With the NBA Preseason already started and the season to come shortly, the NBA staff of My Mind on Sports is bringing you our season preview roundtables. In these roundtables we will answer key questions in each division concerning their respective teams. The first division up is the Atlantic division consisting of the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers.
1. Who will win the Atlantic Division?
Michael Sykes: I’ve got the Brooklyn Nets taking the Atlantic this season. I actually had them picked last season but they fell just short of my expectations while the New York Knicks performed over my expectations. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that they’ll be a top five defensive team in the league this season. Lawrence Frank serving as an assistant coach has a lot to do with that.
Ryan Hebert: I’m choosing the Brooklyn Nets to win the Atlantic. They went out and replaced their weakest links positionally with very capable and cerebral veteran forwards in Kirilenko, Pierce and Garnett. I view them as one of four teams capable of winning a championship in the East.
Samar Gaines: For the first time, in what feels like, ever the Atlantic Division may not have a clear cut best team. The Nets are getting all of the preseason hype after adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce via trade from the Boston Celtics, but I still feel like the Knicks can be right there with them as long as they can get good health from Tyson Chandler.
Octavia Wyatt: The Knicks–I expect great things from the Knicks. I believe with new key acquisitions and Mike Woodson having the team play together and focused they’re going to be the best team in the division.
Edward McDonald: The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets will not only battle to be the best in New York, but the best in the Atlantic Division. The additions of both teams will prove to be good ones. This rivalry will be fun to watch this season. Ultimately, at the end of the regular season, the Brooklyn Nets will be the Atlantic division champs.
2. How much will Rajon Rondo’s return matter to the Boston Celtics?
MS: Not too much. The Boston Celtics know what they have in Rondo and it won’t take much to decide whether or not to build around him. The most important thing for the Celtics is to find out what, exactly, they have in Kelly Olynyk, who they’re going to move into the future with and what Brad Stevens brings to the table. The only decision that they truly have to make on Rondo is whether or not to keep him around for the rebuild.
RH: I think Rondo himself could keep the Celtics from being a bottom four team, but the date of his return will have a far greater say. In the grand scheme of things, I do not believe Rondo alone can salvage what appears to be an asymmetrical roster.
SG: As long as he returns in enough time to prove to other teams that he is healthy it will matter a great deal to the rebuilding Celtics. Rondo is one of the team’s best trade chips, has one of the most cap friendly non-rookie contracts in the league, and he’s still a very young player. One of the teams that feel they are one piece away from contending will keep an eye on Rondo’s recovery all season.
OW: Rajon Rondo’s return is the most important thing for the Celtics this season. Losing Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, and Doc Rivers, Rondo is all the familiarity the Celtics have. They need him to come back strong.
EM: Rajon Rondo is one of the best point guards in the NBA. Unfortunately for him and the Boston Celtics, we won’t see him for the full season as he recovers from a torn ACL. His the return won’t be one that puts the Celtics back in championship contention. The return of Rondo will be big, but not big enough to even sniff the playoffs.
3. What type of season do you expect from Carmelo Anthony?
MS: I actually think that Anthony will take a step back in New York again. The Knicks seem like a team that has way too many of the same pieces to play with. Anthony may lose some playing time at the power forward spot this season with Amar’e Stoudamire and Andrea Bargnani being factors this year.
RH: Melo should have a little bit of a drop in efficiency this year, as his shooting last year was atypical for his career, while Boston and Indiana showed sound tactics for slowing him down and baiting his worst type of play in their playoff series. I expect him to be an allstar, third team all NBA performer
SG: I don’t expect anything special or different from Carmelo Anthony. He’s going to be pretty much the same player he was last season.
OW: I expect Melo to be elite. For so long people have overlooked him even though he’s played at an elite level. Last year he won scoring title and his team got out of the first round. Reports say he’s in great shape so I expect him to be a beast this season.
EM: This season I expect Carmelo Anthony to do what Carmelo Anthony does; score the basketball. He is one of the premier players in the NBA and will continue to show it. He will continue to put the basketball in the cup and he will still shoot a lot, at times too much. As much as I would love to see it, this will not be the season Melo gets ring number one.
4. Who will be the best player in the division this season?
MS: Deron Williams will have the best season within the division. Williams started to return to old form, in a sense, toward the end of last season and had a decent playoff showing as well. He’ll be the healthiest that he’s been since he was traded from the Utah Jazz and he’ll have more weapons around him than he’s ever played with before. Everything is set up for Williams to succeed next season and if he doesn’t I’ll be more than disappointed.
RH: Deron Williams is in a situation that couldn’t be more suited to his strengths. I expect him to finally have the playoff run that we expect of a player of his ilk.
SG: I wanted to say Rondo but I’m not sure when he’ll be back and if he’ll be on the Celtics for long when he does return. I would go with KG but I’m not sure he’s going to play more than 27 minutes per game, same with Paul Pierce. That leaves me to pick between two skilled offensive players, with questionable defense, I’m going to go with Carmelo Anthony by the slimmest of margins.
OW: Deron Williams–I think he has the perfect coach in Jason Kidd. I think playing for him he plays with more energy and with more to prove. I think he’s poised to have a great season.
EM: It will be Deron Williams of the Nets. After a sluggish and uncharacteristic start to the first half of last season, Williams stepped it up in the second half. Williams will learn a ton about how to play the point guard position from his new head coach and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd. The supporting cast around Williams is solid as well and will make it easier for him to rack up the assists.
5. Will the Raptors make the playoffs?
MS: I think they’ll end up making it off of defense alone. They’re probably going to vie for the 7th or 8th seed in the conference and they’ll get a few wins to get them there. Rudy Gay will, hopefully, improve from what he’s been in year’s past and the team will be a more cohesive bunch with Kyle Lowry running the show. What I really worry about them is health.
RH: I don’t see the Raptors making the playoffs, if only because their core is too reliant upon inefficient scorers in Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan. If they do, it will be on the improvements of Jonas Valanciunas and the underrated cerebral play of Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson
SG: As big a Jonas Valanciunas fan as I am, I doubt the Raptors will be good enough to make the playoffs these season. I have major concerns about Kyle Lowry staying healthy and Rudy Gay improving from last season.
OW: I don’t think the Raptors make the playoffs. I think they make great strides with this being Rudy Gay’s first full season, but there are too many great teams in the East. There isn’t enough room for them.
EM: The Toronto Raptors are an interesting team in the Atlantic division. New General Manager Masai Ujiri is looking to turn this franchise around over the next few seasons. It starts with this season. The Raptors will make the playoffs this season. Rudy Gay gets a full season with Toronto after being dealt from Memphis last season. DeMar DeRozan will continue to be a key contributor to this team. Kyle Lowry will be healthy, which will be big for the Raps. Second-year big man Jonas Valanciunas is good and will continue to get better.
6. How much will the additions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce impact the Brooklyn Nets?
MS: I think they’ll improve them drastically–more specifically on the defensive end. They should be a 50-55 win team this season. The biggest thing is that both Garnett and Pierce need to stay healthy. But Pierce should bring an extra element of shooting in their starting lineup that they didn’t really have last season and Garnett should improve their defensive efforts drastically.
RH: I think Garnett and Pierce make Brooklyn a contender if only for this season. They replaced the weakest links in their roster with two still highly productive, future hall of fame veterans who can now settle into the diminished roles and minutes that their body’s desperately need. I see them as an EC semi finalist at least.
SG: Bringing in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce should have an huge impact not just on the court but in the locker room for the Nets. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are both leaders who work hard and do things the right way, they should make it easier on first year coach Jason Kidd. On the court look for their defense to improve with Kevin Garnett.
OW: I think the leadership of KG and Paul Pierce will help the Nets tremendously. Unless Pierce found the fountain of youth in the off season I don’t expect anything stellar from him on the court. KG’s intensity should definitely help, though.
EM: The additions of future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will prove to be huge for the Brooklyn Nets. They are on the back end of their respective careers, but they still have some gas left in the tank. This duo brings leadership, something that can only help the Nets. Also, they bring a championship mentality to a team trying to win one.
The NBA season is pegged to be an exciting one. Be on the lookout for more roundtables from the MMOS staff.