2008-09 NBA Draft Kit: Atlantic Division Preview
We continue the 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit today with more division previews by Herija.
As promised, this week we take an in-depth look at the Atlantic Division, home of the World Champions (Boston), the East’s answer to the Suns (Toronto), a dark horse contender (Philadelphia), a team positioning itself for a possible run at LBJ (New Jersey) and the perennially rudderless Knickerbockers, who continue to push the Detroit Lions for the title of “worst-run professional sports franchise.”
BOSTON CELTICS (66-16)
Won NBA Championship
Despite the off-season additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics were largely dismissed as bullies of an inferior conference for most of 2007-08. They cast even more doubt by playing consecutive seven-game series against the Hawks and Cavaliers, going a combined 0-6 on the road. However, they finally broke through against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning twice at The Palace to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.
Once there they were supposed to be little more than cannon fodder for the surging Lakers, but instead they disposed of them with relative ease by dominating the physical play, highlighted by Paul Pierce outplaying Kobe Bryant to win Finals MVP honors. The team largely maintained the status quo in the offseason, but they did lose valuable role player James Posey (Hornets), which is a blow. Still, even though the face of the franchise is the 30-something “Big Three,” the Celtics actually boast a talented second tier of young players that should continue to improve. Rajon Rondo headlines that group, but Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis qualify as well.
Boston also must’ve decided its locker room was simply too harmonious last season, drafting noted problem child J.R. Giddens in the first round and signing infamous Jail-Blazer alum Darius Miles, who has already drawn a ten-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Maybe the belief is that Garnett’s intensity will keep them in line, but if not, Giddens and Pierce can at least commiserate about what it’s like to be stabbed.
Guy I like…Leon Powe – Question: Who was third on the Celtics in scoring last April? Answer: Powe. The 24-year-old averaged 13.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG for the month, and he looked in his element during the Finals. If he can get 20-25 minutes per game he could make some noise.
Guy I hate…Allen – The veteran turned 33 in the offseason and is basically playing on borrowed time with his surgically-repaired ankles. He was able to elevate his game in pursuit of a ring, but he was up and down throughout much of 2007-08, and I expect more down than up this season.
TORONTO RAPTORS (41-41)
Lost in First Round
One year after winning the division with a style ripped from the desert, the Raptors took a step backwards in the regular season and saw their playoff aspirations go up in smoke in Round One for the second straight time. The emergence of Jose Calderon allowed the team to deal speedy, but frail T.J. Ford (along with Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston and Roy Hibbert) to the Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal, which gives them a potentially phenomenal frontline with Chris Bosh and former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani. The question mark, and it’s a big one, surrounds O’Neal’s health as the former All-Star hasn’t played in more than 70 games since 2003-04.
Backcourt depth is a major concern for the Raptors after dealing Ford and losing Carlos Delfino to a free-agent deal overseas. Calderon and Anthony Parker are quality starters, but things go downhill quickly after that with unknowns Will Solomon (a former second-rounder with 62 games of NBA experience, all of it in 2001-02) and Roko Ukic (a dude with a fantastic name) backing up Calderon. Free-agent signee Hassan Adams (2.9 PPG for the Nets last year) is behind Parker. Raptor fans will have to hope GM Bryan Colangelo’s unearthing of Jamario Moon wasn’t a fluke, otherwise this team could be in serious trouble if they suffer any notable injuries.
Guy I like…Calderon – The Raptors were simply a superior team when Calderon was running the point, and with Ford out of the picture, the Spanish Fly could post huge numbers. He averaged nearly 15 points and north of ten assists a game when Ford was out in January – those are Nash-esque totals.
Guy I hate…O’Neal – If he can stay healthy, and if he meshes well with Bosh, and if he’s still the same low-post threat he used to be and if… There are simply too many caveats at work here for my liking, but he’s a high-risk, potentially high-reward option to be sure.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (40-42)
Lost in First Round
The 76ers were supposed to be in full-fledged rebuilding mode after unloading Allen Iverson in late 2006, but the team played hard under head coach Mo Cheeks, and they made a surprise run to the seventh seed in a watered down bottom half of the Eastern Conference. Andre Iguodala emerged as a star, and Andre Miller enjoyed arguably his best all-around season. The Sixers made some early noise in the playoffs by taking a 2-1 series edge over the Pistons before dropping the final three games. Still, that run may have provided the impetus for what turned out to be a very interesting offseason in Philly.
Clearly the big coup was the signing of PF Elton Brand away from the Clippers, who thought his return was little more than a formality. Instead, Brand joins Team Canada castoff Samuel Dalembert to form another potentially dominant frontcourt within the Atlantic Division. Brand missed most of last year, but lacks O’Neal’s lengthy injury history, and when he’s right he ranks among the NBA’s elite at the position. More importantly, Brand gives the 76ers a focal point for their offense, something they lacked last season. Detroit exposed that weakness in Games Four through Six when it didn’t allow Philadelphia to get out in transition, which effectively shut down the Sixer offense. If the 76ers get the Brand of old to add to a talented young nucleus – Thaddeus Young, Willie Green, Louis Williams and No. 1 pick Marreese Speights – they could push for a fourth or fifth seed this year.
Guy I like…Dalembert – He averaged a double-double last year and is a quality shot blocker. Brand commands double teams on the low block, meaning Dalembert could be in line for more putbacks on offense. Defensively, the presence of a second shot blocker should pay dividends as well.
Guy I hate…Miller – The veteran scored a lot last year because he had to, but with Brand on board and guys like Young and Green a year older, I expect Miller’s PPG to dip from 17 to around 13, where it was five of the previous six years. He may add to his assist total, but it won’t offset the drop in scoring.
NEW JERSEY NETS (34-48)
Jason Kidd (Mavericks) was traded towards the end of last season, and Richard Jefferson (Bucks) was dealt right before the 2008 draft, leaving Vince Carter – the man who disgraced the game of basketball by how he handled his final months in Toronto – behind as the symbolic “last man standing.” The Nets also bid farewell to “The Unpronounceables,” Bostjan Nachbar and Nenad Krstic, who both signed with teams in Russia. However, it wasn’t all departures for New Jersey, who looked to satisfy its foreign fan base with the acquisitions of Yi Jianlian and Eduardo Najara while also filling its “Twin Quota” by drafting Robin Lopez with the tenth overall pick (Jason Collins, the Nets’ twin since 2001, was traded to Memphis in February of last season).
There’s no question the Nets are rebuilding with an eye on LeBron James’ contract status – LBJ can opt out after the 2009-10 season – but they have managed to acquire some intriguing pieces led by young point guard Devin Harris, who the Mavs foolishly gave away in a short-sighted desperation play for a Finals appearance. Yi, Lopez and Ryan Anderson (the 21st overall pick) are all young and have plenty of upside in their frontcourt, while the team stole Chris Douglas-Roberts in the second round. However, there’s also plenty of dead weight (see Simmons, Bobby and Swift, Stromile) and not much in the way of established talent. Only the presence of the Knicks might keep Jersey out of last place, and even that might not be enough – particularly if Carter re-enacts his ’04-05 performance with the Raptors.
Guy I like…Harris – Getting Harris from Dallas for the husk of J-Kidd was a steal. The 25-year-old has great speed and can get to the hoop pretty much at will. He’s an excellent foul shooter and could approach 20 points per game with solid assist totals on a team that needs his scoring.
Guy I hate…Vinsanity – Yeah, he can score, but he can also quit on a bad team. He only averaged 21.3 PPG last year, the third-lowest total of his ten-year career. He’ll turn 32 this year, and I just don’t see him busting ass as an example to younger players. Get ready for an uninspired performance from No. 15 in 2008-09.
NEW YORK KNICKS (23-59)
The Knicks were run into the ground under the stewardship of Isiah Thomas, and even the new combination of GM Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D’Antoni aren’t going to have any quick solutions with this group of overpaid underachievers. The team is reportedly set to cut ties with Stephon Marbury (owed more than $21.9 million on the final year of his deal), but even if they do that they’ll still boast a who’s who of unmovable contracts: Eddy Curry (three years, $31.5 million), Jamal Crawford (three years, $28 million), Jerome James (two years, $12.8 million) and Jared Jeffries (three years, $19.4 million). Amazingly, I didn’t even count Zach Randolph – who they’ve basically tried to give away this offseason – and Quentin Richardson, both of whom carry heinous deals of their own.
Dysfunction has been the name of the game in the Big Apple, and it’s hard to imagine D’Antoni can do much to turn things around this year. They’ve lacked chemistry on and off the court, they play little defense, and pride and intensity are considered four-letter words. There’s undeniably some individual talent here, but outside of tireless rebounder David Lee there doesn’t appear to be a team-first player among them. First-rounder Danilo Gallinari is by all accounts a perfect fit for D’Antoni’s offense, but it remains to be seen if there are enough pieces in place to execute it. Another early draft pick is a virtual certainty here, unless Thomas somehow finds a way to trade it.
Guy I like…Lee – He averaged less than 30 minutes a game last year, but under the new regime I see that number creeping up. Given time, Lee is a lock to average a double-double.
Guy I hate…Curry – The anti-Lee, Curry averaged a pathetic 4.7 RPG last year and, despite being 6-foot-11, could only manage to get his fat ass off the ground for 29 blocks in 59 games. He and Randolph can’t co-exist on the court, he’s a poor foul shooter and the last time he boxed someone out it was Jerome James at the post-game Twinkie bar.