Should Boston be Favored to Win Atlantic Division?

Mar 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) defends as Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles toward the net in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) defends as Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) dribbles toward the net in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports /

There was a lot of movement from the Atlantic Division this off-season, but should the Celtics be the favorites to win the division?

Over the past three seasons the Toronto Raptors have ruled the Atlantic Division. They won it with a comfortable eight game lead over the Boston Celtics last season, and nine the year before. On the way, Toronto also set a franchise-record by winning 56 games last season as they finished a game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top seed in the East.

Simply put, no one in the Atlantic Division has been able to touch them over the past three seasons. The New York Knicks in 2012-13 were the last team to win the division other than the Raptors, and the Celtics last division title came in 2011-12. Surprisingly, those are the two teams who have made a lot of noise this off-season and have a chance to knock the Raptors off their throne.

The Knicks have made the most noise as they traded away Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon for former-MVP Derrick Rose. They also went out and signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee to complete their starting lineup. New York has seemingly finished their big signings after announcing a deal with Brandon Jennings a couple of days ago, marking an end to their impressive summer.

Boston, on the other hand, didn’t have as many fireworks this summer. They did end up selecting Jaylen Brown with the third pick, and added star center Al Horford. Although, they lost Evan Turner, and probably Jared Sullinger, but their return was well worth it.

With both teams drastically improved, Toronto has to be a little worried going into next season with basically the same team minus Bismack Biyombo, and maybe Luis Scola. Biyombo ended up signing with the Orlando Magic, leaving a big defensive hole in the paint for the Raptors to fill.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like an option after inking DeMar DeRozan to a five-year deal worth $139 million. While DeRozan is a very good player, he’s not a very efficient scorer – career 44.2 field-goal percentage, 28.3 three-point percentage. Also, he takes up a lot of shots (17.7) and isn’t the greatest defender. There’s no doubting he’s a star, however it’s hard to say he’s more valuable or efficient than Al Horford, especially when factoring the amount of cap space he takes up.

Pair that with the loss of Biyombo, and the Raptors could be looking at another early playoff exit and an underachieving regular season. In a way, they had to keep DeRozan because they feel this is their window to win and DeRozan is a big part of their team. Still, he and Kyle Lowry have struggled in the playoffs over the past two years, so maybe it was time for a change.

Either way, they brought him back. But in the end, they didn’t improve, they got worse.

It’s expected that Toronto will regress a little anyways following their record-breaking season, but the loss of Biyombo could cause that regression to be more significant. According to ESPN, the Celtics are projected to win 53 games next season, finishing second behind the Cavaliers. That would still put them three games behind the Raptors’ record from last year, but, like previously noted, I doubt the Raptors will win 56 games again.

Forgetting DeRozan’s contract, the Celtics are just a more well-rounded team than Toronto. They might not have the star back court of Lowry and DeRozan, however Isaiah Thomas and Horford will be a force to be reckoned with, and their depth is unmatched by the Raptors.

Jakob Poeltl has a chance to contribute right away for Toronto, however his fit with Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t look great on paper. They also only have Patrick Patterson behind them, unless they go out and sign a free agent or they’ll have to trust Bruno Caboclo or Lucas Nogueira off the bench. Even then, the Celtics depth still shines brighter as it goes down to their D-League team in Maine, where they will have a couple of NBA-ready prospects waiting in case of injuries or poor play.

Right now, Toronto is swimming in unchartered waters. They should eventually sign a couple of veteran players to a minimum deal, but until they do, depth is definitely something that will hold them back.

This Celtics team has never had this much pressure going into the season under Brad Stevens, but they also haven’t had a team as well-rounded as they are. They’re going to have a lot more options on offense, will have a better overall defense and I expect the younger players to step up.

More from Hardwood Houdini

With that being said, I have no problem seeing the Celtics winning 53 games or more. I also don’t have a problem envisioning the Raptors only winning 48-to-50 games. In my opinion, it’s a two-team race still, despite what the Knicks did.

Rose hasn’t played near All-Star level in a couple of seasons and Joakim Noah is on a rapid decline, as well. Also, neither has played 70 games or more in the past two seasons. Injuries will be a problem for New York, and, frankly, they seem to be all hype.

I have a hard time believing Rose and Carmelo Anthony will mesh as well as people think because it’s not always easy to have two natural scorers on the same team, especially when both want control of the offense. There’s only one ball, and some teams end up paying more attention to their touches, letting their ego get in the way, rather than focusing on their actual play.

When it comes down to it, the Celtics deserve to be favorites in the Atlantic Division. Despite being eight games out last season, they weren’t that much worse than the Raptors, and adding a four-time All-Star will surely close the gap.

Last season, Boston averaged more points, rebounds, assists and blocks per game than Toronto. The Raptors did have a better defense, only allowing 98.2 points per game, – third best in the NBA – but the Celtics should be better on that front with Horford in the paint. Also, the loss of Biyombo could cause that number to creep up towards 100 for Toronto.

The Philadelphia 76ers are still a year or two away from finally putting The Process into full swing, and the Brooklyn Nets have a chance to be the worst team in the league.

Next: Celtics Should Look Into Trade for Nikola Vucevic

Despite just one acquisition, the Celtics are considered, by many, to be huge winners this off-season. That should speak very loudly to the type of impact Horford will have in Boston. There will likely be three-teams from the Atlantic Division in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics finished second behind the Cavaliers, making them a more desirable destination next summer.