A Brief Division by Division Breakdown
The Mighty Atlantic
A couple years ago, the Atlantic was the joke of the NBA. Many pundits cited the paltry division as a prominent reason as to why the NBA should rid itself of division winners and just take the top teams in each conference. However, with Boston’s acquisitions of Garnett and Ray Allen last year, and the Sixers procurement of Elton Brand this past summer, the Atlantic will likely boast three playoff teams this season: Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto. The Celtics will not be able to coast to another division crown this season as the Sixers now pose a legitimate threat after signing Brand. New York and New Jersey may battle one another all season long for the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery this Spring. Mike D’Antoni will look to implement his up tempo style in the Big Apple with a Knicks roster which features plodding big men Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry, as well as coach killer Stephon Marbury. In New Jersey, Vince Carter is the lone holdover from the trio of himself, Jason Kidd, and Richard Jefferson.
Calderon averaged 13 pts and 9 assists on almost 54% shooting during his time as the Raptor’s starting point guard last season and should enjoy similar numbers this season without T.J. Ford around.
Lee should benefit from D’Antoni’s high flying offensive machine. He’s one of the few Knicks big men who can run the floor and finish on the break.
Marbury was basically exiled from the team last season during his time on the injured list with an ankle injury. D’Antoni reportedly hated coaching Marbury in Phoenix and the Knicks brought in Chris Duhon in the offseason to play big minutes at point guard.
Allen is 33 years old and is clearly the third option behind Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. He struggled at times during the playoffs last year and has had his share of minor injury issues the past few seasons.
A Resurgent Central?
Entering last season, the Pistons, Cavs, and Bulls were all expected to contend for an Eastern conference title. While Detroit and Cleveland lived up to expectations, Chicago fell apart and fired coach Scott Skiles but lucked into Derrick Rose after winning the draft lottery. While Rose will take time to develop, Chicago will likely return to the playoffs this season if Rose is as good as advertised. Meanwhile, the Cavs added Milwaukee point guard Mo Williams and the Pistons have retained the same core that has gotten them to at least the Eastern conference finals for six straight years. Detroit will face an increasing challenge from Cleveland this year and could be in danger of falling to second place in the Central. Even Indiana may contend again for a playoff spot in the East if Danny Granger can continue to grow and make the leap into stardom. The Bucks brought in Nets forward Richard Jefferson to team up with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, but then inexplicably traded Mo Williams to the Cavs for pennies on the dollar.
If Ford can stay healthy, he should fit in nicely on an Indiana team in which Jim O’Brien basically gives his players free reign on offense.
Kirk Hinrich or Ben Gordon:
Derrick Rose will cut into Hinrich’s minutes at the point. It remains to be seen whether the Bulls will play him more at off guard, which would cut into Gordon’s playing time or if it will be Hinrich that will ride the pine more often.
The Magic should glide to another division title unless Washington can get Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison back healthy in time to make a push for Southeastern title. While Miami will be better with the additions of Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley and the return of a healthy Dwyane Wade, they are young and inexperienced and lack a capable big man. Charlotte should also be improved with Larry Brown at the helm, but he must prove he still has his coaching mojo after his debacle with the Knicks a few years ago. Even with talents such as Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith, the Hawks are still – well, the Hawks. Time will tell if their 7 game series against Boston was a fluke or an indication that Atlanta is actually ready to compete.
Wade’s performance in the Olympics indicates that he is nearly back to the form that he exhibited in the finals against the Mavs. Also, the Heat’s lack of size will force Miami to play at a faster pace, which should only help Wade’s numbers.
Larry Brown has always had the reputation for being tough on his point guards, and it is not a good sign for Felton that the Bobcats picked D.J. Augustin in the first round of the draft. Brown abhors shoot first point guards, and although Felton cannot exactly be classified as such, expect Brown to have him on a short leash.
The Frigid Northwest
The weakest division in the Western conference features a group of rebuilding teams. Minnesota and Oklahoma City have almost no chance at reaching the playoffs in the stacked West. In fact, the Flint Tropics have about as good a shot at making the NBA playoffs than Oklahoma City. Denver basically indicated that they valued trimming payroll over competing for the playoffs when they dealt Marcus Camby to the Clippers for nothing. Portland has a nice young nucleus of Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy and may contend for the playoffs this year if Oden can successfully return from microfracture surgery on his knee and avoid any other serious injuries. However, the Blazers probably aren’t quite ready yet to challenge Utah for the division crown unless Oden can play at an all star level in his first season as a pro. The Jazz should be competitive once again but still lack a defensive presence in the paint that can slow down top big men in the West such as Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, or Yao Ming.
Durant averaged 24 points per contest the last month of the season and should continue to grow swiftly as a player.
With Greg Oden back in the fold and demanding touches in the low post, Aldridge may see less shot attempts this season.
The Slingin’ Southwest
The Southwest is among the most talented groups in the NBA. The division will most likely produce four playoff teams this season: the Spurs, the Hornets, the Rockets, and the Mavericks. All four will enjoy beating up on a young Memphis squad that features promising young talents Mike Conley Jr., O.J. Mayo, and Rudy Gay. The Rockets are poised to shake things up in the West this season with the acquisition of Ron Artest. However, Houston faces many questions, such as will Artest go crazier than Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining? And will Rick Adelman grow his mustache back already? In New Orleans, Chris Paul is an absolute joy to watch and should vie for another an MVP award this season. After all, it’s only fair that he wins one this year after only having one of the best seasons ever for a point guard last season, but yet losing out to a guy who doesn’t make any of his teammates better and who ended up being outplayed by Paul Pierce throughout much of the NBA Finals.
Mike Conley Jr.:
Conley averaged 14 points and 4 assists in month of April last season after only one year of college at Ohio St. If the Grizzlies are patient with him and give the young guard enough minutes, he should produce.
His scoring numbers have gone down for 4 out of the past 5 seasons and the addition of Artest likely means that he won’t have to log as many minutes as in the past.
The Stormy Pacific
In Hollywood, drama is ever present. The Clippers made plenty of news this past offseason when they claimed Elton Brand reneged on a verbal agreement to re-sign with the team after Owner Donald Sterling opened his wallet to sign Baron Davis. Then they let hall of famer Elgin Baylor go and claimed he resigned, but it has since been reported that he was forced out in a power struggle with head coach Mike Dunleavy. The Lakers are again the cream of the crop and are the favorites to represent the West in the Finals again. Phoenix, while still dangerous, appears to be on the down slope as Shaq is aging and growing less effective and more injury prone. It’s also unclear how much longer Steve Nash will be able to keep up his stellar play. The Suns could really use a player like Shawn Marion. He seems like he would fit in well with that team… The Warriors will likely take a step backwards this season after losing Davis, who fit perfectly in Don Nelson’s run ‘n gun offense. The Kings really aren’t worth mentioning.
With Shaq barely a threat to score 15 points a night and Nash being a pass first point guard, Stoudemire will have every opportunity to score.
Who else on the Kings is going to score? In all seriousness, Martin is one of the most underrated scorers in the league.
With Andrew Bynum back from a knee injury and Kobe Bryant launching his share of shots, Gasol will see less scoring opportunities this season.