Oct 12, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) with the ball against the Detroit Pistons at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Pistons 82-75. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

NBA 2012/13 Season Preview: 5 Big Predictions For Atlantic Division


Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

1) THE BOSTON CELTICS WILL ADVANCE TO THE CONFERENCE FINALS

I suppose this isn’t much of a stretch to many out there.

Boston was just one win away (basically one half) from making the NBA Finals last season before falling in the final two quarters to the eventual champions (Miami Heat) in game 7.

The teams two biggest stars, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, are both one year older (36 and 35 respectively). Ray Allen is no longer a part of the franchise. Avery Bradley will be out of action for at least the first few months of the regular season. This roster has no true backup point guard.

There is a lot to be skeptical about. This roster is nothing like the group of guys who were minutes away from a finals appearance months ago. 7 new players (Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Darko Milicic, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, Jason Collins, Leandro Barbosa) will all make their way over to “Beantown” in 2013. That’s quite a dynamic change in such a short period of time.

Despite the abundance of new talent, the Celtics will continue to thrive and qualify for their second straight Eastern Conference finals.

Courtney Lee and Jason Terry will collectively make up for the production Allen gave the team last season. Jared Sullinger will prove to be an absolute steal at pick #21 and provide the Celtics with quality minutes as both a starter and reserve. Kevin Garnett will defy father time and make his 15th all-star game, even in limited minutes that will preserve his body for the postseason.

They will eventually succumb to the Miami Heat once again, but their season will still be considered a huge success.

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

2) CARMELO ANTHONY AND THE NEW YORK KNICKS WILL BE BOUNCED OUT OF THE FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS YET AGAIN

In one of the more surprising statistics out there, Knicks star Carmelo Anthony may in fact have the worst postseason luck of any player for the last 20 years.

His playoff record of 17-37 ranks him #1 (or last, if you see things from that perspective) amongst all players over the last two decades.

Anthony has played playoff basketball every year since entering the league back in 2003. As a member of the Denver Nuggets and New York Knicks, he has only advanced past the opening round once.

In 2012/13, that trend will continue.

The Knicks are good enough to make some noise during the regular season based on pure talent alone. That’s about it.

They are now officially the oldest team in NBA history, with an average age of 32 years and 240 days. While adding Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and even 35 year old rookie Pablo Prigioni will surely add some depth to the bench, it doesn’t change the fact that every one of those players are past their prime. They are serviceable reserves, but they don’t put New York over the top by any stretch of the imagination.

Chemistry issues will continue to be a problem as Anthony and fellow star Amare Stoudemire fail to form that elite one-two punch that many a Knicks fan have been pining for since their arrivals. Stoudemire will also miss a good portion of games (on top of the first 2-3 weeks he’s expected to miss already because of a ruptured cyst in his knee) as he battles problems with his knee(s) yet again.

New York is a sure-fire playoff team, but a much younger deeper ball club (such as the Indiana Pacers or Philadelphia 76ers) will match up with them in the first round and eliminate them quickly for the second straight season.

Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

3) ANDREW BYNUM WILL MISS 35+ GAMES FOR THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

There is so much hype and enthusiasm behind this 76ers team with the arrival of Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s just a shame he won’t play enough this season to fulfill his huge investment.

Bynum has sat out every preseason game thus far and has yet to practice with the team. Reports are also coming out that Andrew is still needing shots in his knees.

Whether he was still in discomfort or at 100% health, odds are Bynum would have been sitting out a majority of the preseason anyways for precautionary reasons. Still, with his history of injuries and missing games (last year was the first time Andrew maintained a good bill of health for his career), it has to be extremely stressful for coach Collins and this franchise as a whole to see their new all-star be nowhere near ready to compete, at least for now.

This roster is extremely deep at the wing positions, with Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Nick Young and Jason Richardson all capable of scoring in bunches (something Lou Williams did for the team last season. Even with all of those great players on the perimeter, this team still needs a solid presence down low to take that next step up the Eastern Conference ladder.

They have that now in Bynum.

If I were a betting man, I would think that he won’t be on the court long enough in 2012/13 to help the Sixers in that respect.

What a shame. For 76ers fans across the country hoping for big things this season, I hope I’m wrong.

Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

4) THE BROOKLYN NETS WILL BE THE LEAGUES MOST IMPROVED TEAM IN THE WIN-LOSS COLUMN. 

I suppose the only direction the Nets can go is up after finishing the 2011/12 regular season with a record of 22-44 (in a shortened 66 game season mind you).

When you add a player the caliber of Joe Johnson to a backcourt that already features 2x all-star Deron Williams, your team immediately becomes all the more credible and all the more prolific and effective because of it.

With center Brook Lopez ready to compete after playing just 5 games last season due to an ankle injury, the Nets now find themselves with one of the more complete starting line-ups in the league today (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Lopez).

The bench isn’t to shabby either. Promising second-year talent MarShon Brooks now leads the teams reserves, joining newly acquired players Josh Childress, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic to form one of the more well-rounded second units in basketball.

The Nets will more than likely finish somewhere in the 45-50 win range, which should be enough to make Brooklyn the most improved team in basketball.

They won’t make a “2008 Boston Celtics” type of leap where they immediately become title contenders, but a 4-6 playoff spot seems to be in the cards for this now quality basketball team.

5) JONAS VALANCIUNAS WILL FINISH AS A TOP 3 FINALIST FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

The Toronto Raptors have themselves a winner here in Valanciunas. A bust he is not. Premature to say? I don’t think so.

In 5 preseason games, Jonas is averaging 7.0 points on 50% shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. His outstanding play up to this point will (more than likely) earn himself a starting gig at the 5 spot.

Jonas already has a step up on a majority of rookies heading into this season. He’s competed against some of the best the world has to offer already in FIBA tournaments, the NKL and the Summer Olympics.

The one thing the Raptors have needed for years is a quality center. Andrea Bargnani is more suited as a scoring power forward rather than a post big.

In Valanciunas, Toronto has a young promising 7 footer who can play back to the basket, rebound the ball and block shots. His offensive game will grow over time as he adapts more to the NBA style of play.

I believe a stat line of 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game is completely plausible and could/will secure himself some major Rookie of the Year ballots once voting time comes.

I’m not saying he’s the most talented rookie in the league this year, but Jonas Valanciunas should not be slept on in the slightest. He is certainly up there with guys like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers as legitimate contenders for the award.

Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports

Tags: Boston Celtics Brooklyn Nets Carmelo Anthony Featured Jonas Valanciunas New York Knicks Philadelphia 76ers Popular Toronto Raptors