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2015-16 NBA Preview: Atlantic

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Toronto Raptors

Go to Guy: There’s no question that the Raptors want the ball in point guard Kyle Lowry’s hands. After bouncing around the league earlier in his career, Lowry has become a very good floor general in Toronto. Last season Lowry averaged 17.8 ppg to go with 6.8 apg and 4.7 rpg. 

Player with upside: The Raptors inked DeMarre Carroll to a four-year contract in the offseason, and they’re desperately hoping he can help sure up the defensive side of the ball in Toronto. Carroll was a lock-down wing defender last season in Atlanta, and the poor play of the Raptors’ defense is what has hurt them down the stretch the last two seasons. Carroll will have to live up to the hype as the highest paid player in a Raptors’ uniform.

Best case scenario: In a weak Eastern conference, it’s not crazy to think the Raptors could get home court advantage in the playoffs and finish the season as a top four seed. For that to happen, Lowry must shine along with shooting guard Demar Derozan and center Jonas Valanciunas.

Worst case scenario: Toronto didn’t improve its interior defense in the offseason, so if the Raptors experience injury problems to their big named players, then look for them fall to a lower seed such as seven or eight.

Boston Celtics

Go to guy: Even though he may not start, Isaiah Thomas is the best scorer on this Celtics team. The Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns midway through the season and were a much better team because of it. After averaging 16.4 ppg last year, look for Thomas to increase that total now that he’s had an entire offseason learning Brad Stevens’ system.

Player with upside: Remember David Lee? After riding the bench last season for the NBA Champion Warriors, Lee’s now sporting a green and white jersey and has a chance to rejuvenate his career. Lee will find plenty of scoring opportunities in Stevens’ offense, and don’t be surprised if he turns back into the double-double machine he was just a few years ago when he made the all-star team.

Best case scenario: In the East, anything is possible. If this group can develop a solid chemistry under Stevens’ guidance, don’t be surprised to see them finish as the fourth or fifth seed in the East.

Worst case scenario: It was only two seasons ago that the Celtics were the bottom feeders of the Eastern Conference, so it wouldn’t be outlandish to say this team doesn’t make the playoffs. If they fall into the lottery yet again, then Danny Ainge will have another top pick to use in the future.

New York Knicks

Go to guy: Coming off the worst season in franchise history, the Knicks have no choice but to turn to Carmelo Anthony to lead the way. Known as a “shot-heavy forward”, Melo must find a way to better involve his teammates and help Derek Fisher along with their development. If Anthony can stay healthy this season, there’s no reason he wouldn’t average around 26 ppg.

Player with upside: Knicks fans everywhere were upset when Phil Jackson opted to draft Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the draft, but if this guy can live up to his potential, he could be very good. He will clearly be a project and will have to fill into his 7-3 frame, but if he can get a running start into his development with a good rookie season, Knick fans may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Best case scenario: If Fisher can get control of this group and build up the team chemistry, then this team has enough talent to sneak into the playoffs in the Eastern conference. When Melo is hot, he’s hard to cool down. Therefore if he gets it going, don’t be surprised to see him carry the Knicks into postseason play.

Worst case scenario: If Melo ends up shutting down his season early like he did last year because of injury, then the Knicks could easily find themselves with the worst record in the NBA.

Brooklyn Nets

Go to guy: With no more Deron Williams or Kevin Garnett, the Nets will be left with Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson to carry the load. Both Lopez and Johnson have been all-stars in their careers, but each has struggled the past few seasons. Lopez started to get in a rhythm at the end of last year after the trade deadline, so if he continues to stay hot then look for him to carry most of the offensive load for Lionel Hollins’ Nets.

Player with upside: Jarrett Jack will have the opportunity to be the starting point guard for the Nets after being mostly a role player throughout his career. If he can direct the offense and not be a “team distraction” like Deron Williams was last season, then the Nets may have actually upgraded their starter. Last season Jack averaged 12 ppg along with 4.7 assists.

Best case scenario: The Nets are a very average team, but they could easily make the playoffs as the eighth seed if they can get it going. Lopez would likely need to have another all-star season if that’s going to happen.

Worst case scenario: If the Nets get bit by the injury bug, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t tank to get a better pick in the 2016 draft.

Philadelphia 76ers

Go to guy: Michael Carter Williams was traded to the Bucks last season, so that leaves Nerlens Noel to be the face of the lowly Sixers. After two pathetic seasons, Noel will have the responsibility of deciding which direction this franchise going to go. Last season he averaged 9.9 ppg to go with 8.1 rpg and almost two blocks.

Player with upside: Jahlil Okafor was there big addition in the draft, and the Duke product has the potential to be an elite post scorer in the league. If Okafor can figure things out on the defensive side of the floor, look for him to blossom into a very solid pro.

Best case scenario: If both Noel and Okafor are able to develop throughout the year while pulling out a few big wins, the Sixers should consider the season a success.

Worst case scenario: The likely scenario is that Philly will once again find themselves in the lottery when the draft rolls around in June. They just don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with most teams throughout the league.

2015-16 NBA Preview: Central

2015-16 NBA Preview: Southeast

2015-16 NBA Preview: Northwest

2015-16 NBA Preview: Southwest

2015-16 NBA Preview: Pacific

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