Monday, October 18, 2010

2010-11 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division


The Boston Celtics

Last season, Boston's two biggest problems were age and injuries. Their offseason response was to get older and more injury prone with the acquisitions of Shaq and Jermaine "The Drain" O'Neal. Remember: The 2009-10 Celtics were only a few baskets away from winning Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road against a pretty good Lakers team. So how seriously should we take the 2010-11 Celtics? Let me put it this way: Even die-hard Boston fans have to answer that question by saying, "If Shaq and/or Jermaine O'Neal can just..."

That's right. All it's going to take is for Shaq and The Drain the make an actual, basketball-related impact on their new team. Mind you, this is something they've utterly failed to do in each of the last couple stops of the NBA careers. Shaq sunk the Seven Seconds or Less Era in Phoenix before helping Cleveland lose LeBron James forever.

As for The Drain, he got passed around like a hot potato after the Pacers finally suckered somebody into taking his giant contract off their bloodstained hands, and he was declared legally deceased during Miami's one-round playoff run last season. Mind you, it was the Celtics are the team who eliminated the Heat, so they got to watch his playoff implosion up close. How bad was he? Well, he went 9-for-44 from the field, his PER was 2.5 and he finished the series with an Offensive Rating of 57. Oh, and in Miami's elimination game, he grabbed only two defensive rebounds.

But you know what? I don't see those shambling mounds as Boston's biggest problems. As a Celtics fan, I'm much more worried about the fact that Rajon Rondo still can't hit jump shots with consistency or knock down clutch free throws. Those two factors may very well have cost the Celts the 2010 NBA title. Speaking of things that may have cost Boston the title, how about Ray Allen's playoff shooting slump? Look, shooters slump, I get that. But Allen's have been getting worse, lasting longer and are becoming more critical because they're happening during the playoffs. Are these things going to get better by tacking on another year and more miles to his odometer? On top of those factors, now that Tony Allen is marinating in the Grizzlies locker room, who's going to hound the Kobes and LeBrons of the world?

And let's not forget the C's lost their defensive guru, Tom Thibodeau, to the Chicago Bulls.

Look, the Celtics are going to win their division. Mostly because the other teams in the Atlantic are the crappiest of the crappy crap (see below). And they'll definitely be dangerous come playoff time, assuming everybody remains relatively healthy. But the 2010 Finals proved that championships are won and lost by the slimmest of margins. The Celtics just have too many question marks and what ifs.

The New Jersey Nyets

Last season, the Nyets managed only 12 wins and needed a late-season run -- if you can consider five wins in their last 12 games a "run" -- to avoid becoming the worst team (in terms of wins and losses) in NBA history. Still, as horrific as the season was -- poor Brook Lopez has permanent handprints on his face from all the facepalming he did last year -- all the losing was supposed to have a happy ending. After all, New Jersey had stockpiled cap space for the summer's free agent bonanza and their record practically made them a mortal lock for the number one overall draft pick. If they could just win the draft lottery and select John Wall...

...only they didn't win the draft lottery. They got the third pick, which they used to select Derrick Favors, a kid with decent long-term potential but little chance of making an impact this season. Other key acquisitions include Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Quinton Ross, Jordan Farmar, Stephen Graham, Joe Smith's corpse and Johan Petro (for $10 million over three years...WTF?!).

I'm have absolutely no idea what kind of Frankenstein's monster new GM Billy King (a.k.a. the guy who once destroyed the Philadelphia 76ers) expects new coach Avery Johnson to build out of this freaky warehouse of scrap parts. But I can't wait to find out.

But you know what the best part is? After last year's near-record setting failfest, there's virtually no way the Nyets can't improve this season. Even a conservative estimate of, say, 24 wins would be an enormous improvement. So expect better days in New Jersey. Relatively speaking.

The New York Knicks

During the offseason, the Bricks spent $100 million on Amar''''''e Stoudemire. Which would be fine if Amar''''''e wasn't a total fraud.

Okay, okay. That's not fair. Stoudemire isn't a total fraud. The guy is a stud on offense, ranking 5th in free throw attempts (632), 7th in field goal percentage (.557) and 10th in points per game (23.1). However, most of those sparkling stats came at the end of an assist from Steve Nash. In Phoenix, Amar''''''e lived off the variety of dunks, layups and pick-and-pops that Nash created. Conversely, Stoudemire was at his absolute worst when trying to create offense on his own. Unless he could simply blow by his man and not encounter any help defense at the rim, the dude looked like a baby deer trying to run on ice skates. STAT isn't a creator, he's a finisher. What's he going to finish in New York? Other than the hopes and dreams of Knicks fans everywhere. Assuming those suckers have any hopes and dreams left.

Stoudemire cowers from defensive rebounds the way Ron Artest shrinks away from giant snake eggs. And his answer to "defense" is to either leap out of the way matador style or reach in with the awkward clumsiness of a teenage boy groping his first real breast, which is why he ranked 5th in personal fouls last season (281).

The point is: If Amar''''''e is the foundation of your team -- the unquestioned heart and soul -- then your team is officially f***ed. I fully expect Stoudemire to become this season's premier 20-10-50 guy.

Knicks hopefuls might want to point out that Donnie Walsh flipped David "All O, No D" Lee for Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike. I would remind those people that the team's starting point guard is Raymond Felton (a poor pick-and-roll player) and the team doesn't have much in the way of consistent, high-percentage three-point shooting. These things do not play to Stoudemire's strengths.

In other words: Expect New York's playoff drought to continue.

The Philadelphia 76ers

Year Two of The Elton Brand Era saw the Sixers win only 27 games and finish tied for the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. According to the Pythagorean Wins calculated by, Philly was better than only the following teams: New Jersey, Minnesota, The Other L.A. Team, Detroit and Washington. That's a real rogue's gallery of suck, right there.

During 2009-10, the Sixers should have worn masks with question marks on them, because the team had no identity whatsoever. I mean, they were supposed to be a running team yet finished the season ranked 22nd in Pace and 23rd in PPG. Furthermore, they ranked 22nd in three-point percentage (.343) and their inside game was anchored by Elton Brand, who was granted Living Statue status by the world's leading statueologists. Basically, there really wasn't much of anything this team did particularly well. Other than lose, that is.

Now ask yourself this: Has anything of major significance changed from last season to this season? Flipping Sammy Dalembert for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes makes the team...whiter...I guess. Number two overall pick Evan Turner was a summer league disappointment. And as for new coach Doug Collins, well, did you see his last two seasons as a head coach in Washington? He lost the trust of every player on that team not named Michael Jordan, and that was only because he was Jordan's Yes Man.

Which is why the quarterback battle between Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick is the only real ray of hope Philadelphia fans have right now.

Sorry, Philadelphia fans.

The Toronto Raptors

Last season, Chris Bosh ranked 6th in the league in rebounds per game (10.8), 7th in free throw attempts (590) and 9th in points per game (24.0). He was also 4th in Player Efficiency Rating (25.0), trailing only LeBron James (31.1), Dwyane Wade (28.0) and Kevin Durant (26.2). Of course, Bosh put together what was probably his best statistical season during a contract year while playing for a Raptors team that failed to make the playoffs. But those are just facts, so feel free to discard them.

(Reality check: Bosh ranked 7th in the league with 7.9 Offensive Win Shares, yet ranked only 19th overall with 9.6 Win Shares. For those of you who enjoy simple math, that means Bosh had only 1.7 Defensive Win Shares during his best statistical season. How is that possible? I'm sure it had nothing whatsoever to do with him gunning it on offense to improve his free agent standing.)
Anyway, even though Bosh was lighting it up -- at the offensive end, anyway -- the Raptors still floundered down the stretch and missed the postseason (thanks largely to an injury to Bosh). When Bosh decided to take his talents to South Beach, it was done to a massive chorus of "Good riddance!!" from Canadians everywhere. And yet...

...Bosh's departure has made Toronto's roster one of the most depressing sights in the league. Their best returning players (Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon) strike fear in no one's heart (unless you count their fantasy owners). Their new additions (Leandro Barbosa, Amir Johnson, Linas Kleiza and draft pick Ed Davis) would be decent pickups for a team that was already pretty good. But the Raptors aren't pretty good. And this season, they might even be the worst team in the league.

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