Baby and the rest of the bench will be essential, as it allows the starters to rest for the post season.

The Big 3 has truly shown their age. KG’s game has been exposed, as it relies much more on his dwindling athleticism than most observers would have guessed. And coming off a knee injury, we can expect his minutes and overall effectiveness to diminish. That being said, an old KG can still dominate games, and we should expect some quality games from him. Paul Pierce seems to be playing at the highest, most consistent level and his ability to run ISO plays and make big shots will continue to be a focal point of this team. The Celts should be weary though, as his age is still a factor and an injury would be devastating. Finally, some fans/analysts are beginning to question Ray Allen following his struggles in the playoffs. While still capable of single handedly winning a game, we saw a lot of inconsistency out of him. Ray will have to find some consistent level to play at, otherwise his streakiness will really hurt the team.

The overall expectations of the Celts are oddly mixed; we expect them to do worse in the regular season, as they will protect their older vets and rely on their bench, but at the same time, we expect them to do well in the post season. I feel their season will completely depend on what injuries occur to their starters and key reserves, but also, how Doc Rivers deals with the injuries.The Celts should live and die by Rajon Rondo. We saw the growth of Rondo during the season, solidifying his moniker as a playmaker. But, at the same time, he took control of this team and it will depend on him to make plays and be a good floor general. FIBA play should give him even more experience, and confidence, to run a team of stars, but his shooting weaknesses will remain. We saw the Lakers give him free reign outside the free throw line, due to his inability to shoot the midrange shot well. It appears that the Celtics will once again rely on the jumpshot and pushing the ball off of defensive stops.

New York Knicks

Projected Lineup:
PG- Raymond Felton
SG- Wilson Chandler
SF- Danilo Gallanari
PF- Amare Stoudemire
C- Ronny Turiaf

Key Reserves: Anthony Randolph. Kelenna Azubuike, Toney Douglas

Season Outlook:

Amar'e Stoudemire

Amar'e Stoudemire - New York Knicks's PF/C

Knicks fans can finally rejoice as they have a consistent playoff team. Their ability to advance in the playoffs is suspect, but the label of laughing stock of the Eastern Conference has been removed. They did miss out on the Lebronstravaganza, but Amare was a good consolation prize for this team. Amare can bring some much needed explosiveness to this team and a transition player that strives in an uptempo system. Stoudemire is fully embracing his opportunity to be “The Man” in the biggest market in the U.S., and he’ll be looking to prove the naysayers wrong that claimed playing alongside Steve Nash has made him an All-Star player rather than his own talent. In general, we should expect much a bigger interior presence with the additions of Amare, Turiaf, and Randolph.

Their second biggest addition was Raymond Felton. A more than capable offensive replacement for the departed Chris Duhon, Felton excels in the pick and roll and the transition game. He will most likely have career high point and assist totals in D’Antoni’s system, given the increased attention to Amare. Teams will be more inclined to double Amare as he rolls to the basket, giving Felton some room to work whether he decides to drive or shoot the pull up jumper. Felton is known as a streaky shooter but overall he should fit well with the current Knicks squad.

One of the major bright spots from last season was the quality of play from the Knicks wing players, Gallinari and Chandler. Gallo quickly became revered by Knicks fans, shooting nearly 40% from the 3 on a very high volume, so no one doubts his ability to shoot the ball. However, only shooting 42% overall with over 11 attempts a game, his shot selection will need to improve to make any gains in his offense. Still, he is a promising scorer and should continue to develop this season. Their other important piece was Chandler. A long, strong, finisher Chandler brings toughness to a team in need of it and doesn’t mind mixing it up with the big boys. With his length, he can effectively guard the 2-4 positions and come up with timely blocks.

Anthony Randolph has finally escaped Golden State! This extremely versatile forward out of LSU has been on the radar to “break out” since his rookie season. Randolph will probably start off slow with the Knicks, but he is one of the most intriguing young talents in the league and D’Antoni’s system should absolutely bring the best out of him.

After completely dismantling their team in the last few seasons for the summer of 2010, they didn’t hit the home run they were hoping for but managed to assemble a much better team from last year. They have a combination of some promising young talent and experienced veterans.

Toronto Raptors

Project Lineup:

PG- Jarrett Jack
SG- Demar Derozan
SF- Linas Kleiza
PF- Amir Johnson
C- Andrea Bargnani

Key Reserves: Jose Calderon, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa

Season Outlook:

This team is defined by its questions. Will Amir Johnson continue to develop; how much of Bosh’s productivity can he replace? Who will be the team’s starting point guard? Will Bargs ever learn to rebound? The Raptors had a major upheaval when Bosh left for nothing in return (immediately). Now, we will see what Bryan Colangelo can do as a GM, as he has some good pieces and a major trade exception. Fans shouldn’t expect an excellent season from this team, but can take solace in the development of its younger players. DeMar DeRozan should continue to develop as an athletic wingman/slasher - already an effective finisher and mid-range shooter - he needs to extend his range and improve his ball handling. A hard working and coachable player, fans can get excited about his potential to be the athletic wing of this team, not seen since the departure of Vince Carter.

Linas Kleiza

Linas Kleiza - Toronto Raptors's SF

Kleiza will be a quality addition to this team, especially since he will be replacing the embattled Hedo Turkolgu. Kleiza is a scorer. I think he'll relish an opportunity to be featured on an NBA roster after he was limited by playing behind Carmelo Anthony with the Nuggets. He was All-First Team in the Euroleague and will be very driven to prove that he's a starter in the NBA. With great size for a SF (6’8”, 245 lbs), he is capable of playing both inside and being a shooter on the perimeter, while also driving to the basket fearlessly. His biggest flaw is his lack of quickness, which limits his defensive ability.

Amir Johnson will be asked to step up and play a much bigger role this season. He has only seen limited minutes in his career thus far, but has the physical tools to be a decent player. He is still a bit mechanical in his game, but has been making strides in becoming a more fluid player. An above average athlete, finisher, and ball handler, Johnson seems to be built to work well in pick and roll offenses, but hasn’t shown any aptitude for it yet. Time will tell what Johnson’s role and ultimate ceiling will be, but he has promise. Bargnani, on the other hand, has shown that he is a capable shooter and will probably continue at that pace. A “stretch” 5, he seems to have the mindset and skillset of a prolific shooting SF but trapped in the body of a center. Can shoot the ball anywhere from the floor, but for the most part stays away from the paint and does not post up. In his defense, with Bosh on the floor, Bargnani was never asked to do anything besides shoot so it is to be seen whether he can develop more an offensive repertoire down low.

The team has two major problems to ponder before the season: which point guard do they like more and what kind of defensive commitment they expect from their players? The Raptors don’t necessarily have to do anything with Jack and Calderon, if they are willing to share minutes. But, if either is ultimately unhappy with the situation (which seems to be the case), the Raptors must decide which one fits the offensive identity of the squad. The other point is that most of their major pieces aren’t known for their defense, and while this team looks like it is built to score, averaging a 103 pts a game but giving up 105 pts a game won’t get this team anywhere. Defense is their biggest question mark.

Philadelphia 76ers

Projected Lineup:

PG- Jrue Holiday
SG- Evan Turner
SF- Andre Iguodala
PF- Elton Brand
C- Spencer Hawes

Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Mareese Speights, Thaddeus Young

For a team with so many young, athletic players, it is very telling that no one is excited about the Sixers. A team with the year’s #2 pick is usually celebrated for the new player on their roster, but not many people are talking about Evan Turner. This team has so much uncertainty in its roster, it’s hard to judge exactly where they’ll be this season. That being said, they should improve.

The biggest issue is that they have so many players that can play the 2/3 spots, but have so little talent at the 4/5 spots. Their biggest offseason move was trading Samuel Dalembert’s contract for Andres Nocioini and Spencer Hawes. In effect, they traded their serviceable, defensive center for another SF and a developing center. Nocioni brings toughness to the team, but his skills would most benefit a contender. Hawes comes in as more of a shooter, than anything else. He tends to shy away from the paint but can score in multiple ways from range. Defensively, he is a downgrade from Dalembert, and rebounds significantly less, but, overall he is a risk that could certainly pan out as this team could use more space in the lane for Holiday, Iguodala and Turner to operate in.

Towards the end of the season Jrue Holiday really began to excel at the point guard position, and following his great off season there is no doubt that he’s the 76ers point guard of the present and future. He has really stepped up his game since regaining his confidence (which he even lacked for most of his time at UCLA). Holiday has a very quick first step that allows him to get into the paint easily and he’s gained some consistency on his jumper. This could be a breakout year for him.

Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala - Philadelphia 76ers's SF

The team’s go-to player, Iguodala, will spend the rest of the summer competing Internationally with Team USA; an experience that will undoubtedly help his game and confidence to grow. A lot of people (including us) may question how well Iguodala and Turner will mesh, but ultimately you can’t have too many good basketball players on the court and above all, these two guys are ballers. Shooting guard? Small forward? These guys won’t care and I believe Doug Collins will find a way to allow them to play towards their strengths.

Questions still surround Elton Brand and whether he’ll be able to earn his massive contract. If Brand isn’t playing at a high level will this finally be when Mareese Speights realizes his vast potential, matures, takes better shots, and plays well consistently?

Coach Collins is bringing a fresh look and a lot of energy to the team. He should be able to get the most out of this roster. Collins’ basketball knowledge and hands on approach seems like it will work well for this young team. The 76ers are young but with expectations low they could easily overachieve this year.

New Jersey Nets

Projected Lineup:

PG- Devin Harris
SG- Terrence Williams
SF- Travis Outlaw
PF- Troy Murphy
C- Brook Lopez

Key Reserves: Jordan Farmar, Derrick Favors, Anthony Morrow

Season Outlook:

Mikhail Prokhorov’s acquisition of the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets started a tidal wave of speculation. This suave, intelligent Russian billionaire took the sports world by storm, especially Bill Simmons, by promising to turn a historically bad team into a champion within five years. In a series of calculated interviews, he managed to convince us that he was completely in control of this team and we dreamed of what the Nets could do. Yet, like everyone else, their LeBron dreams went up in smoke.

Terrence Williams

Terrence Williams - New Jersey Nets's SG

The biggest question for this lineup is who starts at the SG position? Neither Anthony Morrow or Terrence Williams has shown enough finish to outright win the position, yet. But, regardless of who starts, both will see a lot of minutes. Anthony Morrow made his name on the Warriors, shooting an outrageous 46% from the 3, on almost 5 attempts a game. Granted almost half his shots were 3’s, he has shown he can shoot. Period. Now, Morrow must show he’s more than just a shooter, which is why I think Williams will start in the beginning of the season. Williams showed he is a much more capable ball-handler and finisher around the rim, during this year’s summer league. In addition, he showed that he is a respectable shooter, from the midrange and the 3. While still pretty raw, he has shown his abilities to be a multi-faceted player already, his role on this year’s team needs to be further defined though.

The team’s most expensive signing, Travis Outlaw, will now get the chance to start on this team. A good rotational player through his career, he has never really been asked to start (32 starts in his 7 year career) and play at a high level consistently. Another high percentage 3-pt shooter, he will probably be asked to focus on his midrange game and further his abilities to catch and shoot the ball.

The addition of Troy Murphy allows the team to develop Derrick Favors at a healthy pace, and if Favors exceeds expectations then the team has no alliance or long-term commitment to Murphy. Plus, in the mean time, this “stretch 4” compliments Brook Lopez well. The Nets’ emerging center will be able to totally control the paint offensively and defensively. Lopez could even help cover up some of Murphy’s defensive deficiencies. With so much outside shooting at the wings and from the 4, the biggest beneficiaries will be Harris and Lopez. They will have a lot of space to run any pick and roll plays they want, plus Harris will be able to penetrate into the lane at will.

This team should quickly rebound from such a horrid season and a 15-20 game turnaround is within reason. In the long-term, the Nets stand to have 20million in cap space next summer. A more successful season could pay off in increased marketability to ticketbuyers and free agents before the move to Brooklyn.


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