Prior to the season I stated that there are two sure fire playoff teams (Nets and Knicks) in the Atlantic with one or both vying for a top four seed in the conference. Furthermore I expected Toronto to be battling for a playoff spot while the Celtics and 76ers played the role of divisional bottom feeders during rebuilding efforts. So far, the script has not played out as expected.
Not only is the Atlantic the only division without a team that is .500 of better, but this is the only division without a team winning at least 2/3 (.667) of its games. 4 of the 5 teams have lost at least three games in a row and the lone outlier is Toronto which i can speculate only won (too much?) because it played an intra-divisional matchup with the 76ers. Following Wednesday nights’ victory over the Sixers, the Raptors have a half game lead over Brett Brown’s crew and just a 1.5 lead over each of the other three teams…so you’re saying there’s a chance.
Let’s take a look at each team right now:
Toronto: The Raptors are a woeful shooting team. They rank 4th worst in the league in effective field goal percentage and, this is the most glaring stat for me, none of the their top three scorers shoot over 41.4%. That is Demar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry. The only saving grace for these players is that they do shoot a solid percentage from downtown with all three of them shooting above 37% from long range. Of players that take at least 18 shots per game (which is the ten players who shoot the most in basketball) Rudy Gay, who takes 19.7 shots per game, good (bad) for third most in the league, ranks dead last at 38.1%. DeRozan, who shoots the ball 18.7 times per contest, isn’t much better, at third worst shooting percentage for the NBAs volume shooters at 41.4%. Only Kyrie Irving and his terrible start stand in the way of these two being the two worst volume shooters in the league.
Toronto does do a decent job defensively allowing only 97.2 points per game, tied with the Heat for 7th best in the NBA. While they tend to give up quite a few bunnies around the basket, they do a great job in contesting the three and forcing turnovers due to their superior athleticism at the wing positions. Toronto still projects as a very low end playoff team for me, but they really only have one quality win (over Memphis) and need to show that they can compete against good quality teams. They’ve invested heavily in the “Rudy Gay is our guy” bandwagon, and now they face the mediocrity for that decision.
Philadelphia: The 76ers have been a pleasant surprise. When the team decided, rightly so, to sit Nerlens Noel for the season to let him fully recover from ACL surgery, we figured this would be a tank-a-palooza team. Not only have they shown that they are more talented than originally thought, but the simple style the 76ers are playing has been effective. The Sixers score the 9th most points in the league (thanks in large part to their uptempo offense), but unfortunately give up the most points in the league by far at 109.8 per game. Opponents are shooting nearly 30 threes a game against them! (think about that, 30!) Opponents are also making those threes, as Phili is a league worst allowing 40.7% from downtown.
The pleasant surprises however are enough to make us believe the future can be bright in Phili. Michael Carter Williams has established himself as the front runner for ROY. He is shooting poorly at just 37.5% but is scoring 16.6 a game, with 7.4 dimes, and 5.4 boards. He is also 4th in the league swiping 2.33 steals per contest. MCW’s teammates Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes have been equally as surprising. What Evan Turner has done so far this tear CANNOT be overlooked. He has finally realizing his enormous potential. He is scoring 21 and grabbing nearly 7 rebounds, but most importantly is doing so efficiently at 47% from the field. Spencer Hawes is enjoying a career year himself producing a double-double at 16 and 10. The team looks to have come back down to earth having lost 4 in a row and are well on their way to a lottery pick, but the future is bright in Phili.
Boston: The Celtics are in total transition this year. The Celtics are both the 5th worst scoring and three point shooting team in the NBA. The squad often settles for long jump shots and finds itself lost offensively as the shot clock is winding down. No surprise as this happens when there is a dearth of established talent on a team. First Year Coach Brad Stevens inserted both Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk into the starting lineup Wednesday with both players responding well; especially Sullinger who dropped 19 and 17. While Olynyk continues to struggle with his shot (39%), he is a good shooter and needs to fire his way out of this slump. It’s clear Boston has turned to the future and working to get good developmental time on the court for these young players. They also may happen to give the team their best shot at winning, though that is hard to say when you sacrifice defense for offense. It will be only a matter of time before we see Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee, and perhaps if they can find suitors, Jeff green and Gerald Wallace shipped out of town. Look for lots of moving parts in the coming months, but Celtic fans can look forward to a high draft pick and 2 picks in 3 of the next 4 drafts.
New York: The loss of Tyson Chandler is enormous as the Knicks have looked downright terrible this season. Their offense has been an absolute mess, with their most efficient scorer being (gulp!) Andrea Bargnani. Carmelo has been incredibly inefficient, shooting the ball over 22 times per game while hitting less than 42% of those attempts. JR Smith is even worse as he would lose in a shooting contest to Chris Dudley right now; he is shooting an unimaginably horrible 31% while firing the second most attempts on the team at 14.5/gm. I thought his brother being around the team was supposed to help him? The Knicks WILL turn it around and be a playoff team, but it’s pretty obvious they will never compete for a ring with Carmelo as their best player. I will reevaluate this team once they are healthy, but they need to start digging themselves out of this hole sooner than later. (If I sound like a Knicks hater, it’s because I am.)
Brooklyn: What is going on in Brooklyn you may ask? Despite playing at the 22nd fastest pace (95.8 possessions per game), they manage to allow the 9th most points in the league. They are in the bottom ten in the league in field goal shooting as they have turned into a team of jump shooters.
Deron Williams ankles are turning into Steph Curry’s ankles from 4 years ago. He can’t seem to stay healthy and even when he is, he looks like a poor mans version of himself on both ends. KG is just a shell of his former self too and while he is still a quality big man, he is only a role player at this point. Brook Lopez and Shaun Livingston are the two players playing well, while Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce struggle on the wings. This team just looks old and haggard on both ends. This team should make the playoffs with its level of talent, but is there enough in the tank to make a serious run? I never count out a veteran group, but they need a youthful spark.
-Stats from this article were compiled through ESPN and the NBA.
-Andrew Lipson, The Pick and Pop Diaries.