Armchair’s preseason NBA coverage begins with a look at the Atlantic Division. It’s time to take a look at the biggest questions facing the teams in the Atlantic entering the 2018-2019 season.
Last Season: 55-27 (2nd in Atlantic)
How will the Celtics manage minutes among a log jam of talent?
Brad Stevens has problem on his hands. It is a problem every coach in the NBA would love to have. The Boston Celtics have so much talent on their roster going into this season. Boston returns the entire core rotation that was one quarter away from the NBA Finals in May. They will be adding two All-Stars to that core. With the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from season-ending injuries, the Celtics become one of the deepest teams in the NBA.
Brad Stevens owns the responsibility of balancing minutes between;
- Kyrie Irving
- Gordon Hayward
- Jaylen Brown
- Jayson Tatum
- Al Horford
- Terry Rozier
- Marcus Morris
- Marcus Smart
- Aron Baynes
- Daniel Theis
There is 10 players on the roster that started at least one game for the Celtics in the year prior. Not even including Semi Ojeleye, who played key minutes in the playoffs and rookie Robert Williams III. With the plethora of injuries last season, this log jam of talent is a blessing for Stevens. He is able to limit minutes of his starting lineup throughout the regular season. If Boston stays healthy, they may very well have the freshest core going into the playoffs. A far different picture from a year ago.
New York Knicks
Last Season: 29-53 (4th in Atlantic)
Will the Knicks take the correct steps leading into the Summer of 2019?
The New York Knicks are building towards something incredibly promising. With a max contract spot in tow with the possibility of a second being opened up throughout the season, the Knicks are set up to make a splash in the summer of 2019. New York enters this season two young franchise cornerstones in Kristaps Porzingis and rookie Kevin Knox.
The question surrounding the Knicks, is just how bad do they want to be this season? With Porzingis out until at least the All-Star Break, it might be best for them to call this season a lost cause. The possibility of adding another top lottery prospect to the Porzingis and Knox combination along with two star free agent acquisitions should make the hearts of even the most cynical Knicks fans heart.
New York is inching closer and closer to building something sustainable in the Big Apple. The next steps they take will decide whether they will become contenders or remain the loser Knicks we all know and love.
Last Season: 59-23 (1st in Atlantic)
Can Toronto sweep Kawhi off his feet and into a long term deal after the season?
The Toronto Raptors made the splash of the summer when they acquired Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs in an August trade. Toronto sent their face of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan, away in the deal. With the DeRozan era ending and the Leonard era getting underway, one question remains. How long will the Leonard era last in Toronto?
Toronto risked a lot when they acquired Leonard. The Raptors are now in a position where they need to spend this season trying to make hime fall in love with his new situation. He is a strange dude, obviously. Have you heard that laugh? Anyways, Leonard seems like a tough guy to read. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri will work night and day trying to get in Kawhi’s comfort zone enough for him to sing a deal in the offseason.
Another question would be, how will Kyle Lowry adapt to playing with Kawhi Leonard? If the two do not mesh with each other on or off the court early in the season do the Raptors panic and get rid of Lowry in an effort to appease to Kawhi?
The Kawhi Leonard trade drama was incredibly entertaining during the summer, Toronto’s season of recruiting might be an even better story.
Last season: 28-54 (5th in Atlantic)
Who wins the battle to become the point guard of the future in Brooklyn?
The Brooklyn Nets have a point guard battle brewing, and not just a training camp battle. There are two promising young point guards on the Nets roster. A decision must be made this season on whether D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie should be the franchise’s starting point guard in their rebuilding process. The Nets will enter the 2019 offseason with a max contract spot and their own draft pick for the first time in years. Knowing who you’re point guard is going into the next phase of your franchise is something you need to know entering free agency.
Russell is the younger of the two guards. A former No. 2 pick, Russell offers a ton of talent and upside. He also carries a lot of immaturity off of the court which maybe something the Nets consider in their decision. He has shown incredible offensive potential throughout his three years in the NBA, averaging around 15 points per game in his young career. He needs to improve on the defensive.
Dinwiddie is the lesser known commodity of the two players. He is also the more complete player of the two. Spencer is a solid two-way player who shows a ton of potential as a play maker. He filled in for an injured Russell for most of last season as he averaged 14 points and seven assists last season.
The Nets have a decision to make, luckily they have an entire season to make the decision. They can get solid value for whichever guard they decide to move on from, especially if its at the deadline.
Last Season: 52-30 (3rd in Atlantic)
Will Ben Simmons growth correlate with the growth of the Philadelphia 76ers?
The Philadelphia 76ers entered the playoffs last season as the hottest team in the NBA. With a winning streak approaching twenty down the stretch of the regular season, Philly ended the regular season as the non-LeBron James favorite to win the Eastern Conference. These dreams ended suddenly as Joel Embiid found himself live tweeting the Eastern Conference finals after a five-game beat down by the undermanned Boston Celtics.
Two things showed during the Boston series for Philadelphia.
- The 76ers young players were not ready for the intense pressure of a playoff series.
- Ben Simmons does indeed need a jump shot.
The Celtics were able to contain Simmons by sagging off of him defensively, and not in the way the Miami Heat did in the round prior. In the first round, Miami sagged off of Simmons but still left his passing lanes open to shooters, so Simmons was able to pick them apart with his passing. The Celtics dared him to shoot by forcing all of shooters off of the 3-point line and let Philly decide between Simmons jumpers or forcing the ball to Embiid in the post every possession.
Simmons made some crucial mistakes throughout the series. Philadelphia’s ability to bounce back and compete with much-improved Celtics and Raptors teams falls on the shoulders of Simmons. We all know Embiid is going to be Embiid. Simmons ability to improve his shooting and maturity is the deciding factor in the fate of the process. This season is a key season for determining whether the process is actually a success.
A look ahead to 2018-2019
The Atlantic has the potential to be one of the more entertaining divisions in basketball. At the top of the division, you arguably have the three best teams in the East with Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia. Those three teams should be battling for home court advantage down the stretch of the regular season, and two will be battling for a spot in the NBA finals come May. At the bottom of the division, you have two rebuilding squads that are lined for huge summers in 2019. If the Knicks and Nets play there cards right, we could see a five team arms race taking place in the Atlantic for the foreseeable future.
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