Blog Entry

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Posted on: December 22, 2011 7:20 pm

By Matt Moore

We're less than a week away from the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season. After an interminable lockout and a rushed free agency period, here's a first look division-by-division preview at how the league is shaping up. We finish with the Atlantic Division.

2011 Standings:
Boston Celtics, 56-26, lost second round of Eastern Conference Playoffs to Heat, 4-1
New York Knicks, 42-40, lost first round of Eastern Confernce Playoffs to Celtics, 4-0
Philadelphia 76ers, 41-41, lost first round of Eastern Conference Playoffs to Heat, 4-1
New Jersey Nets, 24-58, NBA Lottery
Toronto Raptors, 22-60, NBA Lottery

Best team: Boston Celtics

One more year. That's what the Celtics get. One more year to rule the roost. The Celtics have one more ride left with this core and then it's a sail off into the sunset while the team tries to figure out how to rebuild around Rajon Rondo. But with the extra time off, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce should be in good shape to make one more run at a title in order to validate themselves as one of the truly great teams of this era. (Pierce is already questionable for Sunday's opener vs. the Knicks.)

Without a second title, the Celtics have to be considered a disappointment. Winning a championship is supposed to validate everything, yet the Celtics were supposed to win multiple titles when the Big 3 formed. Good enough for the rest of the league is not good enough for the Celtics. But injuries and then a slow fade has denied them, as well as improvements in star power for the Heat and Lakers. The Celtics are still a dominant team, built around defense and reliable offensive weaponry. Their veteran experience helps them dismantle younger teams and their toughness helps them outlast weaker, more explosive teams.

But there's no stopping age, and this team is at the end of its run. They've got once chance, with a phenomenally weak bench, tougher competition, and continuing injury issues to try and surprise everyone and go out on top. One more chance to ride off into the sunset. Saddle up.

Worst team: Toronto Raptors

The Nets are hanging above this spot by a thread. A thin thread. A very, very thin thread. They have questions at every position except point guard and coach Avery Johnson has not taken the team by storm. But Deron Williams and the possibility of getting Dwight Howard keeps them out of the bottom.

We know who the Raptors are. They don't rebound. They don't defend. They struggle with toughness. They don't have a star. They don't have any complete offensive players. But there's reason to believe they might shake this bottom spot. Dwane Casey comes from Dallas with a determination to change the culture defensively. DeMar DeRozan has the chance to take the next step. Ed Davis looks like a beast in the making. There are good players on this roster. Unfortunately, everything hinges on everyone's least favorite Raptor, Andrea Bargnani. The fans are done with Bargnani for his lack of defense and rebounding. Unless he comes out dominant in the paint, he'll continue to be the object of scorn. With no real center on the roster (Jamal Magloire is starting), it's hard to see any real improvement for the Raps. They'll likely be at the bottom of the division, but there's always a chance they can surprise.

Biggest surprise: New York Knicks

The Knicks are going to surprise one way or another. Because if they fail to secure a top-five pick this season, it will be a letdown. Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler can't make a top-four seed? And if they do make a top-four seed, it means that the Knicks have started to play defense, which is a stunner all its own.

The Knicks are at once a title contender and a non-factor in the Eastern Conference. It's just a matter of which side of the Hudson you're on. Melo is either going to be an MVP candidate, or fail miserably at point forward. Tyson Chandler is either going to make all the difference, or be an injury-prone non-factor who can't cover for all the other weaknesses. There's little in-between. But the Knicks in a full season together with a better combination of talent should take a step forward. This is a super-team that has not been built with a clean carving. It's rough, it's wild, and it operates for the most inventive head coach in the league. The Knicks may wind up exactly where they were last season.

But the ride should be full of surprises for someone, anyway.

Three Best Players: Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Amar'e Stoudemire

I couldn't win here. I left off Carmelo Anthony, which is going to drive Knicks fans batty. I included Amar'e Stoudemire, which is going to light the fires on half the people who read this. I excluded Ray Allen, the best pure shooter in the league. Paul Pierce isn't on here despite being the clutchest of the clutch. Kevin Garnett's on here, and some people think he's past the point of no return. Andre Iguodala is one of the best all-around players in the league and he's not even close to being on here. Deron Williams' team may win 20 games this season and he's on here. And Andrea Bargnani... no. Andrea Bargnani would not be on here. But the point is this division is long on players with top level ability. There are seven to eight names you can put on here as "the best."

Biggest Question: Can the Knicks gel?

Putting together a three-headed monster all in the frontcourt is a risky proposition. There's not a player to bind it all together. No creator. The absence of a viable point guard for the Knicks, at least until Baron Davis gets healthy, means that the frontcourt has to run an offense itself. It's like asking a plane to fly itself without navigation. The Knicks were up and down all season, including during the stretch with Melo and STAT, mostly on account of not knowing how to work with one another. But with one being a high-usage small forward and the other being a high-usage power forward, can they work together? Is this a combination of players that makes sense?

The Knicks can win with this group because stars win games. But can they win the big games, can they make the jump to an elite team? More importantly, can they establish an identity going forward? The Knicks have tossed together two of the best players in the game and then added one of the best big men in terms of rebounding and defense out there. But can talent alone spell greatness? And if not... what does that mean for Mike D'Antoni?

2012 Projected Standings:
1. Boston Celtics
2. New York Knicks
3. Philadelphia 76ers
4. New Jersey Nets
5. Toronto Raptors

Since: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 3:59 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

I think either the Sixers or the Knicks can challenge for a while.  Add in an injury to Boston, and either of them could win it.  But that's a lot of "ifs".

Whether there are any injuries or not, they'll be dealing with the same kind of thing anyway because KG, Allen and Pierce will be sitting out for a decent number of games. Whether they're injured or just sitting out, the effect is the same. Because of that, I don't think that's such a big "if."

Since: Aug 27, 2008
Posted on: December 23, 2011 2:47 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

I think I'm dealing with some Basketball Einstein's here.  Doug Collins career record as a coach puts him at 45 games over .500.  Mike D'Antoni is 65 games over .500.  Collins best coaching job is reaching the East Finals once with a certain SG who wore #23.  D'Antoni took the Suns to the West Finals twice.  I'm not a big D'Antoni fan, but saying you're any better off with Collins is just plain dumb.  Results wise they are pretty much 6 of one and a half dozen of the other.

Since: Dec 19, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 2:45 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Listen, Boston will win the division.  But it's not going to be by 14 games.  I think either the Sixers or the Knicks can challenge for a while.  Add in an injury to Boston, and either of them could win it.  But that's a lot of "ifs".  Boston wins by 3 games over the Sixers.  Oh, and way to "wow" us with your bold predictions:  same exact standings as last year. 

Since: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 1:09 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

While I agree the Celtics, as far as pure basketball goes, are a better team than either the Knicks and 76ers, having to play so many back-to-backs and back-to-back-to-backs is what is different this year and is going to wear on older teams like the Celtics more than it will wear on younger teams like the Knicks and 76ers.

Whether this will be enough to push either of those teams above the Celtics in the standings, I don't know. However, the way the schedule is compacted and the fact that each game will mean that much more because there are fewer, I think it will even things out a bit and bring those teams closer to each other in the standings.

Finally, add to that the probability that Doc is going to be resting KG, Pierce and Allen a lot and worrying more about their health and just getting into the playoffs than the Celtics' spot in the standings, and it's a very real possibility the Knicks and/or the 76ers end up above the C's.

Since: Dec 11, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:46 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

RHoward, I know your'e a Philly guy, but c'mon man. People are picking Boston to finish first because they are the best team in the division. They have been the best team in this division since they acquired Garnett and Allen and Rondo came into his own. Philly may well end up surprising people and pushing Boston for the Atlantic crown, but this article is based on pre-season expectations. And reality is that no one in their right mind would pick the Sixers to win this division as constituted.

Philly has good young players and one All-Star (Iggy). Elton Brand is a shell of his former self. They aren't a bad team like they have been in the last few years and they will definitely make the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed, maybe better. But the Celtics are still much better than the Sixers. The Knicks may be better. And outside the division, Miami/Orlando/Atlanta/Chicago are alk better, and Indiana is at least as good.

There are a lot of minutes for a thin bench to cover if you're the C's (and losing Jeff Green and Glen Davis hurts), but everyone should expect Ainge to swing a deal to make something happen.  You still have to put Pierce-Allen-Garnett-Rondo ahead of any other foursome in this division. This is the last rodeo.

Since: Feb 21, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:45 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

everyone on here is dumb.  Celts are old but they're still good and this is perhaps the weakest division so why wouldn't they repeat as tops?  2nd round exit in the playoffs?  Sure I'll take it!

Since: Dec 23, 2011
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:29 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Mar 30, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:08 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Everyone picking Boston to finish 1st is basing this on what? Past performance? The Celtics are old and they play BASKETBALL, the sport that requires the most atheleticism of all. They also only have four good players, 3 of which are old and injury prone. When Garnett and Peirce get injured, how are they even going to cover the minutes? There are 240 playable minutes per game. I doubt anyone other than Rondo will average over 35 per game (and 40 per game for Rondo might exhaust him over the course of the season), but even being generous, giving the big 4 a completely healthy year, and 40 MPG for Rondo, with 35 mpg for the oldheads, that still leaves 95 minutes for their awful bench to cover.

This schedule favors the Sixers. If Elton Brand gets injured, Thad Young starts, if Andre Iguodala gets injured, Evan Turner starts. Their two best players are basically insured against loss by two starter-quality backups. Even Jrue Holiday has Lou Williams as a backup. Their minutes will be spread among a bunch of players of similar quality.  

Since: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:04 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

waynelee, come on now, be fair. Even Bozo the Clown could figure out you can't win championships if you don't play defense. Tongue out

Since: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:02 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

I'm also not so sure about KG being one of the 3 best "players" in the division and, as a poster a few posts down mentions, you could argue he's not even the best player on his own team. However, I'd argue he is still the most important. Paul Pierce may be the captain and Rajon Rondo may be the PG, but it is Kevin Garnett who leads that team on the court, holds teammates accountable, acts as their defensive backbone, mentors the young players and motivates everyone. He can also still give 15 points and 7 or 8 boards a game - granted, not prime KG numbers, but certainly a significant contribution, and that from a 17-year vet with a lot of mileage.

So yes, while he may not be the best "player" anymore on the Celtics, he is without a doubt their most important and may be the most important player for any team in the division. What other player in the Atlantic (or even the NBA as a whole) contributes all of that to their team? I'm sure there might be a few, but not many. Most NBA players are one- or two-dimensional and very few know how to defend or have the desire to focus on defense.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or