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The Breakdown

Strengths and Weaknesses: Atlantic Division

by Brad Stonebraker
Updated On: August 25, 2021, 10:47 am ET

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Boston Celtics

Strength: Point guard depth

The Boston Celtics fell below most expectations last season, being a part of the play-in tournament and ultimately falling to the Nets soon after officially grabbing a spot in the playoffs. They lost Kemba Walker this offseason, and with all due respect to Kemba, he didn’t appear to gel with the team at all times. Kemba’s exit leaves room for Marcus Smart to start at the point and play on the ball a bit more, which will hopefully help Boston’s success as a team in addition to Smart’s fantasy value. Smart was a top-100 player for the fantasy season last year behind stats like 1.5 steals and 1.9 made triples per game, and there’s no doubt that he could creep up to the 2.5 three-pointers mark with some more playing time and a higher usage sans Kemba. They also signed Dennis Schroder for quite the deal, and his drive-and-kick game with Smart could be a thing of beauty. If Schroder can get 30 minutes per game, he’ll be a relevant fantasy option for someone in need of scoring, but he doesn’t do a whole lot more to help your team besides dish the ball (5.8 assists per game last season), so keep in mind he’s not an across-the-board contributor when drafting him. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams will continue to be beasts, and while the point guard spot is a little crowded (they also have Summer League standout Payton Pritchard, Josh Richardson can handle the ball and even Kris Dunn could get a few minutes), it could prove to be a beneficial experiment for the Celtics. 

Weakness: Passing

Boston’s passing stats last season were not that impressive by any means, as they ranked 25th in assists per game, 27th in assist percentage and 22nd in assist-to-turnover ratio. While basketball is a complex game and there’s no clear cut reason for this, it’s worth noting that Tatum and Brown’s isolation plays, while certainly effective at times, ruins their chances at having better assists numbers. And sadly, Boston didn’t really do anything to help these numbers, as Schroder is a score-first point guard and it’s hard to argue that Marcus Smart is a pass-first guy himself. New head coach Ime Udoka may try to emphasize this part of the game more after seeing last year’s struggles, and if they do, there will be more helpful fantasy numbers to go around and will help each guy by just a smidge at the very least.

Brooklyn Nets

Strength: Basically everything

It’s no secret at this point that Brooklyn is simply beyond stacked on paper, and they score with such effortlessness at times that it’s scary. There are good things about each part of their roster as it has been built and shaped very intentionally, and this helps put the Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving into first-round fantasy value on a per game basis. They’ll be phenomenal when they play, but with the Nets having 13 back-to-back sets, it’s likely that these guys may rest during the regular season in certain matchups. Plus, while not too concerning, there’s always the blowout factor that disallows these three guys from playing more than 25 minutes on some nights that they’re not needed. Joe Harris is an incredible player and is still just the fourth best option on the team, which speaks volumes. Harris will be a solid fantasy option for some shooting, and he even cracked top-100 value last season behind modest averages because he shot more than 50% from the floor and hit 3.1 triples per game on 47.5% from that range - he’s one of those guys that can only help your team, but will do so fairly quietly. 

Weakness: Opposing second chance points

We kind of have to nitpick here a little because there’s not a lot to dislike about Brooklyn. They are often criticized for their defense and rightfully so after ranking 22nd in defensive rating last year, but they have some great individual defenders and this is something they are likely prioritizing as we speak. Their weakest point, while incredibly specific, was their tendency to give up second chance points to opponents - they ranked second to last in this category in 2020-2021. Rebounding is the final step in a defensive sequence, and they’ll need to look to box out better and secure a defensive stop without giving their opponents another shot at it. 

New York Knicks

Strength: Added shooting

The Knicks have had a pretty good offseason thus far, including the addition of Celtics Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. These two guys are both known to be shooters from range, and while the team made the third most three-pointers per game, they attempted the fourth least. It’s just one season, but it seems like they have guys that can make shots from beyond the arc, but just don’t take many of them. This will change quite quickly with Walker and Fournier now in town, as they combined for 5.8 made threes per game last season. Kemba Walker’s days of being an early-round point guard appear to be over, but on a new team that suits his style a bit more, he may be slightly undervalued ahead of drafts. In terms of Fournier, you more or less know what you’re going to get from the 11th year wing. 

Weakness: Playoff composure (bad offense)

Julius Randle and the Knicks did not have the playoff run that they expected after falling to the Hawks 4-1 in the first round, and maybe they had some playoff jitters given that it was the franchise’s first trip here since the 2012-2013 season. It was a lot of guys’ first postseasons and they seemed to lose their composure at times, highlighted by their 97.0 points per game (last of the 16 playoff teams) on 39.8% shooting (second to last) in their five games. Sure, it’s just five games and the Hawks are a very solid defensive team, but the Knicks need to step it up to compete with, or even attempt to become a part of, the big dogs of the Eastern Conference. Talking Julius Randle, he’s sure to be an early-round pick even after an abysmal playoff run, and you may be able to get him at a small discount if others in your league think that he’s haunted by his own playoff performance and that it’ll affect his play in this new season.

Philadelphia 76ers

Strength: Defense

Philly was a borderline juggernaut on defense last year, accounting for the second most of both steals and blocks per game and having the second best defensive rating in the league. Steals and blocks don’t always mean good defense, but for the 76ers, it translates perfectly. In fact, 30% of this year’s All-Defensive Team members were Sixers, and guys like Danny Green and Tobias Harris that didn’t make it are no cakewalk to score on either. Four of the five starters notched at least one steal per game, and Andre Drummond is usually good in this category and could get a steal per game off the bench, so there’s a ton of fantasy value here for steals alone, and Matisse Thybulle (1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game) could make for a fun pick in the later rounds if you’re set on scoring. Any offense he brings is just a bonus, and if he improves his shot and can get consistent minutes and points at any time, he could turn into an early-round guy before we know it. 

Weakness: Running it back

In comparison to many teams, the 76ers had a very quiet offseason and didn’t do anything major with the exception of adding center Andre Drummond, who will likely assume the role left by Dwight Howard but with a bit more offense. This isn’t totally a bad thing as they were first in the East last year and had a couple of tough losses to Atlanta to kick them out, so the front office clearly has faith in the current roster to run it back with more success. They’re also one of the easier fantasy teams to dissect as well as the needle hasn’t moved on any of them this summer - Joel Embiid is a first-round beast but will miss a chunk of games, Ben Simmons gets you everything and has been working on his three-point shot for the millionth consecutive offseason, and Tobias Harris is just an ultra-consistent option that could creep into top-25 value without many issues. 

Toronto Raptors

Strength: Fred VanVleet at the helm

Toronto lost who is often said to be the greatest Raptor of all time in Kyle Lowry this offseason, and while he’ll have a massive void to fill, they’re ready to fill it. Fred VanVleet will finally be in full control as the main leader of this team, and his fantasy value is sure to benefit as a result. Somehow, VanVleet crept into top-20 value last season even though he shot 38.9% from the field, which speaks volumes to the rest of his game. His 19.6 points, 6.3 dimes, 3.3 three-pointers and 1.7 steals per game are fantasy gold, and he could easily be a guy averaging in the low/mid-20s in points scored now that he’s commanding this Canadian ship. Even if his shooting doesn’t improve, basically everything else is apt to, so it looks like VanVleet could be a legitimate first or second-round guy this year. We aren’t too worried about Goran Dragic or Malachi Flynn ruining his value, and Flynn may even be able to match some sneaky value he had to end last season when Lowry was missing games galore.

Weakness: Nick Nurse does not like Chris Boucher

Chris Boucher was one of the weirdest cases in both real life and fantasy last season, as he’d go bonkers some games and then score two points with a block in 10 minutes of playing time a day or two later. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but with Aron Baynes not returning to Toronto, maybe Nick Nurse will finally get Boucher to the 35 minutes per night he deserves (he averaged just 24.2 last year). Even with a sizable amount of Boucher’s games being basically useless or not worth deploying, he still found himself in top-40 per game value in an inconsistent and frustrating role. He does have Khem Birch to worry about now, so maybe he is the new Baynes, but Nurse is sure to get a clue and play Boucher the minutes he deserves now that the team can start getting competitive again. Boucher will cost you an early-round pick for his limitless upside and insane block rate, and his ceiling is so high that he could a top-15 guy if he gets the touches. 

Brad Stonebraker

Brad has a finance degree and works in Business Management. He has been playing fantasy basketball since 2012 and specifically enjoys sports statistics and crunching numbers. You can find Brad on Twitter @bradbraker97.