2016-17 NBA Expectations Meter: Atlantic Division

Rather than simply previewing each team heading into the 2016-17 NBA season, we analyzed each team and created what a successful season would look like for each franchise. Obviously, the bar is much lower for some than others (spoiler alert: the 76ers and Warriors do not have the same expectations), but each team has goals to work toward.

We begin this week with the Atlantic Division; home to the Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Raptors. Two out of these five teams made the playoffs last year, and with other Eastern Conference teams such as the Pistons, Hornets and Wizards looking to take the next step, it is hard to envision three teams getting in from this division.

Perhaps the most interesting storyline to follow in the Atlantic Division is if any of the bad teams from last year can rise to challenge the incumbent playoff teams. The Toronto Raptors finished first with a 56-26 record, followed by the Boston Celtics at 48-34. After that, there is a stark drop-off; the Knicks, Nets and 76ers formed the basement of the Eastern Conference standings last season. In fact, those three teams combined for 63 wins, which is still 10 shy of the Golden State Warriors’ record setting season. Without further ado, here is each Atlantic Division team and their benchmark this year.

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Boston Celtics

                                  2015-16                                     2016-17
                                     48-34                                      53-29
              Lost to ATL in RD1 (6 Games)                           Conference Finals
                  2nd in Atlantic Division                       1st in Atlantic Division

The Atlantic Division in 2016-17 is going to essentially be a toss-up between the Celtics and Raptors. The biggest influence in that is going to be how quickly Al Horford settles into his new team. You may notice that our expectations for the Celtics, like the Raptors, is the Conference Finals. Only one of these teams is going to end up there. The Raptors are the known commodity, while the Celtics appear to be on the fringe of something good.

Losing in six games to the Hawks last season has to go down as a disappointment for Brad Stevens and company, and they will likely use that as fire to achieve better things this season. The Celts lost Evan Turner this offseason, and it has been reported that Marcus Smart will look to fill that void off the bench. The Celtics got rid of the underachieving Jared Sullinger, who was picked up by the Raptors. The Celtics will have to hope that he doesn’t find his stride with Toronto, meanwhile they have upgraded significantly in that department with the acquisition of Al Horford.

Though we have big expectations for the Boston Celtics this season, it is easy to envision them not playing out. This is a pivotal year for the Brad Stevens era, and there is a tremendous amount of pressure on them to perform. As stated earlier, a lot of this rests on the shoulders of Al Horford, but we have seen previously that big names coming to the merciless media market of Boston don’t always have the best track record.

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Toronto Raptors

          2015-16                2016-17
             56-26                   52-30
 Lost to CLE in CF (6 Games) Conference Finals (7 Games)
1st in Atlantic Division    2nd in Atlantic Division

The Toronto Raptors find themselves in a tough position as far as expectations go. Coming off a season in which they set franchise records for wins and lost in six games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, the only way they can really improve drastically is my making the NBA Finals. That is a tough task, considering last time we checked, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are still in Cleveland and they aren’t going anywhere.

In the offseason, the Raptors lost big-man Bismack Biyombo, but gained Jared Sullinger and re-signed DeMar DeRozan for $25 million over five years.

It is very unfair to expect the Raptors to dethrone Cleveland yet, but at the very least they could set themselves to be the next team up. If they are able to beat Cleveland, they will have exceeded our expectations, but for now, a hard-fought seven game series is their benchmark.

 

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New York Knicks

                                 2015-16                                   2016-17
                                    32-50                                    44-38
                  13th in Eastern Conference                        Make the Playoffs
                     3rd in Atlantic Division                   3rd in Atlantic Division

According to Derrick Rose, the Knicks are a super team, right? Anybody? Well, Mr. Rose was a little off on that one, but we do envision the Knicks taking a step forward in 2016-17. How could they not? They brought in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and several other players, and got rid of some lackluster players like Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez. That’s not to say the Knicks are going to be a great team this year, but they could be fun as hell to watch.

If there’s one glaring issue for the Knicks, it is Derrick Rose’s off-the-court distraction. Rose is currently tangled up in a rape lawsuit, and if he is declared guilty, the Knicks season is already derailed. So much of what they are hoping to do this year revolves around Rose recapturing some of the magic of early in his career, and an off-the court distraction is not how the Knicks hoped to start this season.

The problem for the Knicks is also a long-term sustainability issue. This team as currently constructed only has a couple “good” (if you even want to call it that) seasons in them. After that, Carmelo Anthony will be old, Rose will be washed up, and Joakim Noah will be a non-factor if he isn’t already this year.

The best thing that could happen for the Knicks is Kristaps Porzingis having an MVP-worthy season. If he can establish himself as a superstar in the NBA over the course of the next few seasons, the Knicks have something to build around. Until then, they will tread water in the bottom of the playoff picture.

Screen Shot 2016-10-11 at 4.46.46 PM.png Philadelphia 76ers

                              2015-16                                   2016-17
                                10-72                                   32-50
                 15th in Eastern Conference                              12th or Better
                     5th in Atlantic Division                      4th in Atlantic Division

I think we’re all in agreement that it can’t get any worse for the 76ers, right? They’re gaining (finally) Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, a couple long-awaited 2014 first-rounders. In addition, we might get to see a little bit of Ben Simmons, but that remains to be seen.

The new faces on the court signify progress for the Sixers’ “Trust the Process” rebuild, which is notorious for being the longest rebuild in NBA history (we think). Even if Embiid turns into Greg Oden and Saric plays like Dirk Nowitski’s uncoordinated little brother, it would be hard for the 76ers to do worse than last season. This is actually the first year in a long time that people don’t have the Sixers finishing last, and I guess that’s a good thing for 76ers fans. Maybe they’ll hit the lottery again and get another top ten pick that might see the court by 2020.

All joking aside, a core of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons could be halfway decent. All the 76ers have to do is make it work effectively.

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Brooklyn Nets

                              2015-16                                       2016-17
                                  21-61                                         25-57
                 14th in Eastern Conference                                 13th or Better
                   4th in Atlantic Division                      5th in Atlantic Division

Wait, shouldn’t that be spelled the BrookLin Nets? The only real move the Nets made this off-season was bringing in Jeremy Lin from the Charlotte Hornets, and that means this is going to be a long season. The lowly 76ers will now be breathing down the Nets’ neck with an improved roster, and it will be hard for Brooklyn to even stay out of the Atlantic Division basement.

The 25-57 record above is something the Nets should strive for, but in all reality, it will be an uphill climb. The Nets look poised to be potentially the worst team in the Eastern Conference, and no amount of crazy Jeremy Lin hairstyles or missed layup attempts can change this.

The Nets, however, are bringing in a new coach, which could be a reason for excitement. Kenny Atkinson is seen as a players’ coach, but we will see how that holds up throughout the course of a long season and many losses. Until then, keep trying Brooklyn. They don’t give participation awards in the NBA.

 

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