With the NBA season fast approaching, let's preview the landscape of the league. As part of a six-part series, we will preview each team division by division. We will discuss our thoughts on each team, as well as provide a potential team MVP, breakout player, and whether the team will be over/under on their win totals projected by our friends in the desert.
Let's get into the Atlantic Division.
2017-2018 Record: 55-27
Team MVP: Kyrie Irving
Breakout Player: Jayson Tatum
Over/Under - 58.5 Wins: Over
How big of a step Jayson Tatum makes will determine the success of the Celtics. Yes, they have Kyrie Irving. Yes, Gordon Hayward is back and healthy, but the jump that Tatum made last playoffs, is it for real, or is it a mirage?
The consensus is that Jayson Tatum's NBA comparison is Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder; I disagree. I believe that undermines how good Tatum can be. Tatum's upside offensively is more along the lines of a Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony is no longer the player he used to be, in his prime, he was the best "scorer" in the NBA; Tatum has that high of an upside.
Vegas projects the Celtics to win 58.5 games next year; I believe they will go over that. Last year the Celtics won 55 games with Kyrie Irving missing 22 games, and Gordon Hayward playing all of one quarter. The Celtics can win four more games than last year. Take the over.
2017-2018 Record: 28-58
Team MVP: D'Angelo Russell
Breakout Player: D'Angelo Russell/Jarrett Allen
Over/Under - 32 Wins: Over
The Brooklyn Nets finally have their own first round pick!
However, Brooklyn might actually be good enough to screw themselves. They don't have a core that can currently get them into the playoffs and contend for a title. What they do have, is a group of young players that can improve and be competitive. It would actually behoove them to tank this year and get a franchise cornerstone, instead of being stuck in playoff purgatory like the Charlotte Hornets (good enough to make the playoffs, but not to do anything substantial).
I'm betting that D'Angelo Russell takes a step this year into becoming a player that consistently can put up good numbers. A game that stands out from last season was against the Toronto Raptors on March 13, 2018. Russell exploded for 24 points in the first quarter and looked like a star in the making.
Last season, Russell underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the season. With the surgery now in the past, Russell seems to be at full strength and physically able to put together his best season to date. For the Brooklyn Nets future though, they should hope it doesn't equate to too many wins.
Jarrett Allen, the Nets 2017 first-round pick, is also a player that can take a jump this season.
New York Knicks
2017-2018 Record: 29-53
Team MVP: Kristaps Porzingis' Surgeon
Breakout Player: Kevin Knox
Over/Under - 29.5 Wins: Under
Is it even possible to be a "breakout player" before you've even played in an NBA game? Well, there weren't many other options. The only other player I would have considered would have been Frank Ntilikina, but he isn't even starting and might not all year. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined to start the year, the Knicks will become Knox's team until his return. Knox has been extremely impressive in Las Vegas Summer League, and in pre-season, and is considered be one of the favourites for the award because of the lack of surrounding talent.
If it were not for Kristaps Porzingis' injury, this team could have been a sneaky playoff contender; however, because Porzingis is projected to be out for the unforeseen future, I don't think this is a playoff team, no matter how weak some people believe the Eastern Conference is.
The win total is a stay away for me; I wouldn't bet on it because we don't know how long Kristaps is going to be out for. If he comes back soon, then reaching 30 wins seems realistic, but if he comes back after Christmas, then the chances seem slim.
2017-2018 Record: 52-30
Team MVP: Ben Simmons
Breakout Player: Markelle Fultz
Over/Under - 54 Wins: Over
Last season if there was a "breakout team", it would have been the Philadelphia 76ers. Making the jump from being a 28 win team, as the 4th worst team in the NBA, to 52 wins, finishing with the 5th best record in the NBA.
The 76ers made this significant of a jump without the contribution of the No. 1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz. He might have had the most underwhelming rookie season ever if Anthony Bennett hadn't existed. Tha's beside the point as Fultz forgot how to shoot the basketball, which is something that I've heard you need to know to play the game.
If Fultz can regain the touch that he showed at the University of Washington, then the 76ers can take another step forward and possibly win the Eastern Conference.
Fultz is not the only player on the 76ers that needs to improve his jumper.
Ben Simmons, if he wants to become an elite player in the NBA, needs to develop a respectable jump shot. Simmons' jump shot needs to be good enough to just make defenders guard him on the perimeter so that they are not bailing out and defending the paint. Even though Simmons is still good enough to score at the rim when defenders know that is where he is going, if he can develop a shot then everything on the court becomes easier.
If both players can learn how to shoot this season, the 76ers are going to the NBA Finals.
Since I didn't write about him or vote him for team MVP, Joel Embiid, you're still my favourite.
2017-2018 Record: 59-23
Team MVP: Kawhi Leonard
Breakout Player: Pascal Siakam
Over/Under - 55.5 Wins: Over
Last offseason Toronto Raptors President, Masai Ujiri, said he wanted a "Culture Change." This offseason there is not even a word to describe the change he truly made.
By trading away franchise icon Demar DeRozan, Ujiri made it clear that he isn't happy with just making the playoffs, or winning the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference. All that matters to Ujiri is winning an NBA title, or as Kyle Lowry alluded to it, "The Golden Ball."
What will be interesting about watching the Raptors this year will be, how long will it take to gel as a cohesive unit? One reason for their success in the past was their continuity, and will their lack of initial chemistry to start off the season hinder them? Probably not, but it is a possibility.
The over/under for wins is set at 55.5, this would be a four-win decrease from last season. The Raptors will be a better team than last year because they have better players, but it may not translate to the wins column. However, I'm betting on Kawhi Leonard returning back to form, and the Toronto Raptors finally being a legit title contender.