Waiting for the start of the new NBA season is starting to feel a lot like waiting for Christmas. That’s especially relevant here because both New York teams will be battling it up for supremacy of the Atlantic Division and both hope they can pull off their own Miracle on 34th Street and win a trophy in 2013-14. But will that actually happen?
Below, we have a unique breakdown of the Atlantic Division (tune in for the breakdowns of the other five in days to come)—how teams will end up stacked by the end of the season, what major weaknesses will keep each squad from reaching playoff and championship mecca, and even what Fantasy Basketball goods you’ll find buried inside each 13-man roster.
Power Ranking: 1
The Nets are the only team in the East, and perhaps the league, that runs two-deep at every position. Behind LeBron in Miami you have a bunch of ball boys. The Pacers have a major hole at the 5 when it comes to their bench. So do the Bulls. New York might as well start suiting up retired Knicks their backups look so pitiful.
Age isn’t on their side but this BK squad is going to be a handful for opposing teams especially when their best players are resting their feet.
Age, age, and…age. They’ll make the playoffs but Garnett will be 38, Pierce 36, Terry 37, Kirilenko 33, and Evans 34 by the time they could potentially make it to the finals. They have some youth but not enough to balance out the fatigue that’s going to start to creep in even by the All-Star point. Some Popovich-like management of minutes could save this team but rookie coach Jason Kidd is nowhere near that stratosphere.
As an insta-contenda, or a team built to win a ring inside of 11 months, they’ll also be forced to win at least top-3 positioning for the postseason. That means that Kidd won’t be able to realistically rest his veterans as much as he would like when you have the Heat, Pacers, Bulls, and Knicks breathing down your suit jacket. Exhaustion for this team won’t be pretty.
Avoid Andray Blatche At All Costs – Brook Lopez is starting to climb the ascent of his coming talent peak and that means he’ll start to play within the 33-to-35 minutes per game realm. Where Lopez will gain minutes Blatche will lose them.
Keep Your Eye On Livingston – Deron Williams is already contending with ankle problems. If this continues, as it did last season, Livingston will see a big jump in minutes. For leagues with 13-plus teams vying for crumbs, Livingston can be a quality sleeper at the right moments. Of course, that all depends on the state of Williams’ health.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Power Ranking: 2
The Knicks are fortunate the Raptors bench is so wretched because this will be the year its starting five is going to make some major noise out east.
Homers argue that the Knicks are younger, and so, will have a better year but youth doesn’t always translate to better. Their courting of players like Sean Mays, Josh Powell, and Ricky Davis shows just how desperate management is for output. To compound that, it also shows they might not really know what they’re doing.
Carmelo will score a lot, though. That’s better than a championship, right?
Ball movement, the fast break, and anything involving the cohesiveness of a five-man unit. The Knicks were dead last in about every category that involves the smooth hot-potato transfer of the rock that has made teams like Miami and San Antonio so dangerous. Having a bevy of guys who are offense-challenged playing to the whims of notorious game stoppers like Anthony and Smith does that to you. Worse: with a lack of available backcourt talent they could have at least attended to their second area of concern, rebounding, but haven’t really done much there either.
Carmelo Remains The Third-Best SF Fantasy Option - His efficiency will drop this season but there remains a big enough drop-off in who comes after that Melo should remain the bronze option. In no particular order, Rudy Gay, Nicolas Batum, Paul Pierce, and perhaps Tobias Harris follow Anthony. No way they can leapfrog him in the foreseeable future.
Only Buy Raymond Felton Cheap - Felton had his sixth-best year last season. On the flip side, though, it would also be his fourth-worst. As a player who has always struggled to stay in shape, he’s going to start regressing sooner than you’d expect (now at age 29). The 2012-13 season could already be an indication of that. He might still be a nice 13/5/3 point but nothing higher.
Power Ranking: 3
If NBA games were only two quarters long, the Raptors could be middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Instead they’re a middle of the pack Atlantic Division team. Getting Kyle Lowry to become a pass-first PG could help their lot considerably but there’s no suggestion that that’s possible. There’s also the aversion DeRozan and Gay have to advanced analytics. The only major upside for them at the moment is that Valancuinas is starting to look like a very bad man.
They don’t rebound well, don’t share the ball enough, can’t defend all that great, score confoundingly low for such an offensive-minded team, and have a weak bench. The team is relatively young so there’s hope they can grow into their talent some but it’ll be hard to make up for their deficiencies when no one has the toolset to do it with.
Starting Unit Shuffle - The Raptors starting five are a nice Fantasy dessert: you don’t necessarily want to try one before the main course but all can be nice 4th-to-7th rounders in deep leagues. Gay is a top-five Fantasy SF, DeRozan a top-10 Fantasy SG, Johnson a top-15 PF, Lowry a top-20 PG, and Valancuinas can become a top-15 C if all goes well. By no means draft all five, but a nice duo from Toronto can go a long way in your league.
Power Ranking: 4
Most believe that Boston will be better off being as bad as possible this season. The 2014 Draft, after all, is very well stocked. But counter to popular opinion, XN thinks that all the Celtics need is time. Their young core of Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, Kelly Olynyk, Marshon Brooks, and Avery Bradley have a far-reaching collective skillset that hasn’t had the time to fully mature. With a full year to experiment on the court, a strong pickup in the draft, and perhaps one or two able-bodied free agents and the C’s can take advantage of a top-heavy Eastern Conference.
Point guard until Rondo returns and buckets.
Buckets will be a major area of concern unless Green, Brooks, or Olynyk can shape up to be scoring machines. It seems that both Green and Brooks look like promising second or third options so it might be up to Olynyk to help out Boston in the buckets department. He has the skill but it remains to be seen if it’s good enough for the NBA.
Even Healthy, Rajon Rondo Might Not Be The Weapon We Remember Him To Be - This isn’t a knock on Rondo, who can pass with the best of them, it’s more that assists are a two-way street. You need someone who can dish the ball but also someone else who can convert the pass into a basket. Even if the knee injury derails Rondo little, his most potent weapon might be gone until other Celtics players can find the bottom of the net.
The Start Jared Sullinger At PF Campaign – Before his back problems, Sullinger was on route to have a top-five rookie campaign. He can certainly learn how to foul less, but at 21 he already has the goods to be an 11/11/2/1/1 type of guy. Brandon Bass has never come close to being that. If Brad Stevens plays it right, he’ll start Sullinger. Keep your fantasy eyes peeled if that happens.
Power Ranking: 5
The only competing the 76ers will be doing this year will be against themselves. You know, to avoid posting any kind of horrendous record a YMCA pickup team would if given the chance to be in the NBA for a season.
Where to begin? Oh yeah, Kwame Brown is their substitute center. This team should have a cartoon tank as their new mascot because their management has embraced the spirit of tanking with open arms.
Don’t Trust The Michael Carter-Williams Hype – Top rookies can usually nab a slew of stats on bad teams but this won’t be the case with MCW. That’s not to say that he’ll have a bad year just that he won’t be Jrue Holiday 2.0. Holiday needed an All-Star year to post the numbers he did with an atrocious Philly team and Carter-Williams would have to be the second coming of Iverson to step into that role from the get-go.
Unlike Damian Lillard, MCW also doesn’t have a commendable starting five to draw defensive attention away from him. It’s going to be a rocky start for the rook.