Oct 25 2012 3:00PM

NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

BOSTON CELTICS


Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Ever since Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo on the Celtics before the 2007-08 season, you can count on two things from Boston: 1. They will win at least one playoff series every year; 2. They will be predictably unpredictable in the regular season, winning anywhere from 59 to 81 percent of their games. Such is the case in 2012-13, where Big 3 alum Ray Allen departs for enemy Miami, with Jason Terry and young, wounded wing Avery Bradley replacing the sharpshooter in the rotation. Consequently, the Celticsí status as a consistent playoff contender remains intact, with power forward Brandon Bass filling out the Celticsí always-tough Fab 5 lineup. Their regular-season winning percentage this year may hover closer to 59 than 81, but expect the Cís to be soaring come playoff time. What makes this Celtics team so appealing is how GM Danny Ainge was able to reload on the fly, signing all his vets to reasonable contracts, while also attracting such talent as Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Green, Darko Milicic and Jason Collins. The massive acquisition of smart, veteran talent enables Coach Doc Rivers to mix-and-match lineups with the best subs out there. The Celtics have not had a bench this deep since their 2008 NBA championship season when James Posey, Tony Allen and Eddie House donned the sweats. Oh, and I havenít even mentioned No. 17 pick Jared Sullinger, who in the preseason has been living up to my billing as the third-best player in the 2012 NBA Draft. Yes, my friend. The Boston Celtics have done it again. Consistent contenders, they are.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 47-35

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 1st

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS Ö Victory Value projection

PF Kevin Garnett10.70
SF Paul Pierce7.50
PG Rajon Rondo6.47
PF Jared Sullinger*4.30
SG Jason Terry*4.26
SG Courtney Lee*4.21
SG Avery Bradley3.86
PF Brandon Bass3.48
SF Jeff Green1.49
C Darko Milicic*1.01
C Jason Collins*0.70
PF Chris Wilcox*0.57
C Fab Melo*0.20

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

NEW YORK KNICKS


Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Amare Stoudemire is out for a few weeks and the injury may be a blessing in disguise. I have always thought this Knicks conglomeration could perform better as a team if everyone played their new, natural positions. Carmelo Anthony has grown into a power forward, while Amare Stoudemire has grown into a centerís body. Yet the two have persisted playing at the 3 and 4, respectively, while Tyson Chandler takes the center post. I wish this squad took a page out of Phil Jackson's old Lakers book when he rotated Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum for 96 minutes a night. If Coach Mike Woodson likes the results of Melo at the 4, hopefully he starts bringing Stoudemire off the bench for both Anthony and Chandler. After all, Melo showed what he could do at the Olympics from the power forward position. And Stoudemire, at 260 pounds, is more of a center these days. Itís common sense. But enough about that. The rest of the Knicks squad provides a nice, complementary cast to the big fellas. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd are two smart points who both have diverse styles of play. Scoring guard J.R. Smith, injured Iman Shumpert, defensive ace Ronnie Brewer and sharpshooter Steve Novak also create a multitude of matchups from the wings. And itís always nice to have old, reliable bigs like Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, who both can play 20 minutes a night at a high defensive level if you need them. The Knicks are going to be good. If the bigs can sacrifice minutes and numbers, they could be great. I know. Thatís a big IF.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 45-37

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 2nd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS Ö Victory Value projection

PG Raymond Felton*6.81
SF Carmelo Anthony6.52
C Tyson Chandler5.59
SG J.R. Smith5.41
PG Jason Kidd*4.54
SG Iman Shumpert4.02
SG Ronnie Brewer*3.71
SF Steve Novak3.57
C Marcus Camby*3.27
PF Amare Stoudemire1.56
C Kurt Thomas*1.21
PG Pablo Prigioni*0.20
SF James White*0.02

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

TORONTO RAPTORS


Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Well, lookie here. Who woulda thunk Toronto would rank ahead of big-spending Brooklyn and free-wheeling Philly in the Atlantic Division. But thatís what HOOP is here to tell you. Do not sleep on these Raptors. They have quietly assembled a playoff contender in Canada, by drafting-and-stashing No. 5 pick Jonas Valanciunas in the 2011 NBA Draft, selecting No. 8 pick Terrence Ross in the 2012 NBA Draft, while also signing Knicks shooting guard Landry Fields to a three-year, $18.7 million contract and Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry to a two-year, $11.9 million deal. Next thing you know, this .348 winning team might just become a .500 squad that also make the 2013 NBA Playoffs. I like their chances just as much as the Nets and Sixers, even though Toronto did not make the flashy, All-Star additions. Since taking over the reins in 2011-12, Coach Dwane Casey has made the Raptors a much better defensive squad--improving from worst in 2010-11 to 12th last season--and these additions all have the all-around game that will not only enhance the D, but should also elevate the team's 25th-ranked offense. Lowry, in particular, was playing like an NBA All-Star last season, averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists while posting a .564 true shooting percentage before contracting a bacterial infection in March 2012 that took him out of the following 15 games. His overall game is sorely needed in Toronto. Same is true with Fields, who especially stood out in New York during the "Linsantiy" days, when he played Robin to Jeremy Lin's Batman. If Fields and Lowry create similar music together, this Toronto squad could match the accomplishment of the 2007-08 Raptors, the franchise's last playoff team that also went 41-41 that season.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 41-41

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 3rd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS Ö Victory Value projection

SG Landry Fields*7.28
PF Amir Johnson6.90
PG Kyle Lowry*6.67
SG DeMar DeRozan4.66
C Andrea Bargnani2.96
SF Linas Kleiza2.75
PG Jose Calderon2.67
PG John Lucas*2.47
PF Jonas Valanciunas*2.33
PF Ed Davis1.58
SF Alan Anderson0.96
C Aaron Gray0.66
SG Terrence Ross*0.60
SF Dominic McGuire*0.40

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS


Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Can Andrew Bynum stay healthy for another season? Can he lead? Can Thaddeus Young play power forward, now that Elton Brand is gone? Can Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young replace Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks? That's a lot of questions for a team with playoff expectations, which makes this particular team Coach Doug Collins' greatest challenge yet. Collins will be depending on point guard Jrue Holiday more than ever to be his extension on the floor because quite frankly, Coach can no longer rely on the leadership of the long-gone Iguodala and the amnestied Elton Brand. The leadership of those two veterans will be sorely missed. If Holiday, the athletic Thaddeus Young and big man Bynum can keep Philly playing like a Top 5 defensive squad, their playoff hopes remain alive. It's a tough task at hand because Bynum, who is a rebounding force, can be a liability in pick-and-roll defense--something that wasn't a problem for last year's Sixers. But if he can focus and overcome his biggest weakness, this team has the wherewithal to fly, with T-Young outsprinting his fellow bigs for numerous transition baskets. Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown give Collins a defensive flexibility he lacked last season, so the year should be interesting, to say the least. Like last year's Sixers, the 2012-13 Philly squad has a chance to be very, very good (the 76ers went 16-6 to start the year) or very, very bad (they went 15-24 in their next 39 games). Such is life under the volatile Collins. Let us hope for Philadelphia's sake that things start off good for this re-made team.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 40-42

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 4th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS Ö Victory Value projection

PF Thaddeus Young8.21
PG Jrue Holiday7.52
SG Jason Richardson*5.22
C Andrew Bynum*4.82
SF Dorell Wright*4.38
SF Evan Turner3.76
SG Nick Young*2.15
C Spencer Hawes1.84
PF Lavoy Allen1.83
C Kwame Brown*0.86
PF Arnett Moultrie*0.40
PG Royal Ivey*0.28

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

BROOKLYN NETS


Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: I hate to be the one to rain on Brooklyn's parade, but I don't see much different between the Brooklyn Nets and the New Jersey Nets. It's the same starting lineup with two exceptions: 1. They added overpriced All-Star Joe Johnson to the mix; 2. They overpaid most of their starters, millions and millions over market value. Granted, the Nets will improve on their .333 winning percentage in 2011-12. Gerald Wallace is here for the full season and Brook Lopez will likely play more than the five games he started last year. But quite frankly, IT'S THE SAME TEAM! Only now GM Billy King is paying all of the starters like they're all All-Stars: Deron Williams, 5 years, $99 million; Johnson, 4 years, $89 million; Wallace, 4 years, $40 million; Kris Humphries, 2 years, $24 million; Lopez, 4 years, $61 million. Now the Nets have the NBA's second-highest payroll--at a suffocating $85 million, which doesn't include an additional $15 million luxury-tax penalty--and will be unable to field a proper bench to support this good, starting squad. Because of that, the Nets are likely to remain the 29th-worst defensive team in the league. Again, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially when the addition of basketball in Brooklyn is such a great thing for New York. But like New Yorkers know all too well, throwing money at your players doesn't instantly turn them into superstars. And who knows? Brooklyn could squeak into the playoffs. But the handcuffs the Nets placed on themselves by overpaying their own players will likely hurt this franchise for years to come, with a decline likely to follow this honeymoon. Hello, Brooklyn!

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 38-44

ATLANTIC DIVISION PREDICTION: 5th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS Ö Victory Value projection

SF Gerald Wallace8.38
PG Deron Williams8.15
SG Joe Johnson*7.33
PF Kris Humphries5.05
C Brook Lopez3.82
SG MarShon Brooks1.71
PF Mirza Teletovic*1.67
SG Jerry Stackhouse*0.80
PG C.J. Watson*0.78
PF Andray Blatche*0.72
SG Keith Bogans*0.58
PG Tyshawn Taylor*0.36
SF Josh Childress*0.24
PF Reggie Evans*0.08
SF Tornike Shengelia*0.02

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)