NBA Preview: Atlantic Division Belongs To Boston
KSLSports.com begins its preview of the 2018-19 NBA season with a division-by-division outlook. First up is the Atlantic division. Here are the teams in the order of their projected finish:
Last season: 55-27, 2nd in Atlantic Division, lost in Conference Finals
Key additions: None significant
Draft picks: Robert Williams (1st round, 27th overall, Texas A&M)
Key losses: Greg Monroe
This team is downright scary. Now that a certain prominent figure has left Cleveland, the path has been opened for the boys from Beantown to ascend to the top of the Eastern Conference. For the Celtics, the key to a run to a title fight with the Western Conference will be to stay on the court and away from any injuries, easier said than done. A full season of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward playing together under Brad Stevens will be fun to watch.
While the Celtics’ additions to the starting lineup got most of the buzz at this time last season, it was the depth of the roster that carried them all the way to the brink of the NBA Finals. ‘Scary’ Terry Rozier showed how well he can play while leading the injured C’s to the conference finals last spring. If the team can stay fully healthy, this team has an excellent chance of making it to the championship round in June.
Prediction: 63 wins, NBA Finals
Last season: 52-30, 3rd in Atlantic Division, lost in Conference Semifinals
Key additions: Wilson Chandler, Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, Mike Muscala
Draft picks: Zhaire Smith (1st round, 16th overall, Texas Tech (traded from Phoenix)), Landry Shamet (1st round, 26th overall, Wichita State),
Key losses: Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Justin Anderson
Could this be the year that the Process is completed with an NBA championship? Could be. The Sixer have it all, but may be reeling after a turbulent offseason scandal that culminated in the dismissal of general manager Bryan Colangelo. Former NBA star Elton Brand is now leading the team, can he continue the work put in by Colangelo and Sam Hickie and rally the franchise to championship heights?
The biggest addition to the roster may be a revamped jump shot in Markelle Fultz’s game. The 2017 first overall pick struggled to find the floor last season thanks to a case of the shooting yips. That seems to be behind him as he has played well in the preseason, even making a few 3-pointers.
The roster also includes a superstar in Joel Embiid, a budding superstar in reigning Rookie of the Year (sorry, Jazz fans) Ben Simmons and a lockdown defensive specialist in Robert Covington. The biggest x-factor not only on the team, but perhaps in all of the NBA is Fultz. If he can truly get over his strange shooting issues and reach his potential, this Sixers team may have the horses to meet the Warriors in the Finals.
Prediction: 60 wins, reach Conference Finals
Last season: 59-23, 1st in Atlantic Division, lost in Conference Semifinals
Key additions: Nick Nurse (head coach), Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Greg Monroe
Draft picks: None
Key losses: Dwane Casey (head coach), DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl
It was a weird offseason for a team that won more games last season than the NBA Finals champion Golden State Warriors. In the lull between getting swept in the playoffs and winning Coach of the Year, head coach Dwane Casey was given the axe and assistant coach Nick Nurse was promoted to the top gig. Also, longtime franchise mainstay DeMar DeRozan was shipped out in favor of Kawhi Leonard when the Raptors took advantage of Leonard desire to leave San Antonio.
These aren’t small changes. Nothing was really broken in Toronto when the exception of their poor performance against LeBron James and his Cavaliers in the playoffs. Now that the King has made a new residence in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is wide open. Could this be the year that the Raptors break through and make the first Finals appearance in franchise history, or did they over-correct their flaws? Time will tell.
Prediction: 53 wins, Conference Semi-Finals
NEW YORK KNICKS
Last season: 29-53, 4th in Atlantic Division, missed playoffs
Key additions: David Fizdale (head coach), Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh
Draft picks: Kevin Knox (1st round, 9th overall, Kentucky), Mitchell Robinson (2nd round, 36th overall, no college)
Key losses: Jeff Hornacek (head coach), Michael Beasley, Kyle O’Quinn
The Knicks’ 2017-18 season went off the rails when star center Kristaps Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee in February. They went just 6-21 to finish the season with the Unicorn sidelined. Head coach Jeff Hornacek was let go after a less than memorable run, in which he went 60-102 in two seasons.
Porzingis isn’t expected to return to the hardwood until February, so it’s no telling how new head coach David Fizdale will fare until then. First round draft pick Kevin Knox impressed during Summer League, giving pundits plenty to be excited about. And any offseason that sees a team dropping Michael Beasley off the roster can’t possibly be a bad offseason for that team. That said, Knicks fans would be well-advised to get their expectations low, at least until Porzingis returns.
Prediction: 36 wins, miss playoffs
Last season: 28-54, last in Atlantic Division, missed playoffs
Key additions: Shabazz Napier, Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried
Draft picks: Dzanan Musa (1st round, 29th overall, Croatia), Rodions Kurucs (2nd round, 40th overall, Spain)
Key losses: Dante Cunningham, Jeremy Lin, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, Darrell Arthur
The nightmare is almost over for the Brooklyn Nets. After three seasons of not having their first round draft picks due to a mob shakedown of trade with the Boston Celtics, the Nets are finally in position to pick a potential star next season. It’s a classic case of delayed gratification. Delayed in the sense that to have the best possible pick in next year’s draft, the Nets are going to have to be bad this season.
The roster has been restructured to include a bounty of expiring contracts and good players on small-money deals. There is also returning talent in Spencer Dinwiddle, who finished third in voting for the Most Improved Player award. DeMarre Carroll also played well in his first season in a Nets uniform. So if the Nets are playing for the future, at least they’ll do so with dignity.
Prediction: 29 wins, miss playoffs