Note: This is the first of 6 blogs we will do, (every Thursday through November 7), previewing the upcoming 2019/20 NBA season by division/team. We are utilizing data/tidbits from ESPN/Bobby Marks etc. and articles for framing from the Athletic, the Ringer and Yahoo and other sources. Bri provides his independent take on projected records for the teams. Enjoy…we would love your comments.
Last year the 76ers were 51-31 (second in the Atlantic Division) and lost to the Raptors in the second round of playoffs on the now famous Kwahi Leonard 4 bounces on the rim shot. In the off season the Sixers added Josh Richardson (2 guard) and Al Horford (starting 4/backup 5) but lost Jimmy Butler (sign and trade for Richardson) and JJ Redick. The Sixers will likely start: Ben Simmons; Josh Richardson; Tobias Harris; Al Horford and Joel Embiid (shortest player is 6 foot 6 inch Richardson). Key reserves are: Shake Milton; James Ennis; Rooke defensive wiz Matisse Thybulle, Mike Scott and Kyle O’Quinn. Most analysts expect the Sixers to have 50+ wins this season, (beat reporter for Athletic says 57), but all agree they may have an issue with outside shooting. Two keys include Ben Simmons-needs to take a few 3 point shots per game to open things up for driving and the health of Embiid (played a career high 64 games last year). Embiid has lost 20 pounds in the offseason to help his ailing knees and to allow him “play more like a guard.” Coach Brown calls Embiid the crown jewel of the Sixers. He is trying to improve his ball handling as spacing will be bunched without Redick and Butler. Philly’s Defense should improve-Richardson can guard point guards and Horford can play back up center or guard the best big as needed. Bri predicts 53 wins for Philly good for second in the East.
The Celts finished third in the Atlantic Division last year at 49-33 and lost to the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs 4 to 1 after winning game 1. The Celtics added Kemba Walker in the offseason but lost Kyrie Irving, Horford and Aaron Baynes. Likely starting 5 will be: Kemba; Jaylen Brown; Gordon Hayward; Jason Tatum and new acquisition Enes Kanter (a defensive liability) with Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis bringing experience off the bench. After that the bench gets young with rookies Romeo Langford and Grant Williams and young guys Brad Wannamaker and Robert Williams. Most analysts see the Celtics earning the second best record in the Atlantic. Bri would like the Celts to trade Hayward to the Pacers for Sabonis and a pick or two to give the Celts a better big man/center. Hayward sold his house in San Diego and spent the summer in Boston training including working on dribble penetration, apparently he passed too often last year coming off of injury. Hayward has a player option for 2020-21 so this is an important year for him. Coach Brad Stevens is structuring training camp to emphasize team unity and selflessness in the wake of a selfish culture driven by Kyrie Irving last year. Kemba’s team-first humbleness will help the locker room immeasurably. Watch the Celtics line-ups in crunch time this year and recall the Billy Donovan comment “Can’t play Kanter, “-Theis and Williams may be key if there is no trade. Bri predicts 47 wins for the Celts in 2019/20, in line with The Athletic’s prediction, this would be good for a 4 seed in the East.
The Nets overachieved last year finishing 4th in the Atlantic at 42-40 and losing to the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs. The Nets overachievement was largely credited to their new culture under GM Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson. That culture will get a severe test with the offseason acquisitions of : Kevin Durant (expected to miss the entire season due to injury); DeAndre Jordan and most importantly Kyrie Irving. The Nets starters should be: Irving; Caris Lavert; Joe Harris; Taurean Prince and either Jordan or Jarrett Allen (watch that center minute split carefully.) The bench will include: Spencer Dinwiddie (4th in 6th man voting last year); Garett Temple; David Nwaba; Wilson Chandler and Rodians Kurucs. Chandler is out the first 25 games due to a drug suspension and Kurucs is facing assault charges from an ex girlfriend-not a good look for team culture. One key question is can Irving, who failed as a leader on the Celts last year, (he has recently acknowledged this failure and blamed it on the death of his grandfather), lead this team before Durant returns next year? We also wonder about the potential for cliqueness on this team-Irving; Durant and Jordan all played together on the 2016 Olympic team. It is interesting to note that Irving is good friends with Joe Harris, (3 point shooting champ from All Star weekend), from their days together in Cleveland this could be a big help to the team. The Athletic’s beat writer predicts 50+ wins. B says 44 wins for the new look Nets, third in Atlantic, sixth in the East.
The Raptors won the NBA Championship in 2018/19 after winning the Atlantic (58-24) and beating the Magic; 76ers; Bucks and injury depleted Warriors. We expect the Raptors who lost both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency to start: Kyle Lowry; Norman Powell; OG Anunoby; Pascal Siakam and Mark Gasol. Fred Van Vleet, Pat McCaw; and Serge Ibaka will lead the bench unit with new additions Stanley Johnson and Ronde Hollis Jefferson. There has been discussion about playing Ibaka at the 4 with Gasol at 5, moving Siakam to 3 and playing OG at the 2 some nights-net the Nick Nurse rotation may evolve in 2019/20. Key questions for the Raptors include: Can Pascal Siakam continue to improve and become the Raptors lead player? Will the Raptors keep/play 3 point shooting whiz Matt Thomas who played in Italy last year? Will Lowry, who is still fighting a thumb injury, and/or Gasol get traded if the Raptors are not playoff bound? lots of stories say Massi Ujuri has wanted to “blow things up/rebuild” in the past. The Athletic beat writer predicts 45 ish wins for the Raptors in the weak Eastern Conference. Bri says 42 wins for the defending champs good for a 7th seed in the East.
New York Knicks
The Knicks finished 5th in the Atlantic last year at 17-65. They were active in free agency but did not land any all NBA talents. We expect the Knicks to start: Dennis Smith Jr; rookie RJ Barrett; Kevin Knox or Marcus Morris (who signed with the Knicks after originally agreeing to a contract with the Spurs); Julius Randle and defensive ace Mitchell Robinson (who is working to get stronger and to develop a 3 point shot). The bench includes a number of experienced players:: Elfrid Payton at point guard; Wayne Ellington a the 2 guard( good shooter); Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson. We expect at least one trade by mid-season as the roster seems to include too many experienced, playable power forwards: Morris; Portis and Gibson all behind the starter Randle. The analysts say the biggest question for the Knicks this year is how does David Fizdale split the minutes between “the kids and the vets?” The Athletic beat writer predicts improvement to 30 wins. Bri says 23 wins and at least one trade.