Two months after the finish of the NBA’s restart season in Orlando, another NBA season is right around the corner, and rightfully so. It will truly be the most wonderful time of the year in so many ways for basketball fans, as the 2020-21 NBA season will commence on December 22.
All 30 teams, including the ones that participated in the aforementioned NBA restart, look to make a big impression during the 72 game season, leading up to the Finals in June. Following on from the South East Division preview, we continue onward as we take a look at the Atlantic Division.
The Philadelphia 76ers continue to trust their process, but just how long ’til you have to question the progress of the process and where it is leading up to? The Sixers were eliminated in the first round by the Boston Celtics, a hindrance and pale comparison to the progress they made from the 2019 Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Aside from their dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, there’s not much to Philadelphia’s core that would’ve made them a viable threat last season. Henceforth, the Sixers retooled in the free agency market, acquiring Dwight Howard, Terrence Ferguson, and Seth Curry via trades. In the draft, Philadelphia selected Tyrese Maxey from the University of Kentucky, along with Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed from Arkansas and DePaul University respectively. Philadelphia will certainly continue to trust their process, but the patience is starting to get thinner each season. Will the Sixers further their process or return back to square one this upcoming season?
The Brooklyn Nets started the 2019-20 season promising, but then came injuries to Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, to name a few and the suspension of the league due to the pandemic. Brooklyn should be thankful for the suspension of the season and given an opportunity to take part in the restart season in Orlando, otherwise, things would’ve been disastrous.
Though the Nets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Toronto, it would be more of a sigh of relief to allow them to prepare for next season. In the offseason, Brooklyn acquired Landry Shamet and Jeff Green, adding some depth to their bench. In the draft, they selected Saadiq Bey, only to send him to the Detroit Pistons, and Jay Scrubb. Even with the free agency still going on, the constant rumors of James Harden looking to reunite with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, but so far, nothing has come about.
The Nets should be more concerned about just how effective Durant and Irving will be as a duo on the court. Brooklyn is looking like an early shoo-in to not only make the playoffs but to possibly go further, perhaps reaching the Finals? It would all depend on how Brooklyn will perform this upcoming season.
It’s always been the same old song and dance when talking about the New York Knicks: A team that constantly underperforms every season, is always considered a laughingstock in the NBA, and always misses out on the coveted number one draft pick in every draft lottery.
Though the themes remained constant for the Knicks last season, they’re still building towards changing the narrative, slowly but eventually. The Knicks would draft Obi Toppin from Dayton University, who sounded more than devoted to helping the franchise. They would also draft Leandro Balmaro from Argentina and Immanuel Quickley from the University of Kentucky, only to send them to Minnesota and Oklahoma City respectively (though the former will remain to play for FC Barcelona Bàsquet before then).
During free agency, New York acquired Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, to help bolster their depth. The main concern for New York should be the development of their young players such as Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and especially RJ Barrett. Last season, Barrett averaged 14.3 points and 5 rebounds per game. Look for Barrett to elevate his game this upcoming season, while Toppin compliments his style of play and forge chemistry in Madison Square Garden. It will take time, but how much will be seen.
The Boston Celtics had a memorable run last season, mainly in the restart season leading up to the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference Playoffs, they swept the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, played a highly intense and memorable seven-game series against the Toronto Raptors, only to reach the Conference Finals, where they would lose in six games against the Miami Heat.
Perhaps the only notable thing from Boston’s offseason was when they let Gordon Hayward go to the Charlotte Hornets. Other than that, the Celtics drafted some prospects in Aaron Nesmith from Vanderbilt, Payton Pritchard from Oregon, Desmond Bane from TCU (who would be traded to Memphis), and Yam Madar from Israel. The Celtics look like they are still contenders in the East, but now the competition will be heightened in their division.
The Toronto Raptors looked to go back to back as NBA Champions last season, only to be eliminated in a hard-fought seven-game series against the aforementioned Celtics. It also didn’t help that they would lose some key bigs in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, both of whom would land in Los Angeles to play for the Clippers and the Lakers respectively.
They would acquire Alex Len, Yuta Watanabe, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Aron Baynes in the free agency period, adding some bench depth and some intensity in the paint. The Raptors would draft Malachi Flynn from San Diego State and Jalen Harris from Nevada, to serve as backups for Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Toronto are still contenders, but now their focal point is Pascal Siakam taking the next step in being a leader alongside Lowry this season. It should be also noted that the Raptors will return back to Central Florida, this time starting their 2021 season in Tampa Bay.
The Atlantic Division will be the most competitive division in the Eastern Conference, next to the Southeast Division. Toronto may be the defending divisional champions, but they have their work cut out for them. Philadelphia looks to utilize length and strength, while working on the long ball game and Brooklyn looks to see what their duo of Durant and Irving can do on the court together, now that they’re both healthy up to this point. Boston will be lurking in the wings to play spoiler for either of the three, while New York remains a work in progress, for better or worse.
The teams that will reach the postseason: Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, and Toronto
The teams that will be in the draft lottery: New York
Players to watch in the division: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet
Rookies to watch: Obi Toppin
Rising stars to watch: RJ Barrett
Atlantic Division Standings Prediction: