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 2, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 11:30 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

You're underestimating the value of the coach: don't be shocked if the Sixers pass the Knicks because Doug Collins: Mike Antoni=Einstein:Bozo-the Clown.

Since: Dec 1, 2008
Posted on: December 23, 2011 11:15 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

As a Knicks fan, I'm pretty excited about the new season and it is definitely tempting to go overboard thinking about how far they can go this year.  Beyond that though, I really don't get how/why people are so high on Boston this year.  Last time they were on the floor (v. Miami in the playoffs) they looked old and have only gotten older, with a roster that arguably has more question marks than New York's.  I just don't get how so many writers are assuming it's a given that Boston wins the division.  And Kevin Garnett as one of the top 3 players in the division?  Not even the best player on his team!

Since: May 17, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 10:42 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Maybe the Celtics will get lucky with a short season?  But when I look at them I think too old and going to break down.  Kobe couldn't even make it to the start of the season before he got injured.  O'Neal has looked good in pre season but ask anyone in Toronto and they will say he looked good to start there also then those old knees started to throb and he became the shell formerly known as!  The Knicks I would look to make the jump if they weren't a mainly offensive team and those teams can win the regular season but not playoffs most times.  They got Chandler which should improve that some but this guy was an injury problem waiting to happen and one good season and people seem to forget that many wondered how long his knees would hold out before last season.

Sadly once again it looks like the West will be the real NBA and the East will have some playoff teams but a sad record overall!!!

Since: Dec 27, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 10:09 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

don't count out Philly so fast. They're young for the most part and have one of the better benches in the league so production doesn't drop off when the starters sit, nor will the starters have to play extra minutes because of a thin bench. Having Turner, Young and Williams able to eat up minutes and be able to put points on the board will keep the team fresher during a more condensed season while an older team like the Celtics might get worn out come the end of the season.  Holliday looks ready to step up as the much needed 4th quarter down the stretch scorer they were lacking last year. The biggest problem facing the 76ers is the lack of a dominant fore inside. Hawes isn't a reliable rebounder and the rookies haven't yet shown they're able to fill that role either. If Brand goes down they'll be really hurting on the boards.

i see the Celtics, Knicks and Sixers all in the 35-40 wins range this season with the division title coming down to the final couple of games but all three should make the playoffs again.  

Since: Oct 7, 2010
Posted on: December 23, 2011 10:07 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Melo is a superstar in the prime of his career.  I don't see how Garnett, who was an absolute beast in his prime, can be considered a better player now, irrespective of the standards used to compare the two.

This is going to be a great Division to watch, except when the Nets are playing. 

Since: Aug 27, 2008
Posted on: December 23, 2011 9:43 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Yeah, that's true.  I totally forgot about the loss of Jeff Green when I was thinking about the Celts potential for this season.  Even worse for them.  Not that he played great for them after arriving for Perkins last year anyway though.

Since: Dec 23, 2011
Posted on: December 23, 2011 9:40 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Online writers are certainly dumb.

The average age of the so-called "big 3" will be 36 (37, 36, 35) come playoff time.

That's not old?

The aerage age of the Lakers "big 3" is 29+ (33, 31, 24) come playoff time.

Yet, according to these numb nuts, the Lakers are old and slow and are finished.

They want you to believe that the Cs have a chance for one more title.

Most of these online writers are pro-Boston; the Boston area has some of the top schools for journalism in the country.

And many of them  hail from New England.

They bleed Boston.

My prediction: 76ers and Knicks will fight it out for the Atlantic division.

At best, Boston is a 6th seed.

Since: Dec 15, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 9:16 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Truly the loss of Jeff Green and when does Paul Pierce play will hamper the Celtics early this year.Playing all those games in a compressed season won't help them either.Glen Davis for Bass was a GR8 trade because Baby got FAT and Slow in the 2nd half of last year after such a promising 1ST half.He had hit his ceiling IMP.Bass can do more for the aging CELTS than Baby would.The Knicks have problems of their own if they think Melo can play PG.Baron Davis may or may NOT be the answer.Back to Backs will HURT the Celtics BUT the Knicks will hurt themselves IF they DONT play DEFENSE.....

Since: Aug 29, 2006
Posted on: December 23, 2011 8:56 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Dr. J comes out of retirement and the 76ers win it!!!! Ok seriously on Boston has a chance, only 6-8 teams in the NBA anyway...

Since: Oct 31, 2009
Posted on: December 23, 2011 8:23 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

There is a lot of age in Boston, and presumbly Rondo isn't exactly all that thrilled with the organization, after they tried to trade him away, when he could arguably be called their best player know.  I have been a Paul Pierce fan since his days in Lawarence, and really hope he can get another title, but he has become increasingly injury prone, and KG and Allen are getting old, and slowing down, KG is not nearly as dominant as he once was, and the Heat really exposed them last year in the playoffs, and with no signifigant improvments over the offseason I wouldn't be suprised to see the Knicks suprise them, and finish first in the division.  Anthony always wanted to play in New York, and got a chance last year, but with him Stoudemire getting a whole season (albiet shortened) if they find their rhythm togther they could be a real forc to be reckoned with, at least within the Atlantic Division.

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