Apr 1, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Sean Kilpatrick (6) breaks up court in front of New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway (2) during the second half at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks defeated the Nets 105-91. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlantic Division was extremely active during the offseason. What should we expect and how will the Brooklyn Nets fare against their division rivals?
Aside from the division-winning Toronto Raptors, the Atlantic Division saw a lot of change this offseason.
The Raptors, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan, finished second in the Eastern Conference last season. They reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history after winning two Game 7’s.
Mar 26, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) drives against Indiana Pacers center Ian Mahinmi (28) during the third quarter at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 120-110. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The fact of the matter is that the Nets are a team that is rebuilding. Nonetheless, the team has made some vast improvements, and are looking to better the 21 wins they had last season.
While a playoff run is unlikely, people are underestimating the Nets. They are much better than the team that won 21 games last season, yet many speculate they won’t even reach 20 wins.
While Brooklyn’s success will depend on how the unit gels as a whole, a lot of the weight will be on the shoulders of Lin. As the “quarterback” of the Nets’ offense, much of the offense will run through him. Historically, Lin has been disappointing when taking on a starting point guard role (when he played for Houston), but he seemed to revive his career as the Hornets’ sixth man last season. While no one expects Lin to play like he did during Linsanity, people expect him to perform like he did last year, if not better. If that’s the case, the Nets will thrive.
If Lin struggles, it makes sense to believe Brooklyn will struggle as well. However, if Lin exceeds expectations, who knows how high the Nets can go?
Nonetheless, don’t let the analysts fool you – the Nets are better than a sub 20-win team. Look for them to pull off some random upsets over the course of the season, but don’t expect them to make a push for the playoffs either.
Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, the Celtics earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, but suffered a six-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round. One can speculate that this may have been a result of the loss of Avery Bradley early in the series.
Nonetheless, the Celtics will be back and better this year. They are bringing back their core backcourt in Isaiah Thomas and Bradley, who combined to average 37.4 points, 8.3 assists, and 2.6 steals per game last season.
On top of that, the Celtics acquired Al Horford in free-agency, and drafted Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick in the draft.
With Horford in the starting rotation, the Celtics will take that jump to the elite. Furthermore, Boston’s bench was ranked seventh in difference efficiency last season. Add Jaylen Brown to the mix, and that’s a championship-caliber team. That is why I believe the Celtics will earn the second seed in the Eastern Conference this season and win its first Atlantic Division title since the 2011-12 season.
The Nets will also have a tough time against the Celtics this season. Last season, Brooklyn split the season series with Boston 2-2, and they play them four times again this season. It will be fun to see Brook Lopez and Horford go at it down low, but it would take a flawless game from the Nets to take down the Celtics this season.
Team Prediction: 50-55 wins, 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division Champions
May 11, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) celebrates his basket with point guard Cory Joseph (6) and point guard Kyle Lowry (7) against the Miami Heat in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Heat 99-91. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
The Raptors had a historic season last year, as they reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
While the Raptors looked questionable at times during the playoffs, they surely stepped up when it mattered. They defeated the Pacers in Game Seven in the first round, and the Heat in Game Seven in the second. They even played tough against the eventual-champion Cleveland Cavaliers, tying the series at 2-2 before losing in six games.
This season, barring injury to Lowry or DeRozan, you can expect a lot of the same results out of the Raptors. They will continue to be the leaders of the team and the offense will run through them. Expect Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll to continue to have big roles in the offense too, with new acquisition Jared Sullinger coming off the bench.
Expect the Raptors to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference this season. While the Raptors will not be any worse than they were last year, the Eastern Conference is tougher this year, with teams like the Celtics, Pacers, and Knicks making big improvements. Plus, you can’t forget about the Cavaliers.
When it comes to the Nets, the Raptors are clearly a better team on paper. They have a win-now roster, while the Nets are still in the rebuilding process. Last season, the Nets went 0-4 against the Raptors, and they will play them four times again this season. The Raptors should win four again, but don’t be surprised to see the Nets steal a game against them.
Team Prediction: 45-50 wins, 4th seed in the Eastern Conference
Mar 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (7) reacts after a basket against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
New York Knicks
The Knicks had a disappointing season last year, finishing the season 32-50 and 12 games out of the playoffs. However, after major changes to their roster, the Knicks seem primed to compete in the Eastern Conference.
According to hoopsstats.com, the Knicks were ranked 27th at the point guard position in terms of difference efficiency last season. It was clear they needed to make a move for what many consider is the most important position in basketball. To fulfill the position, the team traded for Derrick Rose.
Many speculate that the former MVP is washed-up and won’t take the team to the next level, but I disagree. While you can’t expect Rose to perform like he did in his MVP campaign, he will be far better than any point guard the Knicks have had in the past years. That alone will help the team greatly.
On top of the Rose trade, the Knicks also acquired Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Jennings to add to their rotation.
The presumed starting lineup of Rose, Lee, Carmelo Anthony, a rising star in Kristaps Porzingis, and Noah will surely be able to compete and win more games in the East. While I predict 42-47 wins from the Knicks, it can surely be more if the team clicks early on.
The Nets and Knicks always play each other tough, and you can expect the same thing this year. They were 2-2 against each other last year, and I’d expect similar results despite the significant improvements the Knicks made. The Battle of the Boroughs is always close, so expect another close series this year.
Jul 10, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Chicago Bulls at Thomas & Mack Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
It’s safe to say that the 76ers had a very forgettable season last year. A 10-72 record, second-most points allowed per game and second-least points scored per game.
However, the disappointing season allowed them to choose first in this year’s draft – where they selected Ben Simmons.
Simmons was a monster in college, averaging 19.2 points, 4.8 assists, 11.8 rebounds, and two steals per game while shooting 56 percent from the field on 34.9 minutes per game. Some have praised Simmons as a once-in-a-generation player, including Shaquille O’Neal claiming that Simmons is “a LeBron-type player.”
That leaves the projected starting lineup as Rodriguez, Henderson, Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor. The 76ers have the worst backcourt in the NBA and are still rebuilding. Combine that with the fact that it will probably take Simmons a couple of seasons to reach his potential. Until then, it will be difficult for the team to win more that 20 games.
Last season, the Nets split the season series with the 76ers 2-2. This year, expect Brooklyn to win at least three of their four games against Philadelphia. Lopez will have a tough time working down low with the presence of Okafor and Noel, but Lin and Bogdanovic/Hollis-Jefferson is a far better backcourt than Rodriguez and Henderson.