Greetings! In case you missed it, be sure to check out our full-length previews of the Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest Divisions here. Now, we turn our attention to the Eastern Conference, for the always-entertaining Atlantic Division. Let’s go.
Brooklyn Nets (51-31)
Isn’t it odd to see Paul Pierce (and Kevin Garnett, really) in another uniform? Pierce has spent the entirety of his (future) Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, and over those 15 years (and 1,102 regular season games), he’s been virtually the same type of player. Fortunately, his “backyard” game that features all kinds of herky-jerky, low-to-the-ground moves still works at age 36, but he did shoot his worst percentage (43.6% FG) in nearly a decade last season. Still, there is no real indication of a full-scale slowdown for Pierce, and he’s an incredible add for the Nets.
Even with all of that said about Pierce, though, Garnett is the major acquisition for Brooklyn in my view. Somehow, KG has played in eighteen NBA seasons, but he just finished a year where he averaged 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in route to a 19.25 PER. That doesn’t even tell the whole story, however, and Garnett’s defensive acumen (second-to-none) and admittedly homicidal demeanor should bring a different culture to Brooklyn that famously transformed the Celtics from basement-dwellers to champions in 2008. In short, he’s a fantastic player (even at age 37), and while his minutes will be down even more in Brooklyn (he averaged 29.7 per game last season in Boston), KG’s defensive impact and lethal mid-range jumper gives a perfectly compliment to Brook Lopez on the interior.
Speaking of Lopez, the 25-year-old center leads a trio of stars who were already in Brooklyn, and they are no doubt screaming “don’t forget about us!” to everyone they see. Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in all of the NBA, and he just finished his best season, averaging 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game with nearly a 25 PER that puts him among the game’s elite. Admittedly, he’s been a disaster on the defensive end at times, but his rebounding took a massive step forward with a suddenly passable 8.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last year (up from a staggering 4.8 the previous season), and he looked more mobile on the defensive end. He’ll never be a real rim protector, but that makes the Garnett acquisition even bigger, as that pairing could be devastating.
In the backcourt, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are back with equally enormous contracts. Williams is famously battling an ankle issue that could cause him to miss the start of the regular season (uh-oh), but he’s still among the best in the league at the point guard spot. He’s taken a step back across the board in production (down to 18.7 points and 7.7 assists per 36 last year), but the increase in options should help free him up offensively, and that’s a plus. As far as Johnson is concerned, everyone in Atlanta is familiar with his work, but now, Joe gets to fulfill his destiny as a supporting player on what could be an elite team. He’ll be the best spot-up shooter on a team that should create many opportunities for open shots, and Johnson could be captaining the 2nd-unit with shot creation if given the opportunity.
The Nets are (obviously) loaded in the starting five, but their owner (Mikhail Prokhorov) didn’t exactly skimp on the bench, either. Brooklyn somehow lured Andrei Kirilenko to town on a 1-year, bargain basement deal, and he’s one of the best values in the entire league. “AK47″ gives the Nets a wing defender that they sorely needed with Johnson and Pierce, and he’ll be among the game’s best at the 6th man spot. In addition to that, Andray Blatche (who I’ve killed for years) was actually awesome in a bench role last season (19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds per 36 min; 21.9 PER), and he’s back to provide quality depth. Brooklyn does need to get something out of either (preferably both) Jason Terry and Shaun Livingston to spell Deron Williams in the backcourt, but if things go south, they could lean heavily on Johnson and/or Pierce as ball-handlers.
Brooklyn is absolutely loaded this season, and from a talent standpoint, there is an argument that this is the best roster in the entire NBA. As you can see by my projected record, there are some question marks about fit, health, and style of play, but the talent level is undeniable and they should absolutely cruise to an Atlantic Division crown with home-court advantage in the 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.