Monday, October 29, 2007

NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

Here is the 2nd installment of the WCBN NBA Preview, by Amy Aimonovitch.

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Celtics

Last season: With the trade for Kevin Garnett, everyone seems to be forgetting just how bad the Celtics were last year. The team won only 28 games and had the worst record in the Eastern conference last year. Boston fans, though, can take solace in the fact that their team suffered some big injuries; Paul Pierce played only 47 games, Wally Szczerbiak only 32 games, and Tony Allen only 33. Despite their record, however, Boston was actually a decent team on defense, doing a good job of preventing 3-pointers, forcing turnovers, and rebounding. Unfortunately, they were also really good at fouling, averaging 24 per game. But defense wasn’t the problem for Boston, it was the offense. The biggest issue was the point guard position; the Celtics started with SebastianTelfair (who incidentally was acquired from Portland for the 7th pick in the draft – Portland picked Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy with the pick) but that didn’t work, then they turned to a combination of Delonte West and Rajon Rondo but that didn’t solve the problem either. On top of this, the Celtics just couldn’t seem to make a basket. The team finished second to last in field goal percentage at 44.3%.

This season: During the off-season, the Celtics definitely made the biggest move by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Unfortunately they also gutted their team making those trades. Boston traded 7 players and 3 first-round picks for Garnett and Allen, who are 31 and 32 respectively. And Ray Allen had surgery on both his ankles this off-season. To fill their roster, the Celtics signed Eddie House (who is a good 3 point shooter), James Posey, he of the unsportsmanlike conduct, and Scot Pollard. As amazing as the combination of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett may sound, I just can’t get behind this team like everyone else. They have a mediocre bench, Pierce and Allen are both missed a lot of team last year because of injuries, and the Timberwolves still lost 50 games with Garnett.

Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic, mostly because the Atlantic is never that competitive and 4th in the Eastern conference.

2. Toronto Raptors

Last season: After winning only 33 games two years ago, the Raptors had a break out season, going 47-35 and winning the Atlantic division. The beginning of the season didn’t look so promising though. In the beginning, the Raptors tried to play an upbeat style like the Suns do, except, unlike the Suns, they couldn’t pull it off. Luckily for the Raptors, though, GM Bryan Colangelo and Coach Sam Mitchell realized that playing this style was a bad strategy and decided to slow down the tempo. On top of that, both T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon had their best season to date. What helped propel Toronto the most, though, was their improvements on defense; two years ago, Toronto had the second worst defense in the league. With their improved defense, it was easier for Toronto to win games with their offense. Toronto’s offense was decent, but too dependent on the jump shot, so Toronto finished last in the league in offensive rebounding. After starting out slowly, the Raptors went 34-16 after January 1st. Although the Raptors were incredibly unimpressive in the playoffs, they made amazing strides last year.

This season: The Raptors picked up Jason Kapono, or if you prefer Vladimir Kaponovich, and Carlos Delfino this off-season, obviously in an attempt to help their outside shooting. Shooting isn’t really what the Raptors need to worry about though. Their concerns should be focused on their lack of size and the fact that last year they depended on a lot of players who had career years. The big question is whether these career years were a byproduct of Sam Mitchell’s scheme and good chemistry or were they just a fluke. Personally, I think that Ford and Chris Bosh can only get better and that Kapono will play as well as he did last year. If this team can score in the post at all instead of just depending on jumpers, they should be good.

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic but 7th in the East because the Atlantic division is notoriously weak.

3. New Jersey Nets

Last season: The Nets, frankly, were a mediocre team last year, going 41-41. Yes, they made it to the playoffs and yes, they beat the Raptors in the first round, but overall this team was simply average. It was only with a late season run that the Nets managed to squeeze into the playoffs. Outside of a handful of players, the Nets bench was horrible (Jason Collins started 78games and only averaged 2.1 points per game, Antoine Wright stared 23 games despite averaging only 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds, and Cliff Robinson, who is 40, played 50 games and only averaged 4.1 points per game). Thankfully, the Nets let Robinson go during the off-season. On the whole, the Nets were a mediocre team on offense; they were a great assisting team, though some of that might have been because so many players had trouble creating their own shots, and they were a bad at rebounding. Like the Raptors, New Jersey was also dependent on the jumper, but at least they were good at it. The Nets finished in the top ten in the league in 3 point percentage, making 36.3% of their shots. Defensively, though, the Nets had several problems. For one, Jason Kidd was 33 last year and has started losing a step or two and Richard Jefferson was hampered with an ankle injury. As a team, the Nets finished 27th in the league in blocks and were last in steals, which killed their transition game.

This season: New Jersey’s biggest move this off-season, aside from resigning Vince Carter, was picking up Jamaal Magloire. Magloire is almost 30 (Carter is 30 and Jason Kidd is 34) and hasn’t been very productive in recent years; he averaged only 6.5 points per game and 6.1 rebounds, a far cry from the double-double he averaged in 2003-04. However, considering how much this team loves jump shots, maybe Magloire can help provide them with some sort of inside presence. Despite this addition, productive or not, the Nets are not the contender that they used to be in the East. In two of the last three seasons, the team hasn’t finished more than a game over .500. They haven’t won 50 games or more since 2002-03 and that was the last time they made it to the conference finals.

Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic, but I have them out this year despite the fact that New Jersey has made the playoffs the last 6 season.

4. New York Knicks

Last season: As a Bulls fan, I must say I take a bit too much pleasure out of watching the Knicks fall apart, partially because they gave the Bulls some high picks in the draft the last couple years. Last year was just another crazy season in New York with the team going 33-49. First, Isiah Thomas took over as coach and then got a contract extension despite going 28-35 through the first 63 games. On top of that, the Knicks suffered some odd injuries; Jamal Crawford hurt his ankle and played on it for awhile before it was discovered that it was actually a stress fracture, and when Crawford was out for the season, Steve Francis’s bad knee seemed to heal overnight. David Lee also had an ankle problem that was first labeled a sprained ankle, only to find out that he actually had a bone bruise and had to sit out the end of the season. Offensively, the Knicks were quite decent; essentially their strategy was to get the ball to Curry down low. As a result, the Knicks took a lot of free throws and were very good at offensive rebounding. On the downside, they turned the ball over often; Crawford seemed to be the only player who could deliver the ball to Curry, so there were a lot of deflections and Curry averaged 3.64 turnovers per game. The Knicks also had problems shooting from the outside, making only 36.4% of their 3 pointers, which only encouraged teams to double team Curry down low. Defensively, the Knicks needed work too. New York was second to last in the league in blocks and allowed opponents to make 37.6% of their 3 pointers (27th in the league). The Knicks were also the league’s worse team at forcing turnovers on the defensive end.

This season: Right now, the biggest problem for the Knicks is trimming their roster down from 17 to 15 players. Overall, though, they did fairly well this off-season; obviously the most important acquistion is Zack Randolph. The Knicks definitely got the better end of this trade, getting rid of Steve Francis, who was then bought out by Portland, and getting Randolph, who averaged a double-double last year. Even with this trade, though, the team probably won’t be much better than they were last year. For one, Quentin Richardson is coming off of back surgery and Stephon Marbury is already 30. For another, it’s not really clear how Randolph and Curry are going to work together or in combination.

Prediction: Knicks finish 4th in the Atlantic division.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

Last season: After 10 seasons, Philadelphia finally jumped ship and traded Allen Iverson after starting off the season at 5-12. Not surprisingly, the Sixers had a hard time winning at first after the trade, but amazingly, the finished out the season 17-9 and improved their record to 35-47 (it doesn’t sound like a big improvement, but imagine how much worse it could have been). While their record may not show it, several of the Sixers had great seasons, most notably Andre Iguodala, who averaged 18.2 points per game. Offensively, however, the Sixers were not good. Their outside shooting was sketchy, though luckily they didn’t shoot that many 3 pointers, despite having Kyle Korver. In the end that actually might have been a good thing, because aside from Korver, only Rodney Carney hit more than 33% of his 3 pointers, and he only took 72 attempts. On the defensive end, Philadelphia was a lot better; the Sixers were extremely good at forcing turnovers but below average in defensive rebounding. Samuel Dalembert averaged nearly 2 blocks per game as well.

This season: The Sixers didn’t do a lot over this off-season, but that wasn’t a bad thing, seeing as they’ll cut $29 million from the payroll next year. Their defensive rebounding should improve this season now that they’ve picked up Reggie Evans. The only problem with him is that he’s not really a scorer, so who knows how much he’ll start. While this team is incredibly athletic, it’s hard to see how’ll they score. Korver is still the only threat from outside, so that means opposing teams will double-team Iguodala, and some of the other shooters are not the best at creating their own shots. And Dalembert might be looking at some injury issues, after experiencing some foot problems while playing for Canada this summer. Hopefully for the Sixers, their rookies will step up this season and play a big role.

Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic.

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