This series of articles will try to prepare you for the following Nba season by taking a quick look at every team’s roster and situation going forward. Each of the six Nba Divisions will receive an article, starting with the Atlantic Division today. The following one or two articles will be published before the regular season begins and the last three will release a couple of days/ weeks into the season. Without further ado, let’s get into the first five teams!
The Development Of Their Core
With Finals-Mvp Kawhi Leonard leaving them to join the LA Clippers, the Raptors find themselves in a tricky situation. The roster consists of capable Nba players from top to bottom and they will probably be in the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference again but will most likely not be a contender. Aging players such as Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol could be looking for an opportunity elsewhere when their contracts run out in the summer of 2020 and it might make sense for the Raptors to reach out to teams for possible trades. For all we know, this roster could look entirely different post All-Star break.
One Of The Most Interesting Young Groups In The League
Despite the older players on their roster, the Raptors are looking at one of the most fascinating collections of talent in the Nba. Pascal Siakam will have to prove that he can be a first or second option on a successful Nba team and looks like he might be an All-Star this season. OG Anunoby, coming off an injury that prevented him from playing in the playoffs, is an interesting two-way wing that could fill the role of the 3-And-D player perfectly. This season, he will get much more playing time and a bigger opportunity to grow into a larger role. Two interesting acquisitions were Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Both of them were drafted in 2015, haven’t been able to play up to their potential yet and have been subpar 3-point shooters so far in their careers. A less-known talent on the team is Chris Boucher, who is already 26 years old, but still seems to be able to make a jump this season. Boucher was selected G-League Mvp in 2018/19 averaging 27.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game and looks to earn a spot in Nick Nurse’s rotation this season.
Spacing And 3-Point Shooting
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green shot a combined 10.4 3-pointers per game last year for them, they are not with the team this season. The Raptors were in the top third in 3PA and 3P% last year, which can not be expected to be repeated this season and while players like Siakam, VanVleet, and Kyle Lowry will probably be shooting more threes, other players will have to step up and hit more threes than they did previously. Those players include Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson, but also Cameron Payne, another below-average shooter from behind the arc. It will be exciting to see how the Raptors’ coaching staff will adapt to the new personnel and to watch the players step up with The Claw gone.
Go Big Or Go Home
After Brett Brown’s team lost to the Raptors in seven games in the second round of the playoffs, they decided to let go of Jimmy Butler and acquired Josh Richardson and Al Horford, who will complete their starting lineup of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. This lineup would be the tallest starting 5 in the league and it seems as if they want to destroy the opponent’s defense by pounding the ball inside. Al Horford and Ben Simmons are elite playmakers in Center-bodies which will allow the offense to still be fluid and not come to a standstill. Ultimately, the pure talent of this lineup automatically makes them a Finals-contender in the Eastern Conference.
Lack Of Depth
Something this starting lineup will not be able to control is the distribution off the bench. Players that will fight for legitimate minutes when Embiid and company take a seat include inexperienced players like Zhaire Smith, Matisse Thybulle and Jonah Bolden, but also more experienced guys such as Kyle O’Quinn and Mike Scott. While these players on their own are not terrible, there are questions about the spacing in these lineups. True floor-spacers coming off the bench are Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott and James Ennis with Bolden and Raul Neto being able to hit a three occasionally. This adds to the spacing problems of the starting lineup and allows for little flexibility in finishing lineups, which might hurt Philly in a playoff-series.
The 76ers’ superstar duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons might be the most awkward fit of all superstar tandems in the league. They will continue to be their team’s most important players this season, but we might see another star play alongside Embiid in the following years. They don’t complement each other very well and if at least one of them doesn’t learn how to consistently step out and shoot 3’s, the 76ers might be better off trading Simmons away for a more natural fit next to Embiid. Even though Embiid shot 4.1 3’s per game last season, he only hit about 30% of those and is better off not shooting them at all. Simmons is known for not being able to shoot the ball and will continue to hurt his team if he doesn’t learn how to, which is why this might be the most important thing for the 76ers this season.
Tatum And Brown Next to Kemba Walker
There are probably 3 different points that can be made on Jayson Tatum alone, but this one will hopefully do. The fit of the Celtics’ two most promising players next to Kyrie Irving was not ideal over the last two years and there’s a reason to think that the bad chemistry in the locker room didn’t help them either. This year, a Guard not so different from Kyrie Irving will bring up the ball for the Celtics: Kemba Walker. Walker is an undersized offensive powerhouse and, what’s most important about this signing, has been more willing to pass the ball than Kyrie Irving on much worse teams in Charlotte. He will hopefully get some weight off of Tatum’s shoulders, improve the team’s chemistry and could be a vital part in any championship run the Celtics will attempt throughout his four-year contract with them. Similar to Kyrie, he’s a minus for his team’s defense which is why either Smart or Brown will guard the opponent’s best perimeter player most of the time. Brown will be able to either grow into the bigger role next to him in the starting line-up or occupy a bigger offensive role off the bench if Smart starts next to Walker.
Defense Post The Al Horford Era
With a Defensive Rating of 107.8, the Celtics ranked 7th in the league last year and were statistically better on offense than on defense (10th best Offensive Rating last year). Al Horford, who has been one of the best defenders in the league for years, ranked 20th in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, effectively meaning that only 19 players have had a bigger defensive impact than he did last year. The next Celtic on this list is Marcus Smart at 44. This year, their starting Center will most likely be Enes Kanter, who is known for being a negative on defense and ranked 100th in this respective list. If Robert Williams doesn’t make a huge jump and starts over him, the Celtics are without a defensive anchor and are vulnerable on this end. Enes Kanter might be here for now, but he doesn’t seem like the long-term solution at Center, which is why it might be interesting to see if Danny Ainge will get them a new starter if one becomes available on the trade block.
Carsen Edwards, Tacko Fall, Romeo Langford, Robert Williams, Grant Williams. All of these players will be fighting for back-up minutes with the Celtics and project to be loads of fun to watch. Edwards is a 5’11 scoring machine and one of nine rookies on the Celtics roster. If he earns himself minutes, Isaiah Thomas flashbacks are almost guaranteed. Also rookies drafted this year, Romeo Langford and Tacko Fall were two famous prospects coming into the 2019 Draft. Langford is an athletic Shooting Guard that still needs to figure his shot out and Tacko Fall is 7’5 shot-blocker with a decent touch around the rim. Opposing to these three, Robert Williams already played for the Celtics last year and hopes to now make a legitimate impact for them after only playing in 32 games last season. Grant Williams is another exciting prospect at the Forward positions but might not play much this year due to the depth of the Celtics here. Fun times ahead for the C’s!
Empire State Of (Kyrie’s) Mind
This summer, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, and Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets and form the next powerhouse in the Eastern Conference just five miles south from the MSG. Durant, though, will most likely miss the entire 2019/20 season with his ruptured Achilles, which leaves Kyrie Irving in a similar situation to that in Boston two years ago. Again, Irving is looking at a talented young roster with players like Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs and Džanan Musa with loads of chemistry coming over from last season. Again, this young core is looking up to him and will expect him not only be the team’s first option this season, but also a leader. The outcome has to be different this time. Kyrie, who pubicly acknowledged some of his mistakes on Nets Media Day, will have to not only control the Nets’ offense but also himself and his emotions this time around. If he can do that, the Nets will be just fine.
Allen Vs. Jordan: Who To Start?
The Nets were able to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving by also signing DeAndre Jordan to a 4-year deal worth $40 million which some consider to be an overpay. If he was the key to KD and Kyrie though, it’s without a doubt a good investment. Now that Jordan will be sharing minutes with Allen, the Nets’ coaching staff have to figure out who to bring off the bench and who to start. Jarrett Allen made great progress last season and averaged not only 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds but also 1.5 blocks per game, emerging as one of the Nba’s better shot-blockers under the basket. DeAndre Jordan, still one of the best rebounders and lob-threads in the league, didn’t look as good as he did in previous years last season averaging 11 points and 13.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Due to his enormous frame compared to the skinnier Allen, he could be an amazing sixth man for them to rebound against other team’s benches where it’ll be easier for him to dominate under the basket. Unfortunately, there’s no info on whether a starting role for Jordan was a condition in him signing with the Nets, in which case Allen would come off the bench for Brooklyn. However it might shake out, the Center position will host the most interesting battle for minutes on the Nets this season.
Aside from Kyrie Irving, there will be multiple distractions for this (still) relatively young team this season. Wilson Chandler is suspended for the first 25 games due to a violation of the Nba’s Anti-Drug Program and the arrest of Rodions Kurucs due to assault allegations by his ex-girlfriend won’t help either. Whether this allegation is or will prove to be true, comparable cases have been disturbances to teams in the past. In addition to this, the Nets will be covered a lot more on a national stage and the expectations after the additions of Durant and Irving will be a lot higher than in years past. It’ll be intriguing to see the new-look Nets perform under the eyes of many more fans than last season and just how good they can be without Durant this season.
New York Knicks
Identity And Culture – What Is Knicks Basketball?
After the New York Knicks were one of the worst teams of the 2018/19 Nba season and didn’t luck out on any of the top free agents this summer, they made sure this won’t happen again in the next big free agency class 2021. They signed most of their new players to 2-year deals and made sure to have enough money available in the summer of 2021, which will feature players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo and Rudy Gobert. Players with a player-option will include LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Knicks’ new players will help them establish a culture that will hopefully convince a few of those to sign with the Knickerbockers a couple of years down the road. Players like Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, and Bobby Portis are respectable Nba players that will make the Knicks a better team than before. In addition to that, young talents such as Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, and Rj Barrett will be able to adapt to the league on a decent roster and learn from veterans on the team. Glancing over the Knicks’ off-season, it becomes obvious that they are trying to emulate what the Brooklyn Nets did over the last years. The Knicks’ core for the next two years now has some time to grow together and fight for spots on expectantly contending teams in the future.
Young Talent In The Big Apple: The Good And The Bad
In an interview within the framework of the Nba’s Rookie Transition Program, Center Mitchell Robinson answered “Just to bond with, to grow with them.” when asked about his expectations for the following season and his new teammates. Robinson is one of a couple of promising young players on the Knicks and could be a vital part of the franchise for a long time. He and Allonzo Trier were two of the few positives in New York last season and both of them are expected to come into this season even better, Mitchell as a rim-protector and Trier as a versatile scorer off the bench. Players who need to be better this season than they were last year are Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox. Ntilikina is already a good defender, but the Knicks’ french Point Guard hope hasn’t been able to develop his offensive skills up to an Nba level and might be on the way out of New York via trade if he continues to stagnate here. Kevin Knox, who was the Knicks’ ninth pick in the 2018 Nba Draft, had a disappointing rookie season in which the promising wing-scorer shot poorly from the field, from 3 and from the free-throw line. If he’s not the scorer the Knicks thought he would be, it might just be this year’s lottery-pick, Rj Barrett. Barrett has shown great scoring abilities at Duke last year and is, on top of that, a great playmaker, athlete, and rebounder. He averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in his lone year in the Ncaa and could be one of the favorites to win the “Rookie of the Year” this season.
Julius Randle’s Second Breakout Season?
A big factor for the Knicks’ success this season will be Julius Randle. Randle, who played his last season in New Orleans, averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game and earned himself a contract worth $18 million this season. He scored five more points than in 2017/18 with the Lakers and his last season can be considered a breakout season. Now, without Jrue Holiday and (for parts of the season) Anthony Davis next to him, he might get even more touches. If Rj Barrett proves to be ready to be the first scoring option, he will be. But if he doesn’t, it’s probably Julius Randle who will get the most shots on a Knicks roster that lacks scorers. In that case, Randle might even be a dark horse to sneak into the All-Star Game due to a weakened Eastern Conference.