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.

Comments (33)

  1. Jersey are vulnerable in the middle – Lopez and Hump. Philly arguably lost its best three players and Boston is getting old. Knicks as well.

    The game’s gotta be played.

    • I don’t like the Nets lineup at all. They don’t look very good at all defensively, and I think they’re the most likely to finish last in the division.

      Philly lost good players, but I think breakout years for Turner and Holiday as well as Bynum could keep them right up there.

      • I’m not sure Jersey wi’ll finish last, but they were pretty bad last season,still very weak in the middle, and basically unproven.
        Philly were a nice surprise last season, should still be good, but have lost three key players, are hoping for young guys to step up and lets first see how Bynum does without Allstars around him. I doubt they finish higher than last year and could potentially take a step back.
        Knicks have talent and a good coach, but there still the freaken Knicks. Who knows, I hear Isiah has been lurking.
        Boston is about the only proven squad.

        The $$$ would lean towards the Raptors finishing last in the division, but who knows. I truley feel the will improve upon last season’s record and who knows if one of the above has setbacks.

  2. The Raptors ace in the hole against the stacked Atlantic division will be our depth. Barring a Blue Jays-eque injury-riddled season, I think the Raptors now boast one of the deepest rosters in the conference. What we do lack as of today, is a bona fide star player, which is historically a very large impairment to NBA playoff aspirations.

  3. Bynum, without a doubt is the biggest factor in how the Atlantic division plays out. Sixers could finish as high as second, but could also finish last. I agree that he is set to have a monster year. Scott, I’ll even say he could get 13-14 RPG. I don’t think there is ANYONE in the East (other than maybe Chandler and Hibbert, possibly Drummond) that can guard him.

    As far as positioning, I think it’s Boston’s division to lose at this point. The Knicks second, they’ve improved a lot. The Sixers could be as high as second, but probably third if Bynum plays in 60-70 games. After that, I’d say it’s anybody’s guess as to the Nets and Raptors for 4th and 5th.

    • I can’t see a scenario where the Raptors and Nets are both healthy and they’re competing for the same spot in the Atlantic. I know the Raptors have superior depth but the Nets will be getting 72 minutes of guard play per game from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson while the Raptors will counter with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

      • And 50 – 60 minutes of Lopez and Humph guarding the paint. Nets were bad last season and haven’t gotten THAT much better.

        • I don’t know how much I want to hang my hat on the performance of a team that shamelessly tanked like they did. It really skewed most of the numbers.

          Yes, they will be below average in the middle but their wings will more than make up for it on both ends of the court.

          You’re basically right though, The Nets struggling to make all their pieces fit together is the only scenario that results in the Raptors finishing anywhere other than last in the division.

          • I think more than the play of their bigs, the Nets’ downfall will be a defence that I peg near the bottom of the NBA.

          • I agree, I can definitely see the Nets as being a really bad defensive team this season.

        • Are Lopez and Humphries guarding the paint any worse than Bargnani and whoever else they pair with him? I think Valanciunas will eventually be a defensive force at center, but it will take a season or two.

          However much New Jersey is flawed, they still are better at just about every position than the Raptors.

          • Based on last years statistics, absolutely! Raptors as a team climbed remarkably in just about every defensive stat and I don’t expect them to go backwards.
            And Andrea, when healthy was on the court more than any of his teammates. You cannot deny him credit for part of our improvement.

          • Well, Bargnani played the 7th most minutes on the team last year, and the third most minutes per game. And going on that logic, DeRozan and Calderon, both of whom played more minutes per game than Bargnani, must also be credited for the improved defense. So why did the Raptors need to bring in Lowry?

          • Sorry, not really a stat head, but when healthy thought he played the most minutes. Thank you for correcting, He’s ranked 7th because of injury.
            You actually made a great point. With such defensive liabilities like Calderon, DeRozan and Bargnani logging the most minutes per game, how did this team get so better statistically defensively?

          • And come on, give him some credit. Of all our players he is the one who probably adjusted best to the new coach.
            Just a little bit of credit?

          • There were several reasons the Raptors defense got better. One reason is because they slowed the pace, which artificially inflate defensive numbers. They went from 10th in the league to 25th. Slowing the pace of the game will make your opponent have more half court sets, which brings down their field goal percentage. Unfortunately it also meant more half court sets for the Raptors, which is a big reason their offense got worse.

            Slowing down the pace also lowers the number of possessions both teams have, so it lowers the scoring, and gives less talented teams a chance to compete against more talented teams. It’s the same trick Bill Mussleman used when he was coaching Minnesota in it’s first few years and why they overachieved in comparison to their talent level.

            The the more talent a team has, the faster pace they should play, in order to increase the number of possessions.

            As for giving credit to Bargnani because he “adjusted more than anyone”, I don’t quite know what to say. He went from exerting little effort on defense to some. I don’t really give credit to a player for doing something he should have been doing all along (and has a long way to go before it’s actually acceptable).

          • wow, I was expecting a little baby step from you on this one.

          • I agree completely, Tim.

            Although, I don’t think you need to go all the way back to Bill Musselman for an example of the strategy when we already have a great example in Raptors history with Kevin O’Neill. Their defensive efficiency went from 27th with Lenny Wilkens in 2002-2003 to 6th with O’Neill in 2003-2004.

            That’s part of the reason I’d like to see how things go this season before I label Casey a miracle worker like most people have already gone ahead and done.

          • Ya, for some reason, I always think of Bill Musselman for this example. You’re right, though.

          • using that logic, and I do follow it – would that not exagerrate our inefficiencies when we were one of the quickest paced teams.
            So all these previous seasons we were not that hporrible on D? It was only because we played a quicker game?

          • I think that’s a fair argument. Obviously some teams are simply built more for running than others, but in general, I think that’s true, to a point.

            You get cases like Steve Nash teams, who in order to take advantage of Nash’s skills, need to run more, but the more possessions a game has, the more likely the better team will win.

  4. Lopez and Humphries played a full season together in 2010-11 and the Nets were 21st in Defensive Efficiency. The rest of the starting lineup usually consisted of Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw.

    I think the Nets will be a below-average defensive team but I don’t expect them to be one of the worst. They’ll easily be top 10 in offense and possibly top five.

  5. Good article. I don’t see the raps winning a season series against any of the teams in the atlantic division. With a healthy Brook Lopez the Nets have 3 all-stars. I don’t see how people can compare the raptors roster with theirs… Another guy mentioned that the raptors have the deepest roster in the division lol. what the hell are you smoking man? we’ll probably have 2 rookies coming off the bench depending on what casey does with JV. I think raps will finish 10 or 11th…

    • Not sure what you’re talking about, but the Raptors have one of the best benches in the league.

      • I wouldn’t say one of the best in the league. It’s decent, but I think you’re overestimating the talent. And, unfortunately, while they have good bench players, some of those bench players will have to start. A good bench is nice, but it’s the quality of the starters that will win or lose most of your games.

        • I think it is. There’s only a few teams I would say definitely have more depth than the Raptors do. And thats Boston, Denver, Houston, OKC, San Antonio.

          You’re both right as far as an average starting lineup. But depth is definitely a strength for them heading into this season.

          • Who really cares how deep your team is when your starters are realistically in the bottom third, in terms of quality.

      • Assuming that Lowry, Fields, Derozan, AB, and A. Johnson are starting, you’d likely have Calderon, Ross, JV, Kleiza, and Davis coming off bench, correct? I think that’s a good bench squad with potential but with 2 possibly 3 rooks (acy) it’s unproven. I can’t assume that each of those guys is gonna have a break-out year. With the exception of Lowry, I’d also argue that the starting roster will be subpar in terms of a playoff team – especially given that we play in the atlantic…

        • If the Raptors can COMBINE two players into one, then their depth will help. But having two decent shooting guards doesn’t come close to having one very good one.

        • It is a bench with a lot of potential. Do we get starter quality Jose? Do we get Olympic effort Kleiza? Does Davis keep improving? Do JV and Ross keep their fouls under control and can those boys even keep up with the men they will be playing against? If the answers are yes to all, then we will make the playoffs. If there are even one or two NOs then it is very questionable.

          The starters should mesh well, and be roughly mid pack vs the rest of the leagues other starters.

          If Lowry keeps improving, if Fields bounces back, if DD starts playing D, if we get 13 game sample AB back, and if Amir and Gray can adapt to playing with Lowry, then we have a real chance.

          It is going to be a fun season to watch if everyone stays healthy!

          • There are a hell of a lot of ‘ifs” there. And while there is certainly potential on the Raptors, there isn’t a whole lot of high potential.

  6. testing one two three. Go Raps.

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