To begin the NBA season, our staff writers took a stab at previewing each team and their division. While some predictions and prognostications have panned out, there is plenty that has been surprising.
This week, our writers will again break down the league, team by team, in order to get ready for the rest of the NBA season. We hope to give insight into where teams are at this point in the year, and with the trade deadline right around the corner, we will try to forecast what move lies ahead.
Next up is our breakdown of the Atlantic division, where the New York Knicks have been steadily rising and where the team with the most wins in the league resides. Here’s how our writers, Matt Strout, Meyer McCaulsky, Skylar Rogers, and Joshua Ambroise, view the outlook for the Atlantic Division.
(BSP mid-season reports were written prior to Feb. 5, 2024)
– The Heat jump into 7th with win
– Knicks have won 10 of 11
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2024
Record: 38-12 (1st in Eastern Conference)
First Half Best Performer: Derrick White
First Half Underperformer: Jrue Holiday
The Boston Celtics have experienced a first half of new and old. For starters, they are once again sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. And the margin is not small. Their five-game lead in the conference gives the Celtics some breathing room. It positions the Celtics as the favorites but also instills a sense of superiority that needs to be carefully balanced for the rest of the year.
The offseason additions have brought a new flavor to the Celtics. Kristaps Porzingis has arguably looked the best he ever has in the NBA, wearing a Celtics uniform. His 19.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game nearly earned him an All-Star selection. Ultimately, the Celtics coaching staff have seen what the best version of themselves looks like, and that’s with Porzingis healthy, so preserving him for the rest of the season is their greatest concern. Similarly, the Celtics have seen an in-house ascension from Derrick White, whose two-way ability makes him an essential piece for a championship run. Don’t be surprised if, down the stretch, White is given even more responsibility on offense.
It’s really hard to find weak points in the Celtics. Collectively, lingering issues relate to end-of-game execution, and recently, that has led to the Celtics dropping games at home after starting out 20-0. That’s something they will likely have to work out on their own. Due to financial restrictions associated with the salary cap, the Celtics are handcuffed to the type of contract they can absorb without trading away essential pieces of their rotation. One area they could look to enhance is the guard position. The previously mentioned late-game issues are somewhat puzzling since the Celtics did try to address them by adding Jrue Holiday. Their composure hasn’t changed much, and adding another player with a crutch time pedigree could give Joe Mazzula more options to experiment with.
The Celtics are in the driver’s seat in the East, and barring a major injury, their chances of being the number one seed in the conference are high. However, we all know the regular season is not the priority, as the Celtics have to overcome their shortcomings with maturity and focus. Anything short of a championship for this squad would be a failed season.
Record: 20-28 (11th in Eastern Conference)
First-Half Best Performer: Mikal Bridges
First-Half Underperformer: Spencer Dinwiddie
The Brooklyn Nets currently have a record of 20-28 and are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re a game and a half behind the tenth-place Atlanta Hawks for the final spot in the third annual Play-In Tournament. Given the hard-nosed and gritty culture that Jacque Vaughn is trying to set for this organization, the Nets are still trying to remain competitive despite being eight games under .500.
The best player/performer for the Brooklyn Nets so far this season is a tie between Mikal Bridges and Cam Thomas. Although it’s widely acknowledged that Bridges is currently the best player on the Nets, Thomas has emerged as the team’s go-to-scorer, particularly in clutch situations.
Before the start of the 2023-24 season, Bridges was expected to build off his performance from last season and take a leap into becoming an All-Star. However, his stats have shown marginal improvement in terms of points, rebounds, and assists per game. The former Villanova Wildcat currently averages 21.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Nonetheless, he’s adapted well to being the number one player on the opposing team’s scouting reports. Still, he is more ideal as a second or third option on a championship-contending team.
Brooklyn’s biggest underperformer this season has been Spencer Dinwiddie. Despite starting all 46 games for the Nets this season, his production has dipped across the board as he has to defer to Bridges and Cam Thomas. The former Colorado Buffalo averages 12.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on 39/32/78% shooting splits. The dip in production shows he is more suitable as a sixth man, where he gets more opportunities with the ball in his hands to score and perhaps dish out more assists. He’s also been the subject of trade rumors along with many of his veteran teammates.
The Nets haven’t made any transactions yet, but many of their key players have been the subject of trade rumors. Those players consist of Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie, Royce O’Neale, and Dorian Finney-Smith. The Nets reportedly rejected a trade offer that would’ve sent Dorian Finney-Smith to an undisclosed team for two first-round picks.
Based on this organization’s hard-nosed and gritty identity, this team will push for the play-in tournament. However, they will likely finish just short of tenth place in the Eastern Conference. I also predict that Cameron Thomas will finish as a finalist for Most Improved Player but will be a runner-up to Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey.
New York Knicks
Record: 32-18 (4th in Eastern Conference)
First-Half Best Performer: Jalen Brunson
First-Half Underperformer: Evan Fournier
With the first half coming soon to a conclusion, the New York Knicks have found themselves to be in good shape. The team currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 32-18. The Knicks are expected to achieve at least 48 wins based on the current trend. But there are reasons for New York’s current success. One of them is coming from players who have stepped up and through notable additions via trades.
Since making the blockbuster trade that sent Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for O.G. Anunoby, the Knicks have seemingly found their own success. Yes, the move did sting a bit, but it did pay off well for both sides. In the last 10 games, New York has been on a roll. Since the acquisition, they’re now 12-2, with Anunoby in the starting lineup every day.
There are many players that have stepped in for the Knicks in the moving trend as we wrap up the first half of the season. One player who has stepped up really well for the Knicks thus far is Isiah Hartenstein. Ever since the injury that forced Mitchell Robinson to sit out for the remainder of the season, Hartenstein has done a nice job stepping up for the team in Robinson’s absence. Averaging over six points and eight rebounds a game.
Another player who’s been giving the Knicks some help is Miles McBride. Ever since Jalen Brunson has gone down with an injury, McBride has done a good job stepping up for him. He was coming off his best performance for the Knicks not too long ago. Last week, he recorded 19 points, six rebounds, and five assists versus the Memphis Grizzlies. In addition, McBride is shooting 23-for-48 (47.9 percent) from the three-point line.
Expect the Knicks to be a top-four team seed and make it through the second round of the 2023-24 NBA playoffs. That’s without mentioning that the Knicks could still bolster their rotation before the trade deadline on Thursday—February. 8th. Because Julius Randle has gone down with a shoulder injury, another scoring wing could be needed, not only to replace Randle’s production but for more offensive firepower as the playoffs inch closer.
Team Record: 30-19 (5th in Eastern Conference)
First-Half Best Performer: Joel Embiid
First-Half Underperformer: Mo Bamba
The Philadelphia 76ers have made some fundamental changes since the end of their playoff run last season, which ended in a Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics after going up 3-2 in that second-round series. They fired Doc Rivers after his third straight second-round exit in as many years as head coach, and just eight days after the start of the season traded James Harden and P.J. Tucker to the Los Angeles Clippers for Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Kenyon Martin Jr., Robert Covington and picks.
This Harden trade opened the door for the emergence of Tyrese Maxey, who has continued to grow over the last couple of seasons. He is a popular All-Star Game pick this season and has taken full control of the 76ers’ backcourt with Harden moving on. Maxey is scoring 26.2 points per game, with a true shooting percentage of 58.2%. However, their top performer is still the reigning MVP, Joel Embiid, who leads the league in scoring, averaging 35.3 points per contest. While some may criticize Embiid for only playing in 34 of 48 games so far this season, what he has produced while on the court can’t be minimized. He has dominated games, sometimes single-handedly, for the 76ers and earned a starting role for the Eastern Conference All-Stars. His stellar season was highlighted in a recent game against the San Antonio Spurs, where Embiid scored 70 points.
The 76ers are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 30-19 record. They have a great home record so far, going 17-8 in Philadelphia and 13-11 on the road. Besides Maxey and Embiid, the 76ers have had key contributions from De’Anthony Melton, Tobias Harris, and Kelly Oubre. Currently, the 76ers are seventh in the league in scoring, with 118.8 points per game.
It will be interesting to see if the 76ers make any trades before the trade deadline to bolster their rotation going into the second half of the season. They have players that teams have an interest in aquiring, but the question is, do they want to target a shooter or a defensive-minded player? They could also use a backup center, as they only have two on the roster with Embiid and Mo Bamba.
At the end of the season, this team is going to have to prove it during the playoffs, regardless of if Embiid is available. It will depend on how well Nick Nurse can get this team playing together with confidence on offense and defense once we are in the playoffs and on how big Embiid shows up in games 5-7 of a playoff series in order to knock off contenders like Boston or Milwaukee in the playoffs.
Record: 17-33 (12th in Eastern Conference)
First-Half Best Performer: Scottie Barnes
First-Half Underperformer: Jakob Poeltl
The Toronto Raptors began their teardown just over a month ago when they traded OG Anunoby and Precious Achiuwa for a package of RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and a package of draft picks. Then, just a few weeks later, they dispatched Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers for Bruce Brown and another package of draft picks.
Time had been running out for the Raptors for a while; ask some, and this teardown should have been initiated far sooner. It was as though certain moves had been made without thinking of the organization’s direction. A reset would have been better served prior to the season so new head coach Darko Rajokovic could have imprinted an identity to a squad that would stick around.
The bright spot for the Raptors this season has been the bounce-back play of Scottie Barnes. In his sophomore season, Barnes was less productive than he had been when he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award. However, the trend line is pointing back up. Barnes is averaging 20.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in the best of his young career. In contrast, the Raptors have yet to see the production they envisioned from Jakob Poeltl when they sent the San Antonio Spurs a bundle of future picks. While he has the highest field goal percentage of his career this season, his fit with the Raptors is awkward. He isn’t playing as much in Rajokovic’s system, and when he is, his defense hasn’t been where it was earlier in his career.
Even though they have already dealt away two high-level players, the Raptors are likely still working on making moves before the deadline. The Raptors have a handful of players desired by contending teams around the league, like Poeltl, Brown, and Dennis Schroder. The goal in Toronto should be to facilitate chemistry with their new core, Barnes, Barrett, and Quickley, heading into next season. That also means cleaning out the parts of the roster that don’t fit with that vision. Masai Ujiri’s (possible) last job for the Raptors should be to lean into the youth movement before they stray too far away from competing.
/ 5 hours ago
Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State Height: 6’3” Weight: 213 Hand Size: 9 3/8...
/ 15 hours ago
Malik Nabers, WR, LSU Height: 6’0” Weight: 200 Hand Size: N/A 40-Yard...
/ 15 hours ago
Jalen McMillan, WR, Washington Height: 6’1” Weight: 197 Hand Size: 10 40-Yard...
/ 1 day ago
Rome Odunze, WR, Washington Height: 6’3” Weight: 215 Hand Size: N/A 40-Yard...