Baller Mind Frame

NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division Preview

2014-15 NBA SEASON PREVIEW CONTENT LIST

Atlantic: Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors |Division Preview
Central: Bulls | Cavaliers | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks | Division Preview
Southeast: Hawks | Hornets | Heat | Magic | Wizards | Division Preview

Pacific: Warriors | Clippers | Lakers | Suns | Kings | Division Preview
Northwest: Nuggets | Timberwolves | Thunder | Trail Blazers | Jazz | Division Preview
Southwest: Mavericks | Rockets | Grizzlies | Pelicans | Spurs | Division Preview

Top 10 by Position: PG | SG | SF | PF | C
Top 10 Lists: Sixth Men | Sophomores | X-Factors | Rookies | Games to Watch | Comeback | Contenders | Breakouts

Articles: Assessing the Cavaliers Trio | Important Season for James Harden | Return of Paul George? | Trading Rajon Rondo | Are the Nuggets This Season’s Suns? | NBA’s Best Starting Five | NBA’s Worst Starting Five | Now or Never for Durant and Thunder After Injury

Fantasy Basketball: Top 10 PGs | Top 10 SGs | Top 10 SFs | Top 10 PFs | Top 10 Cs | Sleepers, Studs, and Sinkholes | Analyzing the Schedule | BMF Mock Draft | Cavs and Cav-Nots | Like A Bosh | Rajon Injury Impact

Media Day: Clippers | Hawks | Kings | Knicks | Magic | Mavericks | Nets

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

The Baller Mind Frame staff got together and gave their thoughts on the various NBA divisions as part of our NBA Season Preview. Here’s what we think about the Atlantic Division.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER

MISTER KING: Carmelo Anthony. He’s arguably a top five player in the NBA so naturally he’s the most important player in the division. Even though the New York Knicks are coming off a very disappointing season (how many times have we heard that in the last 10 years?), the epic point producer known as Melo is a main attraction regardless of what arena or what his team’s record is. New contract, new management, new season, new opportunity for Melo to prove why he deserves top billing.

MIKE HAMMEL: Carmelo Anthony is the best player in the Atlantic Division but no player may be more important to his team this season than the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo. Injuries have robbed Rondo of most of the last two seasons. When he has played, he has flashed moments of the brilliance he displayed in the Celtics’ latest glory years, but more often he looked slower and out of sync. Rondo’s importance this season will manifest itself in two distinct ways, as a Celtic or as an asset to gain new Celtics. GM Danny Ainge has amassed an impressive collection of young talent and future draft selections. They’re also hamstrung by salary commitments to players like Gerald Wallace, Marcus Thornton, and Brandon Bass. Should Rondo stay healthy and regain his impact on the team’s wins, Ainge will have a tough decision to make in either surrounding his mercurial point guard with talent using their valuable assets or in unloading him with its anchors. Either way, Rondo’s name and game will be heavily watched this season.

DENNIS VELASCO: DeMar DeRozan set career highs in points (22.7), assists (4.0), rebounds (3.7), and steals (1.1) last season. The Toronto Raptors won a franchise-high 48 games to take the Atlantic Division. Yeah, I’m saying that those two things are related. DeRozan has been the touchstone of the franchise, Andrea Bargnani negatively excepted, since Chris Bosh went all the way south to join the Miami Heat. As he progressed during this period, the Raptors got better little—okay way little—by little. However, last season, both the player and franchise exploded. Yes, Kyle Lowry was an important part of that Raptors success, but maybe he was playing for a new contract? Maybe he put that chip on his shoulder after all of the trade rumors during the season and played well? With DeRozan, there is no ulterior motive. He just wants to get better and better, and it’s happening. As he goes, so will the Raptors.

TOP X-FACTOR

KING: Deron Williams has been at the forefront of many a conversation about has-beens in the NBA. Since coming to the (then-New Jersey) Brooklyn Nets, after a stunning campaign with the Utah Jazz, Williams has not consistently produced to the level that fans had come to expect. That’s why this season, Brooklyn’s success sits squarely on the questionable ankles of D-Nice. The return of All-Star center Brook Lopez, and the stellar play of Joe Johnson will help, but if they want any chance of celebrating on Atlantic Avenue it’s going to depend on the former All-Star bringing his A, or better yet, his D-Will game.

HAMMEL: Brook Lopez is a forgotten man in the NBA. He has barely played in the last three seasons and there are fears that injuries may follow him for much of his career. He is also one of the most talented offensive big men in the league and a rim protector the Brooklyn Nets have sorely missed. When Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov shelled out massive dollars for his team, it’s unlikely he was hoping for inconsistent season performances and short playoff runs. The Nets roster is aging and their window to win is closing. If Lopez is healthy and able to approach his All-Star status from a couple seasons past, the Nets may be able to pry that window open for just a little while longer.

VELASCO: Bojan Bogdanovic of the Brooklyn Nets is 25 years old, but has been playing professional basketball for 10 years. He’s been compared to the player whose former starting spot he’s likely to take, Paul Pierce. Of course, it’s kind of ludicrous to compare anyone to The Truth, let alone a rookie that has never played in the NBA. However, NBA scouts get paid to make assessments, and if they are right, Bogdanovic could make a significant impact this season. He’s led the Euroleague in scoring and is known for his stellar shooting, but has recently been praised by Nets head coach Lionel Hollins for being a complete basketball player. And, he’s likely to be the starting shooting guard for the Nets this season. Bogdanovic is going to get a legitimate shot to show what he has. If he can earn his keep, it means that all the NBA scouts in love with his game were telling the truth, which will be one that is welcomed by Brooklyn.

TEAM THAT COULD SURPRISE

KING: Philadelphia 76ers. Tank … cough cough … tank … cough. Huh? It’s clear the Philadelphia 76ers are in rebuilding mode. They haven’t fully recovered from Allen Iverson withdrawal. The team has underrated talent. Head coach Brett Brown comes from a winning pedigree, as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, red-shirt rookie shot blocker Nerlens Noel, and fiery scorer Tony Wroten are youngsters who are ready to run with the rest of the division. If management knows what’s good, they will take the reins off and not force another tanked season. I don’t see playoffs, but definitely a progressive season that brings confidence and promise for 2015-16.

HAMMEL: As rosters currently stand, the Atlantic Division doesn’t appear to have a sleeper team poised to shock the league with a playoff appearance. The emphasis there is “as rosters currently stand.” Should the New York Knicks make the risky decision to reload mid-season rather than wait for 2015 free agency, they could be trotting out a very different lineup by the All-Star break. Armed with over $35 million of expiring contracts in Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, they could find a team willing to shed longer term deals or talented youngsters for immediate cap space. Both of those players currently offer little in the way of on-court impact so any haul the Knicks are able to obtain could help propel the team into the playoffs and perhaps out of the first round. The more likely scenario is that the Knicks hang on to the cap space, only to overspend it on injury prone former stars, but the Madison Square Garden fans can always hope.

VELASCO: In the Atlantic, it’s pretty much going to be the Raptors, Nets, and probably Knicks somewhere in the top three positions of the division. That leaves the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, both of whom have taken big gambles in their approach for the future. The former with selecting high upside players in the NBA draft two years in a row—Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid; the latter, trading players for a lot of future assets and cap space. Could Rajon Rondo be the next one out of Beantown? Because Danny Ainge is known for being methodical and successful, we’ll rule him and his team out from taking the crown here. So, the Sixers it is! They have a lot of young players that could do well with the opportunities they’ll have given the lack of talent and internal competition. Specifically, Noel and Michael Carter-Williams will get the rock a lot and they just might get that desirable chemistry between them and win more games than most people expect. I give the over/under at about 22. I’ll be taking the over.

BOLD PREDICTION

KING: The Knicks have a turnaround season and win the division by a comfortable margin. Phil Jackson, the triangle offense, and Amar’e Stoudemire will be the reasons. Shout out to Derek Fisher.

HAMMEL: With all of the movable pieces in play and some of the most aggressive ownership/upper management partnerships in the league, the expectations are to see big roster turnover in the Atlantic Division. Specifically, Boston, New York, and Brooklyn could all make major moves by mid-season. What would be most shocking at this point is if none of these teams shake up their rosters in a big way. With the fairly attractive free-agent class of 2015 and the increasing difficulty in getting great value for expiring deals, expect the rosters to remain fairly stable in 2015.

VELASCO: The Nets will take the division thanks to lowered expectations, and if we’re honest, it will be because both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez remain healthy for the majority of the season … a bold prediction to make in itself! If the Nets can have their core of D-Will, Bropez, and Joe Johnson healthy, Mason Plumlee continuing to develop, Kevin Garnett giving basketball fans one more relatively good season, and the role players playing their roles, the Nets could take the division. And, maybe even go far in the postseason.

TEAM RECORDS

KING: 1. Knicks (55-27), 2. Raptors (50-32), 3. Nets (44-38), 4. 76ers (30-52), 5. Celtics (28-54)

HAMMEL: 1.Raptors (50-32), 2. Nets (43-39), 3. Knicks (40-42), 4. Celtics (34-48), 5. 76ers (18-64)

VELASCO: 1. Nets (50-32), 2. Raptors (48-34), 3. Knicks (40-42), 4. Celtics (32-50), 5. 76ers (25-57)

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