1. Toronto Raptors –
Projected Starting 5: PG Kyle Lowery SG DeMar DeRozan SF DeMarre Carroll PF Jared Sullinger C Jonas Valanciunas
Projected Record: 49-33
Last Season’s Thoughts – Toronto is one of those deceptive teams that seem really good, but really aren’t a threat to the great teams. I must admit, I have not respected the DeMar Derozan/Kyle Lowery era in Toronto at all. While both are good players in the NBA, they aren’t winning a championship any time soon. I really thought they were going to get swept in the first round of the playoffs last year, and even though they were good enough to get through the weak Eastern Conference, they were absolutely no match for the Cavaliers. This team has a ceiling, and it is as a good team, not a great team.
This Season’s Prediction – I think this Toronto team will be a little worse than they have been in other years. I think the Eastern Conference has gotten better, which isn’t saying much, but I think they’ll find it harder to win against some of the bottom feeders. I also think they lost enough in the off-season to hurt them at some point in the season.
I think Valanciunas is a very good player, a little injury prone, but he is a player of a different generation. If the game was geared towards big men, I think he’d be very good, but I don’t think they know how to properly use him up north. Adding Jared Sullinger is a good pick up, but I think he is another player for a different era. He is a big banger who can sometimes create a shot, but in today’s NBA the PF has become a nimble, stretch position, and I just don’t see him affecting games enough to put them over the edge this season.
I also think their bench has gotten worse. Losing Bismack Biyombo is going to be big in my opinion, because he was the versatile big that they needed in today’s NBA, and now they have some pretty mediocre back up bigs (Patrick Patterson anybody?), who might get more playing time if Valanciunas goes down.
So once again, they will be at the top end of the Eastern Conference, but they could move up or down a spot depending on their health and their squad depth. Don’t be surprised if Atlanta or Boston over take them this season and if this is the beginning of the end for this team (you heard it here first!).
2. Boston Celtics –
Projected Starting 5: PG Isaiah Thomas SG Avery Bradley SF Jae Crowder PF Amir Johnson C Al Horford
Projected Record: 47-35
Last Season’s Thoughts – This team was garbage.
Sorry, sorry, that was the New Yorker in me, it’s hard for me to compliment any facet of the city of Boston, but I’ll try to give you a proper review now. This team was up and coming, and even a New Yorker had to admit they were doing it the right way, by hiring a coach with a philosophy they like and giving him plenty of time to grow not only as a coach, but to help grow this roster. They had a plethora of draft picks which meant that they could either add more youth or use them as trade leverage, so the future looked bright in Boston.
It’s hard to analyze a team that is undergoing these kinds of changes, but I think they’ve laid a great foundation for the future up in Boston (much to my chagrin). Isaiah Thomas proved that he can put up numbers on a nightly basis, and they have a good foundation with Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, and not to mention their young bench that is on the rise. Boston was a team in transition, so their focus was never on contending for a title last year. Instead, they laid a great foundation for the future, and this past off-season in free agency.
This Season’s Prediction – Okay, so I don’t see Boston being much better than they were last season, but I think they are on the verge of being great in the near future. While I like their starting lineup for it’s offense and defense, except for the Amir Johnson part, I am torn on their bench. They have solid guard and wing bench players, with Marcus Smart, Gerald Green and the #3 overall pick in the 2016 draft, Jaylen Brown. But I don’t love their back up bigs: Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. I see a couple three-pointers from Jerebko every game, but I don’t see those guys giving them any sort of meaning full defense. I also don’t know if they’ve truly figured out how to use Olynyk yet.
What I think is promising for this Boston team though is that they are only one or two pieces away from contending at a high level. If they can get a better starting PF and one more dynamic bench player, I think this is a great team. While I think Toronto could slip up this year, I think the addition of Harford means Boston could rise up a little higher this year. The biggest factors will be just how well they can defend, and how consistent their bench can be.
3. New York Knicks –
Projected Starting 5: PG Derrick Rose SG Courtney Lee SF Carmelo Anthony PF Kristaps Porzingis C Joakim Noah
Projected Record: 41-41
Last Season’s Thoughts – Oh boy, where to begin! I’ll try and keep this review of the Knicks short, but no promises.
Last season was the first glimmer of hope that Knicks fans have had in a while. For a team that has struggled for a long time, it was refreshing to see Phil Jackson try and actually rebuild this team, instead of buying expensive players that just wouldn’t help our team. Tanking for Kristaps was huge, and the Knicks last season seemed to finally be on a track to getting better, which is better than whatever they were doing before that.
The signings of Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo excited Knicks fans because they were hard working, reliable players. That just left our starting back court and bench to renovate, which again, were better than they have been in recent years. Like Boston, last season didn’t mean much, but it was meant to set up the franchise for the future. But unlike Boston, we didn’t have a draft pick, so our improvement would have to come through trades and free agents, which Phil Jackson has been mediocre at handling so far, so Knicks fans were definitely holding their breaths going into the offseason.
This Season’s Prediction – Sorry Knicks fans, but I’m sorry to say our future is still very uncertain. This is a very hard team to call because a lot can happen. All the jokes about this team are well deserved, if this was 2010, we would have a sick team. But sadly the space-time continuum doesn’t work like that, and they don’t hand out trophies retroactively.
The biggest “if” surrounding this team is their health. A healthy, two reconstructed-knees Derrick Rose is a good player, and way better than what the Knicks have had at the PG position for a while. A healthy Joakim Noah is the defensive anchor the Knicks have needed for a long time (and that we had a small piece of last season with Robin Lopez). A healthy Courtney Lee, at this stage of his career, and a healthy and motivated Brandon Jennings, can both be potent supporting cast members. And of course, a healthy Carmelo Anthony means the Knicks have a top tier player on their team who can get buckets whenever he wants (and his hat game is always 💯).
But in reality, this team will probably be injury plagued, and their bench is not strong enough to carry the load while the likes of D. Rose and Joakim sit out for stretches of time. This is a team that will give away silly games one night, and then turn around and beat a top team the next night. I didn’t pull the 41-41 record out of thin air, I genuinely picked game by game for them to be a .500 team, and their season honestly could go either way.
But have faith Knicks fans, we have a draft pick next year, and D. Rose’s contract comes off the books next summer, so we can always regroup if he doesn’t pan out.
4. Brooklyn Nets –
Projected Starting 5: PG Jeremy Lin SG Rondae Hollis-Jeferson SF Bojan Bogdanovic PF Trevor Booker C Brook Lopez
Projected Record: 19-63
Last Season’s Thoughts – If I had to sum up the Brooklyn Nets’ season last year by using only one emoji, I’d have to go with: 😂. Sorry, but the Nets having been emulating the Knicks recently and misery loves company.
This team was still feeling the hangover from the Joe Johnson/Gerald Wallace acquisitions, and the poor play from Deron Williams. Add in an injured Brook Lopez and you get a pretty bad team. This team was a perfect example of when a big-headed owner gets wayyy too involved in the team’s business and subsequently ruins their present team and their future teams.
Prokhorov’s terrible business decisions meant that they were paying Joe Johnson to jack up terrible fade away 3s and for Deron Williams to continue to play as a shadow of his former self. Thankfully for Brooklyn fans, they parted ways with the final two pieces of the terrible puzzle that was the 2015-2016 BK Nets, but the damage had already been done. In Prokhorov’s earlier attempt to jettison Gerald Wallace’s contract to Boston for two skeletons previously known as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets had to sell their future away, giving up their 2016 and 2018 first round picks, and gave the Celtics the ability to swap picks in 2017 (that is the part that Knicks fans just can’t get enough of!). Needless to say, the Nets stunk, and they had finally committed to cleaning house and starting over again.
This Season’s Prediction – Well, it doesn’t get better for the Nets any time soon. Adding Jeremy Lin won’t do much for a team that has no other pieces. Brook Lopez won’t play a full season in Brooklyn, whether it’s because he gets injured or traded, but beyond that, this team is pretty awful. They have some familiar faces, Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, and Trevor Booker, but those players won’t get them above 20 wins. Look for the Nets to be one of the punching bags of the NBA this year.
5. Philadelphia 76ers –
ProjectedStarting 5: PG Jerryd Bayless SG Gerald Henderson SF Ben Simmons PF Jalil Okafor C Nerlens Noel
Last Season’s Thoughts – Do I really have to go there? Actually, my opinion on the 76ers might surprise you.
I think their tanking scheme was a decent idea. Now I’m going to preface that by saying that I only endorse their plan in NBA 2K, not in real life. Every time I play 2K, I tank the team I’m using. I mean sit all the stars, run the team into the ground tanking. But that’s because I can’t be fired, and the fans cannot revolt and burn down my house. Sam Hinkie actually had the cojones to try that in real life! Kudos dude!
So what is there to say about last season? Well, nothing really. Only that they finally came to their sense and fired Hinkie. Jahlil Okafor looks promising though, as long as he can keep the off the court stuff to a minimum.
This Season’s Prediction – All Philly fans should expect this year is a little bit of progress. Sadly, it won’t come in the form of wins, but more in the player development category. A solid season for this team would be a full season from Joel Embiid, whether off the bench or starting, and more experience for Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor.
Simmons will dazzle early and often, but he doesn’t have much to work with. This team won’t be good defensively, and there are just too many holes. They might look promising early on, but I think the losses will start piling up quickly, and they will be swept away in the tide of losing. Also, don’t be surprised if they trade one of their bigmen prospects in order to strengthen their team in another area.
That's it for the Atlantic Division preview! Check back next Friday (Sept. 23) for the Central Division preview!