Division Preview: How do Nets stack up in Atlantic?


Apr 3, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) drives against Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

With many pundits predicting that the Nets will fail to make the playoffs, the focus has been on Brooklyn’s weaknesses and not on the other teams in the Eastern Conference.  The Atlantic Division in particular is arguably the weakest in the NBA, and if they manage to take advantage of their schedule, they could garner some easier wins than other teams in the conference.  The reigning division champion Raptors have improved with the addition of DeMarre Carroll, but the Nets have given them a tough matchup in recent years, and the rest of the division is marred with uncertainty.

Toronto has talent across the board, with superior starters in the backcourt in the form of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and a young defensive-minded second unit led by recent signee Cory Joseph.  With Carroll and Patrick Patterson manning the forward positions, they have shooters to spread the floor to complement their paint-attacking backcourt.  They locked in young center Jonas Valanciunas to a long-term contract in the offseason, and after he scored the most points per possession among any player with over 300 post up opportunities, any increase in touches should make the Raptors more dangerous in the paint.  In order for the Nets to compete with the Raptors, center Brook Lopez will have to outplay the Lithuanian big man while getting a strong contribution from one of Brooklyn’s swingmen.

The Celtics have spent the last few years rebuilding and may have more NBA rotation-capable players than they have minutes to allocate.  The biggest acquisition for Boston comes in the form of David Lee.  If given the touches, Lee could return his 18 point, 9 rebound form that he averaged in four out of the previous six years.  They re-signed versatile swingman Jae Crowder and brought in a plethora of drafted players to compete for minutes. With Tyler Zeller projected to begin the season as a starter in Boston, the Nets will have a significant advantage in the post with Lopez.  On the wing, Crowder will assuredly make Johnson work for his points, but even at his advanced age, Johnson is the superior player.  In the backcourt, the Celtics will roll with a three-man rotation of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas.  Although the defensive pairing of Smart and Bradley is intriguing, the offensive production that Jack and Bogdanovic offer could be the difference maker in a close game.  Thomas may be the x-factor and a matchup between him and the speedy Shane Larkin could make for a worthwhile battle of second unit lead guards.

Like the Celtics, the Knicks are in rebuilding mode but have added pieces in order to compete this year.  In a similar situation to the Nets, New York has no draft pick in 2016 and will be looking to make the playoffs in order to limit the damages of their previous trade.  With a healthy Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks will be attempting to make up for last season’s debacle. They’ve added veterans Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo in order to improve their defense in the paint and on the perimeter.  They also drafted a new lead guard in Jerian Grant and a new power forward in Kristaps Porzingis.  With Grant likely to experience rookie inconsistencies and Porzingis a project with more potential than skill at the moment, Brooklyn veterans Jarrett Jack and Thaddeus Young will need to take advantage of their experience and savvy, which should give the Nets the edge, especially in close games.  Although the brother versus brother battle between Brook and Robin will be a media highlight before games, the Nets’ center has the advantage in the paint and is capable of forcing his brother to defend him away from the basket, making it a potential nightmare for New York.

The 76ers are going to be better next year than they were the previous three, but they added few pieces that are going to make enough of an impact to give Brooklyn any trouble.  The biggest addition was undoubtedly the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, Jahlil Okafor, to vastly improve the center spot. Okafor will give Philly a number one option on offense and a player with the footwork of a seasoned veteran.  Even with a strong offensive repertoire, Okafor struggles mightily on the defensive side of the ball and made numerous ill-advised fouls in his only year at Duke.  With Brook Lopez being one of the best centers in the NBA at drawing fouls in the post, Okafor could find himself in foul trouble early and often.

Outside of Okafor, the Philadelphia frontcourt should feature Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington. After averaging 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks last season Noel displayed the defensive tenacity that made him a high first round pick. Yet he also showed that he’s still extremely raw from an offensive standpoint and still has trouble defending in the post due to a lack of bulk.  With Thaddeus Young being most efficient when backing his opponents into the paint and Noel’s inability to stretch the floor, Brooklyn should have the advantage on both sides of the floor at power forward.

The Sixers backcourt will likely be composed of Tony Wroten and Nik Stauskas.  Despite averaging 16.9 points per game last season, Wroten still has his stints of being a turnover-prone inefficient point guard. Another season shooting 40.3 percent and averaging 3.8 turnovers for Wroten will lead to a long roller coaster ride for Philly even if his point total rises.  The X-Factor for Philadelphia could be Stauskas as no one knows what to expect after what can only be characterized as a perplexing rookie season.  Although he improved after the hiring of Sacramento coach George Karl, he still hasn’t exhibited the sharpshooting skills he did during his career at Michigan.  With Brooklyn shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic likely being entrusted with more control of the offense, Coach Lionel Hollins may allow him some isolation opportunities against the Sixers shooting guard, knowing he has the experience advantage.

Although the Nets will likely not be competing for a championship this season, they still have a strong chance of finishing the season with the second best record in the division.  That record may not be above .500, but if healthy, they have the talent on the roster to take advantages of matchups.

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