By this point, most Raptors fans have come to terms with the fact that this team is aiming to make the playoffs this season. We’re not all in agreement about whether it’s good for the franchise to grab a seventh or eighth seed and then get destroyed in the first round, but that is what the 2012-13 Raptors are realistically aspiring to accomplish.
The Toronto Raptors haven’t been invited to the post-season party since 2008, so it would be kind of nice to end that drought — assuming, of course, that it was a sign of greater things to come in future seasons. However, this off-season has shifted the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in a way that should leave little doubt that the Atlantic Division — you know, the division in which the Raptors reside — is the strongest division in the Conference. Matter of fact, it could very well be the deadliest division in the whole league in 2012-13.
It’s impossible to predict injuries, so I won’t take those into consideration even though teams with more elderly rosters like the Knicks are more likely to succumb to them. With that in mind, I’m having a hard time looking at the other four teams in the Atlantic and imagining that any of them are likely to be on the outside looking in when April 20 rolls around.
The Boston Celtics will probably finish somewhere between second and fourth in the East, so there isn’t much point in breaking them down. The New York Knicks went 18-6 after Mike Woodson took over as coach, so even though they lost Jeremy Lin, I can’t imagine them winning fewer than 45 games unless they’re decimated by injuries — which is certainly a possibility considering the makeup of their roster. If you paid any attention to the Brooklyn Nets this off-season, you’re aware that they traded for Joe Johnson and re-signed the remainder of their starting lineup, including Deron Williams. With full seasons from Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace, they could potentially challenge the Celtics for the division title.
That leaves the Sixers and Raptors to battle it out for fourth place in the Atlantic and a probable eighth seed in the East. Philly boasts a pair of improving young players in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, but the true linchpin of that team is recently acquired Andrew Bynum, who is easily the best center in the East. If he can stay healthy, I’m anticipating a monster year from him — I’m talking 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per game. I’m deadly serious when I write that you should consider him with a top-five pick in your fantasy draft. We’ve seen how a dominant center can carry an otherwise mediocre roster in Orlando over the past five seasons.
Where does that leave the Raptors? Well, it means that they’ll probably need Bynum to tear a ligament or blow out a knee for a chance at barely making the playoffs this season. The Raptors will have to face these four tough division rivals 16 times this season, and predicting a 6-10 record in those games might be optimistic. In that scenario, the Raptors would have to go 35-31 against the rest of the league just to hit .500 — which may or may not be good enough for the eighth seed in the East.
If we’re going to be completely realistic about how the Raptors’ roster currently stacks up against the rest of the Atlantic Division, they simply fall short of the other four teams in the talent department at the moment. But with the advancing ages of certain key players on the Knicks and Celtics and the spotty health record of Bynum, where the Raptors might have a significant advantage is in their ability to simply keep their best players on the court.