Over the past few years, the Atlantic Division has become renowned as being the weakest in the league. The Philadelphia 76ers have been on an extended rebuilding project that began immediately after the team traded Andre Iguodala away back in 2012 and continued as we saw the team divest itself of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Michael Carter-Williams.
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were expected to be the top teams in the Atlantic, but after acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, the two New York teams have mostly underachieved, as there have been far more playoff losses than series victories in the Big Apple.
The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, on the other hand, have been pleasant surprises in each their own right. Many believed that the Raptors were likely to tank the 2013-14 season in order to give themselves an opportunity to win the right to draft Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 NBA Draft, but instead, the team from North of the Border went on to win the first of two consecutive division titles. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored tons of assets in return for trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Jeff Green, and overachieved by making the playoffs even without Rajon Rondo.
Overall, though, finding and identifying All-Stars in the Atlantic Division is a difficult endeavor. As the division has become the weakest in basketball, we have seen an emphasis on rewarding winning. For proof of this, one need to look no further than the Atlanta Hawks and the fact that they have four representatives in last February’s All-Star game. The Hawks arrived at the break with an amazingly impressive 43-11 record and as a result, Kyle Korver, Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap were named All-Stars.
Expect team success to continue to be rewarded and for there to be a dearth of All-Stars from the Atlantic Division. Last season, Carmelo Anthony and Kyle Lowry were the division’s lone representatives, and while Anthony is a safe assumption to be voted in by the fans once again, the other spots may be up for grabs. They will most likely go to players from winning teams, but below, we have identified one “dark horse” player from each Atlantic Division team that may have an opportunity to score an improbable playoff berth this coming season.
DeMarre Carroll, Toronto Raptors:
The Atlanta Hawks spent a great majority of last season as the top team in the Eastern Conference and one of the better teams across the entire league. There are some that would make the case that Carroll was a major part of their success. During their playoff run, he was Mike Budenholzer’s most consistent player and in Atlanta, many are wondering what to expect this season. In Toronto, he will join Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to form an impressive triumvirate on the perimeter and will likely help the team win its third straight division title and perhaps improve upon last season’s 49 wins.
David Lee, Boston Celtics:
David Lee is no stranger to Atlantic Division NBA fans. The St. Louis native spent the first five years of his career as a member of the New York Knicks and was named to his first All-Star team in 2010. That season, his 20.2 points per game and 11.7 rebounds helped him score a six-year, $80 million deal from the Golden State Warriors, who recently traded him to the Boston Celtics.
In Boston, Lee will see his minutes and usage increase and, perhaps, have an opportunity to rediscover some of his past productivity. Last season, due to injury and the emergence of Draymond Green, Lee had a career low in games played (49) and, across the board, his lowest outputs since his rookie year.
Entering the final year of his deal, Lee will have the opportunity and motivation to put up strong numbers. Although he will face a crowded field in the front court out East, he remains a dark horse candidate we should keep an eye on.
Thaddeus Young, Brooklyn Nets:
Many consider the Nets fortunate to have received the promising Thaddeus Young in return for Kevin Garnett at least season’s trade deadline. At just 27 years old, Young is entering what should be the prime of his career and will join Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez as the featured players for a Nets team that suddenly finds itself without Deron Williams.
Like Lee, Young would, in theory, have to beat out a number of more established stars in the conference to earn an All-Star berth, but if the Nets managed to enter the All-Star break with a winning record, they will have opened some eyes across the conference. If Young is one of the primary reasons that they overachieve (admittedly a big “if”), he would have an opportunity to represent the Nets in the midseason classic.
Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers:
Over the past 20 years, only four players have been named to the All-Star team in their rookie year: Grant Hill (1995), Tim Duncan (1998), Yao Ming (2003) and Blake Griffin (2011).
Jahlil Okafor is not likely to join that list this coming season, but of all players on the Philadelphia 76ers, only he and Nerlens Noel have even a puncher’s chance of making the 12-man roster.
Okafor is a surefire talent who will eventually emerge as a perennial All-Star. We haven’t seen a rookie with his patience and poise in the post since Duncan, and most expect him to pay immediate dividends for the Sixers. At this point, the expectation is that he will win the Rookie of the Year Award, but rest assured, if he helps to Sixers to escape the cellar of the Atlantic Division, he may get strong consideration as an All-Star.
It’s unlikely, but certainly worth mentioning and noting.
Arron Afflalo, New York Knicks:
After Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks seem to lack an All-Star caliber performer. After having missed out on a number of past All-Stars this past summer, Phil Jackson did an impressive job of filling out his roster with auxiliary pieces. The drafting of Kristaps Porzingis seems promising after his impressive stint in the Las Vegas summer league, but if there is one player on the roster not named Carmelo who has a shot at landing as an All-Star, it is probably Arron Afflalo.
In the Eastern Conference, with Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving leading the All-Star charge, the prospect of someone like Afflalo sneaking in seems dim. However, the backcourt is not nearly as loaded as the front court and each of the aforementioned lead guards have all shown a propensity to getting injured.
Again, it all boils down to winning. If the Knicks overachieve and one or two lead guards out East are unable to participate in the All-Star game, Afflalo may have a shot to get in, even if as an injury replacement.
* * * * *
With LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Paul George, Pau Gasol, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Chris Bosh in the front court and Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, John Wall and Bradley Beal in the back court, it is difficult to imagine some of the aforementioned players earning an All-Star berth this coming season. However, over the past three years, we have seen Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Roy Hibbert, DeMar DeRozan, Tyson Chandler and Jrue Holiday all find their way into the All-Star game.
Injuries happen, as do surprises. And if the teams in the NBA’s weakest division find a way to overachieve this season, one or two unfamiliar faces may wind up representing the Eastern Conference in Toronto’s 2016 NBA All-Star game.
- Hawks are 750-750 in their last 1,500 games
- Kevin Durant passes Carmelo Anthony for 9th on NBA all-time scoring list
- Victor Wembanyama joins Jamaal Tinsley as only NBA rookies to record a 5×5 game
- Warriors’ Steve Kerr signs two-year, $35 million extension, becomes NBA’s highest-paid coach
- Tyrese Haliburton Leading League in Offensive Rating
Main Page 4 days ago
Former Rockets Guard/Forward Robert Reid Dies At 68 After Battle With Cancer
NBA 2 weeks ago
NBA Championship Odds: Which Teams Are The Favorites To Win The NBA Title?
NBA 5 days ago
Anthony Edwards admits players don’t contest All-Star Game: ‘Nobody wants to come and compete’
Headlines 5 days ago
NBA All-Star Game Sparks Rumors That Kevin Durant and Rapper Yung Miami Are Dating