The 2019-20 NBA season is almost officially ready to tip-off. If the off-season and pre-season have given us any indication, fans are in for a wild ride. While it is a near guarantee that certain players and specific teams will once again lead the league in performance, highlights, and standings, other things will impact the successes and failures throughout the season. In our first of six parts, we take a look at the X-factors for each Atlantic Division team.
Key To Success For Each Atlantic Division Team
Boston Celtics – Enes Kanter
It’s almost like general managers around the league have a love/hate relationship with Enes Kanter. How else could one explain the fact that the current Boston Celtics big man is on his fifth team in ten years? Despite Kanter’s deficiencies, he averages 12 points, eight rebounds while playing only 22 minutes a night, his production is relatively efficient. Kemba Walker is the Celtics’ biggest offseason signing, but Kanter may prove to be one of their most important. The Celtics lost most of their rebounding when Al Horford and Aron Baynes left, a role in which Kanter could quickly achieve double digits. Kanter has always been willing to do the blue-collar work, something that will make him a fan favorite.
Brooklyn Nets – Superstar Complex
D’Angelo Russell represented the Brooklyn Nets at the 2019 All-Star Game, and while he put up All-Star worthy numbers, he didn’t carry himself with the attitude and ego that others often do. Caris LeVert, who, if not for an unfortunate injury, may have joined his teammate in the midseason classic. But when you looked at the Nets roster last season, there were no alpha leaders. All of that changed this summer when the team added Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as free agents. What adorned the Nets to their fans was the fact that the team seemed to have a blue-collar, no drama work ethic.
Irving and drama seem to go hand in hand, both on the court and in the locker room. If the talented point guard can fit into the Nets system and not the other way around, they could be a force in the East even without Durant. However, based on his tenure in Boston and how he departed Cleveland, that’s a big ask.
New York Knicks – Point Guard Battle
The New York Knicks struck out on every big-name free agent that they were tagged to last summer. While they did add a top tier draft pick in RJ Barrett, the incoming group of free agents seems to be a mixed bag. One addition, Elfrid Payton will find himself in a battle with Dennis Smith Jr. for the starting point guard role. While this, in theory, will force each to elevate their game.
The one problem is that both players, while starters for the majority of their career, have both underachieved. Will one be willing to take a back seat and come off the bench? Will Coach Fizdale employ a dual point guard starting unit? Smith Jr. is a better and more athletic scorer, Payton has better shooting percentages and distributes the ball more. Imagine that, drama in the Big Apple.
Philadelphia 76ers – Josh Richardson
The Philadelphia 76ers underachieved last year thanks in large part to four unfortunate bounces. Gone are J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler, two players who helped create space for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to work. In their place is Josh Richardson. While younger and more athletic than Redick, Richardson shot only 36 percent from downtown last year, compared to the 40 percent that Redick posted. The Sixers have a young and athletic team that should beat most teams down the court, but how effective their half-court offense will be may raise some questions throughout the season.
Toronto Raptors – Championship Hangover
While other entries on our list of X-factors for each Atlantic Division team focus on players, Canada’s lone entry focuses on the entire team. It took the Toronto Raptors 24 years and 11 trips to the playoffs before hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. Some believe that with the current makeup of the roster that it could take just as long to win another. While the Raptors are not favored to win the Eastern Conference this year, they could still be a tough matchup each night.
The Raptors are now at a crossroads of transitioning from their veteran players and building for the future. Pascal Siakam is poised to take over as the focal point of the offense, but where will the secondary scoring come from in the regular season? For players like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka, the grind has been long and tiring. For the Raptors younger players, could winning a championship so early in their career defuse the desire?
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