Please note: This is the first edition of HoopsHabit’s Roundtable Discussion. Each week, five questions will be sent to the staff writers covering the teams in a specific division. This week, we cover the Atlantic division.
1. Biggest surprise in the division so far?
Adam Orecchio, @AdamOrecchio, 76ers Staff Writer- I think many expected the Toronto Raptors to be a semi-competitive cluster-you-know-what. But .500 after 30 games and 9-3 since the Rudy Gay trade with wins over some of the NBA’s elite? Surprising indeed. The question now: can they maintain it for another 52 games?
Maxwell Ogden, @MaxwellOgden, Knicks Staff Writer- New York Knicks. It may seem like a distant memory now, but whether you love them or hate them, the Knicks were the No. 2 seed in the East in 2012-13. They won 54 games and Mike Woodson created a dominant force at home riding on gritty and inspired defensive from previously careless defenders. Now, those guys (Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani, J.R. Smith) aren’t playing defense. It’s showing.
Michael Modahl, Raptors Staff Writer- Brooklyn Nets. Even though I wasn’t buying the talk that they could legitimately challenge the Heat, there was something to be said for the attempt to assemble such a group. Even if I had little faith in Kevin Garnett, the trio of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Paul Pierce would be good enough to make some noise. The fact that it has been such a spectacular failure is shocking. The Jason Kidd hire was a joke, but I figured they would just tune him out after awhile and find some success.
Frankie Hobbs, @Frankie_Hobbs, 76ers Staff Writer- The Nets, for sure. I was all in on this team and they have just flat out sucked. Like, really sucked. The Knicks have been pretty awful too, but they weren’t expected to compete for the title like the guys from Brooklyn. The Jason Kidd experience hasn’t exactly been a smooth one.
2. Best player in the division?
Orecchio- It’s Carmelo Anthony, still. Despite the glum state of the Knickerbockers, New York’s free-agent-to-be continues to produce eye-popping numbers on par with the NBA’s elite. Now, if only the Knicks could get the poor guy some help.
Ogden- Rajon Rondo. This isn’t my anti-Carmelo rant or my, “Hung up on the old times!” nostalgia. Rondo was the only player who rivaled Chris Paul before his ACL injury, and every criticism of his jumper was silenced when he nearly led the Boston Celtics past the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals with an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Isn’t it funny how KG and Pierce, “Made Rondo great,” when he was healthy? Yet they somehow become, “Over the hill,” when he isn’t? By the way, Rondo shot 48.0% from mid-range in 2012-13 before he got hurt. Enough of that criticism.
Modahl- Rajon Rondo. Perfect synopsis by Max. For some reason we want to discount Rondo and I’m not sure why. He’s great and he drove those Celtic teams. Kill his jumper all you want, but would you rather have the preeminent playmaker who makes others better or a volume shooter like Carmelo who great players would prefer avoid playing with?
Hobbs- Carmelo Anthony, by some distance. No other player in the Atlantic Division is on his level. On his day, Carmelo Anthony is a top-five scorer in the league. He can shoot the lights out, is strong as a bull and has even improved his rebounding in recent months.
3. Who will win the division?
Orecchio- As tempted as I am to say there’s still enough time for one of the New York teams to eventually turn it around, neither club has offered even a glimmer of hope that they’ll be able to right the ship. Therefore, by default, it’s got to be Toronto, considering Boston and Philly may do everything in their power NOT to compete for the banner.
Ogden- New York Knicks. Forgive me, but I have a hard time believing that this team will continue to lose games in such an unbelievable fashion. More importantly, I have a hard time believing the Toronto Raptors will win anything more than 45 games due to the up-and-down nature of Dwane Casey’s coaching choices during clutch situations. Toronto is the real deal and could escape the first round—keep in mind, they were a preseason playoff pick of mine—but they won’t hold on to win the division. Not with New York just 5.5 games back at 10-21. Sad, isn’t it?
Modahl- Winning games against an offensively challenged Bulls team is one thing, but beating the Pacers is another. I just can’t see Toronto blowing things up now. It just seems like a huge weight was lifted off their shoulders when Rudy Gay was traded. Assuming they don’t move DeMar DeRozan, they should be just good enough to hold on. I do think the Knicks make a run, though.
Hobbs- The New York Knicks. They have the best player in the division, and if Tyson Chandler can remain healthy, their defense will pick up. Point guard play will remain a problem, but a trade should ease that. If Kyle Lowry comes in – and even if he doesn’t – the Knicks probably have just about enough to win the division.
4. Chances the Nets make the playoffs
Orecchio- Considering the sad state of the East and the talent on Brooklyn’s roster, the simple conclusion would be to assume they’ll do enough to sneak in by season’s end. But the complete lack of effort, chemistry, and cohesion combined with a neophyte head coach and looming Father Time make it hard to imagine a team getting blown out as routinely as the Nets have this season will be playing in May.
Ogden- Slim-to-… Right, this is the Eastern Conference. I think Brooklyn will slip in with the No. 7 seed, but it’s all about health. Brook Lopez is out, but Deron Williams is a star when healthy and both Pierce and Garnett are too damn competitive to miss the playoffs. It won’t be pretty, but remember—only four teams in the East have a record of .500 or better.
Modahl- Look who is above them. They have been bad. I do not think Charlotte or Boston keep a spot (they are in the eight and nine seeds, respectively). I have to assume, at the end of the day, given the rosters and experience, that Brooklyn finds a way. But they should probably start now. 60 percent.
Hobbs- Like 50 percent? It all depends on how they juggle the minutes in the frontcourt. If Garnett rekindles even a shred of form, they’ll instantly be better on defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a little run towards the end of the season and picked up a seven or eight seed in all honesty. Even with all that’s happened, there’s just too much talent for this team to miss the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
5. Chances the Knicks make the playoffs
Orecchio- Carmelo Anthony has never missed the postseason in his career, and he’s played on worse teams in stronger conferences than this. In the NBA, where having a superstar is usually enough, the Knicks will find a way. Heck, they’d better; or he may be on the first plane out of JFK Airport when the season ends.
Ogden- They’ll be in. 100 percent chance. After a slow start that included losing both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler for ranging periods of time, New York is just 2.5 games out of the No. 8 seed. That’s not a typo. 10-21 has the Knicks three games out of avoiding both the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers in the first round. A team that lost 11 total home games under Mike Woodson entering 2013-14 can’t continue to be this bad (4-12) at home. Right? Right?!
Modahl- They will get it together. I would not be overly surprised if they take the division. The thing is, it wouldn’t take much of a run. They are the one bottom feeder that is most likely to go on a run. And they will. I am calling for a six game plus winning streak in the near future. And then they will be in great shape. 90 percent.
Hobbs- The Knicks should, and probably will make the playoffs. They have no incentive to tank – they do not own their 2014 draft pick. They have to try anything they can to try and make the playoffs. Whether that be changing coaches or trading for a short-term gain, they’ll do it. Melo will have a stretch during the season where he catches fire — it happens every year. And when that stretch happens, they’ll collect a few wins. A few wins makes the playoffs in the East this year; the Knicks will make the playoffs.