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: Sep 4, 2007
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:58 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Really all NY needs is a serviceable PG and they are the best in this division.  I love Boston but they are a very certain injury away from losing a major cog.  Melo and Stodamire have proven they can carry teams for long stretches.  Their only issue will be who touches the ball more.  I would ride with Stodamire but Melo is ineffective on both ends when he doesnt touch the ball consistently.  The addition of Chandler will help with their defense initially but teams will realize that all they need to do is foul Chandler out and they can run wild on NY.  Melo and Stodamire will need to get better at team defense.

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: December 23, 2011 12:46 am

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Well another year: lee3022, say's biury the Celtics: tired line, try for new material, 2 Elite teams remain Celtics and Lakers battle tested experienced, Knicks: poor mans Miami heat, no chemistry. like blind leading blind: Dallas one and done. Pride and skills my bucko, that is a Celtic tradition. My prediction: Lakers and Knicks will flounder like beached whales: reason is obvious, Brown is not savy to Kobe's and the other bigs on the lakers, without Jackson, mash unit Kobe will only whine and seek a trade. Knicks like playground unit will only reveal weak teamwork  like a rudderless ship. Surprise, teams Denver and Clippers..with darkhorse Oklahoma City Thunder, although Chicago Bulls, will try stay with Boston, as Rose trys to make last seasons MVP award relevent. 2012 will be a season(of) better luck next yearUndecided

Since: Mar 6, 2011
Posted on: December 22, 2011 11:54 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Celtics? Not likely. Pierce is injured already, KG is a shadow of the player he was even three years ago, and Rondo wont be able to take up the slack. Ray Allen is aging, too....and thats it....they have NOTHING else. Knicks have an "inventive" coach? Is that what he is? I thought he was a bad coach whose system wont get you out of the first round. NO defense in NYC......even with Chandler. I really think the Sixers are the team to watch. Collins has his team playing within his system....Holiday gets better each season, and Iggy is still a weapn....but Vucevik was a great draft pick. They have now interior D......Id say Philly wins this. Raptors wont be last....Nets will.

Since: Nov 14, 2006
Posted on: December 22, 2011 11:29 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

melo at point guard??? are you kidding me? please don't mess with his game D'antoni. why do you want him to pass the ball? let him go to work. there has to be someone who can take the ball up front and set everthing up for melo and stud..they don't have to make plays just hand the ball over to those two guys and let them go to work. we just have to adjust until davis come who i think can be very helpful because of his abilities and experience.

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: December 22, 2011 10:06 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

The answer to the Atlantic Division projections has already been given - by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The wail that came out of Boston once the schedule was released was by Garnett and Pierce claiming the schedule was unfair. Well of course it is unfair. After Garnett and Pierce did all they could to sabotage the CBA negotiations they must accept part of the blame for back to back to back games. What is unfair is that over 30 legs don't respond to back to backs. Adding back to back to backs just means disaster to these older and declining players. Ah well. Sometimes you get what you wish for and then want to give it back. Sadly for Boston it is not going to change. The deeper teams will flourish while teams with three aging stars are going to struggle.

The Atlantic Division is still a weak division. If New Jersey manages to snag Dwight Howard and they get a few health breaks they can give the others a run. Otherwise this is New York's division for the taking. A healthy BD can shift this team into contender mode. Look for it by mid-January when Boston is struggling. It will be an interesting year. It has been so long since the New York fans have had something to cheer for. And I don't mean the Bronx cheer!

Since: Jun 4, 2010
Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:58 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

idk im a little suprised the sixers wernt the biggest suprise on this list. they have a nice core of talent. holliday is prob on of the better pg in the league. not the best i said better. i expect them to make a little of noise this season

Since: Aug 27, 2008
Posted on: December 22, 2011 9:12 pm

2011-2012 Atlantic Division Preview

Oh really, the extra time off is going to help the Celtics?  With an already injured Paul Pierce?  When the season will be 66 games crammed into a space that usually house about 55 games?  Right, this makes all the sense in the world.  This is the Knicks division for the taking this season.  Nobody who I have read that projects the Celtics seems to have any decent analysis of why.  They have 3 old superstars, that's about it.  So what?  They also have a PG who can't shoot from beyond 8 feet, got spurned by David West and sent Glen Davis packing for another mediocre player in Bass.  ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.  I'll be waiting for the first person to explain to me why this division will go to the Celtics for actual well thought out reasons.  

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