Last year, we saw a team from the Atlantic Division make the Eastern Conference Finals. Will we see this again and how competitive will the division be this upcoming year?
1. Boston Celtics
16-17 Record: 53-29
Major Additions: Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Shane Larkin
Major Losses: Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, Gerald Green
After a successful regular season campaign and Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season, the Celtics are looking good heading into August. With key additions of offensive wing talents Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, we could see a Boston offense that finished 9th in team offensive efficiency last season jump into the top 5 in this metric. Defense and rebounding could be where the Celtics falter. The trade of defensive stalwart Avery Bradley will hurt the backcourt, as we all know of Isaiah Thomas’ defensive struggles due to his stature. It will be tough for Marcus Smart to attempt to replace Bradley’s relentless on-ball guarding ability. The team also loses front court depth with departures of Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk through free agency. Johnson was quite possibly the best rebounder on a team that struggled on the boards. Morris and Baynes will surely be counted on to provide a strong presence inside behind Al Horford. With an improved roster, I can see the Celts hitting the 60 win mark this season.
17-18 Record Prediction: 60-22
2. Toronto Raptors
16-17 Record: 51-31
Major Additions: C.J. Miles, O.G. Anunoby
Major Losses: P.J. Tucker, Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll
The Raptors enter next season with some urgency. As All-Star guard Kyle Lowry turns 32 next year, the team’s contention window could begin to close soon. Unfortunately for The North, Toronto lost several key players this summer. Trade deadline acquisition, P.J. Tucker, took less money to go South and play in Houston. This move hurts the Raptors defensively on the wing especially considering the recent trade of SF DeMarre Carroll to the Brooklyn Nets to clear cap space. Toronto did, however, fix a major statistical anomaly from last season with their acquisition of C.J. Miles. The team finished a mediocre 14th in the league in 3pt% last season. Miles comes to Canada coming off a year in Indiana shooting 41.3% from downtown, the best of his career. In order to trade for Miles, the Raps had to give up backup PG, Cory Joseph, to Indiana. With the loss of Joseph, we could see Delon Wright and Norman Powell with increased minutes at the 1 next year. All these moves considered, I predict Toronto will have a similar season in 17-18, posting about 50 wins.
17-18 Record Prediction: 50-32
3. Philadelphia 76ers
16-17 Record: 28-54
Major Additions: J.J. Redick, Markelle Fultz, Amir Johnson
Major Losses: Shawn Long?….None
The Sixers come into this next season with the potential to be a playoff team. Philly got their new starting backcourt this summer, signing rookie Markelle Fultz and veteran sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Fultz could star for this team immediately and will be the primary ball-handler destined for deadly pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid. Redick will have plenty of room on the perimeter to shoot with the stacked frontcourt in the Liberty City. Barring any lingering effects from Fultz’s injury he sustained in the Summer League, this could be one of the best guard-duos in the East. The most positive sign this summer for the Sixers is the fact they’ve kept all their key players. They’ve only lost F Shawn Long to Houston for a pick and cash. I can see superstar Joel Embiid getting Philly to a .500 record and potential Eastern playoff spot this upcoming season.
17-18 Record Prediction: 42-40
4. New York Knicks
16-17 Record: 31-51
Major Additions: Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina
Major Losses: Marshall Plumlee, Carmelo Anthony…potentially
The Knicks are in a tough situation right now, possibly on the cusp of the end of the Melo era in NYC. With Anthony likely on his way to H-town in not too long, let’s focus on the youth. Hardaway Jr.’s return to the Knicks is boom or bust. After his career year in Atlanta last season, we’ll have to see if he keeps it up in the Big Apple. We all know he can shoot, but his defense remains in question heading into the season. Ntilikina will take time to develop, but could turn into a great defensive guard for New York, with good size at 6’5″. Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis look like the frontcourt for the future, and we may see The Unicorn make his first All-Star appearance next year with several stars heading west. It’d be unlikely New York gets into the playoffs this year, however they may not be far away with their young core.
17-18 Record Prediction: 29-53
5. Brooklyn Nets
16-17 Record: 20-62
Major Additions: D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, Jarrett Allen, Timofey Mozgov
Major Losses: Brook Lopez, Justin Hamilton, Andrew Nicholson
Despite several moves in the right direction this summer by Brooklyn GM, Sean Marks, it’s likely they sit at the bottom of the rut in the Atlantic again next year. The Nets lost their all-time leading scorer, Brook Lopez, to the Lakers this summer. This pretty much eliminates their insanely slim playoff chances for 17-18. However, they were able to acquire talented young guard, D’Angelo Russell, in the trade. A small ball lineup including Lin, Russell, and Crabbe could prove tough for teams in the East to guard. Young players Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and Isaiah Whitehead could be important for the Nets going forward as well. Brooklyn has had a successful off-season, but it would be a New York miracle if they make any noise in the East next year.
17-18 Record Prediction: 26-56