The Atlantic division was arguably the strongest division in the Eastern Conference last year with all 5 teams making it to the postseason. Since then, not a whole lot has changed, and all 5 teams should be able to somewhat replicate their success from last season. The Atlantic is divided into 3 tiers, the Celtics, who remain the only true contender in the group, looking to win their 18th championship with a couple of new additions. Then there is the 76ers with the reigning MVP Joel Embiid and the Knicks who should make solid playoff runs. And to wrap it up the Raptors and Nets in the bottom tier, still looking to make some development and remain competitive. Altogether, the division should look forward to another important season and finish as the strongest division in the East once again.
2022-2023 record: 57-25
The Celtics had the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference last season and should once again be title contenders for this season. The Celtics have one of the best duos in the NBA, in All-NBA players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and one of the best defenses in the NBA as well. The C’s made a big splash in the off-season, trading away one of their fan favorite players, former defensive player of the year Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis. Losing Smart is tough, but it looks like the Celtics have made the upgrade and traded for Jrue Holiday to fill in the gap. Right off the bat, looking at a potential starting 5 of Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kristaps Porzingis looks extremely strong and is probably the best starting 5 in the association. It is slightly concerning that the Celtics had to give away both 6th man of the year Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams to acquire Holiday, both of whom which gave very significant minutes to the team and now gives them a little bit of a depth issue. The starters are elite, but after that the bench comes out to guys like 37-year-old Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, Oshae Brissett, and Sam Hauser? Depth is what keeps teams alive during the regular season, and with Porzingis’ injury concerns, the Celtics could possibly struggle to maintain an elite record throughout the year.
Anyway, as far as the starters go, Porzingis should help the team’s issue with needing a big, and instantly makes their team better on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Porzingis averaged 23.2 points on 38.5% from 3 last season and should only add another layer of offense on top of two 25+ ppg scorers with his phenomenal spacing. Defensively, the 7’3 big man averaged 1.5 blocks per game, and not to mention they now have an elite perimeter defender in Jrue Holiday. Holiday as well is a major upgrade from Smart, most importantly in defensive and playmaking categories, which could be vital to an offense in which Brown and Tatum constantly dominate the ball. I expect them to once again be in the top 3 for both offensive and defensive rating for this season.
There isn’t much the Celtics should do to change their roster at this point, with probably the best playoff rotation in the league. They should make their primary focus on getting good reps in during the season and making sure there aren’t any chemistry issues. Barring any injuries, the expectation is that they should be in the Eastern Conference finals, and possibly even win the championship. Anything less would be considered a disappointment. The eastern conference at the moment seems relatively weak, with Miami losing multiple key players and Philadelphia in jeopardy with Harden wanting out. Really the only competition should be the Milwaukee Bucks, who just recently acquired Damian Lillard, but even then, the Celtics arguably have the best defense to counter them. As previously mentioned, the only real concern with a roster as stacked as this, is certainly health, and with Porzingis’ nagging foot injury, I do expect him to miss a handful of games this season. Nevertheless, I am expecting a slight regression, but they should once again win the Atlantic division and be a top 3-4 seed in the East.
Projected record: 54-28
2022-2023 record: 54-28
The Philadelphia 76ers seem to have a problem getting past the second round in the playoffs, as last season marks the 6th postseason in a row that they have failed to advance past the conference semi-finals, 5 out of 6 in which they were a top 4 seed in the east. It certainly doesn’t help that James Harden has been going on a media tour publicly disrespecting his team’s president of basketball operations, Daryl Morey. On top of his trade request, it seems like Harden will be on the move before the season begins, which makes the starting point guard spot a big question mark at the moment. However, the team outside of Harden consists of Joel Embiid, who is just coming off an MVP season, and should without a doubt put up similar production once again. Another key player is Tyrese Maxey, the team’s third option who is primed for a big leap this season potentially with Harden leaving. Most importantly, the 76ers picked up the Raptors’ Nick Nurse to be their new head coach for the season, giving them a fresh look from Doc Rivers, who has been the scapegoat for most of their playoff disappointments.
The 76ers made some solid off-season moves, replacing wings Georges Niang and Jalen McDaniels with Patrick Beverley, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mo Bamba. The team has always been very good in the regular season, regardless of whatever depth they had, as long as Joel Embiid has been at the helm. It is hard to predict what could happen because the Harden trade hasn’t gone through yet. Based off the rumors the 76ers will likely want a starting caliber guard for Harden, and possibly a few role players. This alone should suffice for Joel Embiid, who will probably once again average 30+ ppg on incredible efficiency and protect the rim at a high level. For the most part, I expect them to somewhat coast through the regular season, as their main issue is making a deep run in the playoffs. The team will get some new schemes under Nick Nurse, and they will most likely use the regular season to form a new identity. Because of the Harden drama and adjustment to new coaching, I believe the 76ers will face some regression from the last season but will still finish strong. They should also look to finish within the top 10 for both offense and defense, just like last year.
New York Knicks
2022-2023 record: 47-35
The New York Knicks had an outstanding season, winning 47 games and finishing with the 3rd highest offensive rating in the league led by new addition Jalen Brunson. The Knicks seem like they are just one major piece away from being a title contender, but most likely they are looking to run it back with the same roster and wait for a star to be on the market. The Knicks were one of the teams to really pick up speed after the trade deadline, acquiring Swiss army knife Josh Hart, who has been phenomenal for them and has been instrumental in closing out the season 17-9. Additionally, the Knicks made some great off-season moves, by extending Hart another 4 years and bringing in Donte DiVincenzo in free agency on a 4-year deal as well, creating a Villanova reunion in New York. They were also able to trade Obi Toppin to the Pacers, who is expected to become a free agent in 2024 anyway.
As far as expectations for this coming season go, both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle should be candidates for the all-star team, and they should once again be able to lead this team to another great offensive year. The Knicks should also have one of the best second units in the league, lead by 6th man of the year runner-up Immanuel Quickley, along with Hart and DiVincenzo, giving them a perfect all-around game off the bench. For playoff expectations, Jalen Brunson proved to be the real deal, averaging 31 ppg on 50.4% from the field during the second round of the playoffs last season. As long as Brunson can carry on that momentum from that series, he should be their number-one option going into the season, and the Knicks could be a very dangerous team soon. However, as mentioned earlier the Knicks are one piece away from contending, so I would look out for them to be buyers this season. They have been one of the most prominent names coming up in trade rumors in the off-season, so do not be surprised to find a big 3 coming to New York sooner rather than later. Altogether, they should be able to build off the success of last season, and I think they will make an important mid-season trade to upgrade their roster.
2022-2023 record: 41-41
The Raptors, after failing to qualify for the playoffs last season, have had a major offseason in which they have only seemed to have made some questionable moves. They lost Fred VanVleet, one of their franchise players, to free agency for nothing. VanVleet had a controversial 2022-2023 season and left a lot of people wondering how much he was actually contributing to the team, shooting sub 40% from the field. However, there was no denying that he was the team’s primary ball handler and floor general, which was important for stretches when Siakam was on the bench. And despite having a poor shooting season, it is widely known that VanVleet is an elite 3-point shooter and elite perimeter defender, and for this coming season, the Raptors will have to rely on free agency signing Dennis Schroder to fill those duties. The biggest change for this team however was the new coaching hire, former Grizzlies assistant coach, Darko Rajakovic. Nick Nurse himself also had a controversial campaign last season, at times overplaying the starters, or not utilizing certain players well, as well as getting into heated arguments with the referees. While Nurse has established himself as one of the top coaches in the NBA, it certainly does look good to start fresh with a new perspective.
The biggest things the Raptors had to improve on from last season were shot creation outside of All-NBA player Pascal Siakam, guard depth, and shooting. Seems like the only issue they really addressed was shooting, by drafting the best shooting prospect in this year’s draft, Kansas wing Gradey Dick, who despite being a phenomenal shooter, projects to be a regular catch and shoot 3&D wing, instead of a star shot creator, which is the Raptors biggest need at the moment. From the perspective of the Raptors’ front office, it seems like they really trust the 2022 rookie of the year Scottie Barnes to take a leap and help this team become competitive in the future, as he was off limits in trade talks for Kevin Durant last season, as well as Damian Lillard this season. A few things that could help them out, would be that big man Jakob Poeltl will be with the team from the beginning of the season (since acquiring him at the deadline they have gone 15-11), as well as Otto Porter Jr. potentially getting healthy again and contributing valuable minutes. Altogether, I feel like there are too many question marks with the team, and it would take a lot for everything to click, especially if they want to make a playoff run.
2022-2023 record: 45-37
Going into the season, we can obviously see that this is a completely different version of the Nets that went 45-37, and with no defined stars, post-season expectations should not be too high. On the positive side however, after the deadline, Mikal Bridges broke out and averaged an incredible 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists, on shooting splits of 47.5/37.6/89.4, including a career-high 45 points against the Heat. Great things are expected for the 27-year-old wing, including Most Improved Player and All-Star conversations. Another player I expect to have a great season is starting center Nicolas Claxton, who also had a phenomenal season. He has bought into his role as being the defensive anchor on the team, and averaged a solid 12.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks with the league’s best FG%, at 70.5%. I expect him to have another great defensive campaign this upcoming season and be on the lookout for Most Improved Player and the All-Defensive team. The main issue, however, seems like the rest of the team lacks some chemistry, at times finding it impossible to score a bucket in the playoffs when the game slowed down.
The Nets made some solid acquisitions in the offseason, drafting big man Noah Clowney and wing Dariq Whitehead who should be expected to get some development throughout the season. The Nets also deepened their roster in free agency, signing Lakers spark plug Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Smith Jr., and Darius Bazley. Altogether, seems like the Nets should just test things out this season, give Mikal Bridges the reins, see if Ben Simmons can return to All-NBA form, and give some of the younger guys minutes. My prediction for the Nets this season is that they will remain competitive and make the play-in tournament.