Eastern Conference Overview

» September 30, 2008 10:50 AM | By xphoenix87

Today I’m looking at the Eastern Conference as a whole. If you missed it, the Western Conference preview was yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll head into the individual team previews, where the real meat of this season preview resides. Also, you may want to check out the Season Preview Primer for more info on some of the stats I’m going to be using.

The King

1) Cleveland Cavaliers – No one wants to see this team in the playoffs. LeBron has proven over the last two years that he is capable of single-handedly winning a playoff series. Adding Mo Williams was big for them, and they still have the expiring contracts to add another piece at the deadline. Scary. I originally had them at #2, but I just have a feeling that this is the year for them. LeBron these days just looks like he’s in a video game, guys bounce off him like Techmo Bowl Bo Jackson.

The Champs

2) Boston Celtics– They got a bit lucky last year, with all 3 of their big guns staying healthy almost the entire year. However, they were the league’s best team all of last year, and they bring back everyone of value but James Posey. If they’re healthy come playoff time, they’re still deadly. We’ll have to see if they can maintain their killer instinct though.

Contenders?

3) Orlando Magic – Only 4 teams ranked top 7 in the league in both offensive and defensive rating: LA, Detroit, New Orleans, and Orlando. Questions still remain with interior depth and at point guard, but they shored up their SG position, and Dwight Howard should continue to improve as the league’s most dominant center. There’s a good chance they make the jump to contender this season.

4) Philadelphia 76ers – This is all dependent on Elton Brand returning strong after his injury, but Philly is a really scary team. They were a top 10 defensive team last year, they just added a top 5 power forward, and they have a ton of young players who should continue improving. They don’t have the kind of perimeter shooting I’d like to see, but few teams can match up with their athleticism.

5) Toronto Raptors – They were better last year than anyone gave them credit for, but a long stretch of missed games by Chris Bosh, and point guard turmoil with T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon derailed them heading into the home stretch. The addition of Jermaine O’Neal should immediately improve their defense, and they should continue to be one of the league’s most efficient offensive teams. Their success will depend on the health of O’Neal and Bosh, but the ceiling for this team is really high.

The Walking Dead

6) Detroit Pistons – Now, before you all get mad at me, I think the Pistons probably finish higher than 6th. On paper, they’re still an extremely talented veteran group. They could finish as high as 2nd and I wouldn’t be surprised. However, does anybody think these guys are actually title contenders anymore? Yeah, didn’t think so. Without a substantial change, nobody fears the Pistons anymore.

Stuck In The Mud

7) Washington Wizards – I want to like the Wizards. I really do. I like Gilbert Arenas. I like what he’s done with his blog and I admire how hard he’s worked to become a star after being a second round pick. I like Antawn Jamison. I like Caron Butler despite the fact that he ripped my heart out in college by beating my Wolfpack on a last second shot. However, they just don’t have the right team to contend, and now they’re stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

The Crapshoot

8 ) Indiana Pacers – I like them to be the last playoff team mostly because they have less glaring holes than the other teams in contention for this spot. They’re solid at every position, they’ve got a dynamic point guard (if he can stay healthy), and Danny Granger is one of the league’s unheralded young stars.

9) Miami Heat – Call me skeptical, but I’m not as convinced as most that Miami is going to bounce back into the playoffs this year. They have gaping holes at center and point guard, 3 of their 4 best players are power forwards, and Dwayne Wade is injury-prone.

10) Atlanta Hawks – On the plus side, they’ll have a full season from Mike Bibby. On the down side, well, Bibby isn’t all that good anymore. Also, I’m not sure anyone realized quite how good Josh Childress was last year. They couldn’t very well match the deal he got, but they’ll definitely miss him.

11) Milwaukee Bucks – If Scott Skiles can make these guys play defense and Ramon Sessions can be as good over a full season as he was in 17 games, this team has the talent to be very good. If, as is more likely, they remain one of the league’s worst defensive teams, they’ll struggle to reach 40 wins.

12) Chicago Bulls – This is effectively the same team they had for the second half of last year, only with the addition of Derrick Rose. If you think there’s no way these players can be as bad as they were last year, that’s a good thing. If you think there’s very little chemistry and no interior scoring on this team, that’s probably a bad thing. I, obviously, lean towards the latter.

Let’s Not Mince Words, These Teams Suck

13) Charlotte Bobcats – Michael Jordan should be sending daily thank you notes to Isiah Thomas. Were it not for Thomas’s historical ineptitude, MJ would be the worst famous player-turned-executive this decade. The players who are good are injury-prone, and the player who can stay healthy are average at best.

14) New Jersey Nets – This team told you all you need to know about their focus when they traded Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian. Their focus is the future, namely the 2010 offseason. There are some quality young players to keep an eye on though.

15) New York Knicks – Mike D’Antoni is a great coach, but he’s not a miracle worker. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry aren’t going to evoke any comparisons to Amare and Marion. There are probably 2 players on this roster that I’d want on my team, everyone else is overrated and overpaid.

Beasts of the East

PG – Chauncey Billups

SG – Dwayne Wade

SF – LeBron James

PF – Kevin Garnett

C – Dwight Howard

There’s really only one spot here that’s debatable, and that’s point guard. If Arenas were healthy, he’d be the pick, but he’ll miss at least 2 months of the season. Jose Calderon is wildly efficient and wildly underrated, but I wouldn’t put him at Billups’ level yet.

Rooks to Look For

These are guys who may not be high profile, but could surprise you with their effectiveness.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, Nets – CDR fell in the draft, but his loss is New Jersey’s gain. He may not be Mr. Versatile, but he’s an instinctive scorer and a solid defender. It may not always look pretty, but his herky-jerky style is tough to guard and he can make shots from all angles.

Roko Ukic, PG, Raptors – The league’s most international team adds another European prospect (along with Australian center Nathan Jawai) who will take over the backup point guard spot. He’s got great size, a high skill level. International players historically have trouble adapting to the league, but it helps that the Raptors run a more international style than most teams.

J.J. Hickson, PF, Cavs – I had to throw him out there since he’s a fellow N.C. State Wolfpacker. Beyond my bias though, Hickson looked spectacular in the summer league, and Cleveland could definitely use an infusion of athleticism in the frontcourt. Despite his youth, he has an NBA-ready body, and he has excellent touch inside to finish through contact. A Jason Maxiell-type impact is not out of the question.

BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead. ‘xphoenix87′ will be writing a season preview for all 30 NBA teams — stay tuned.


6 Responses to “Eastern Conference Overview”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    VIDEO GAME JAMES

    Nice X – I look forward to reading your individual team summaries.

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  3. A=Train Says:

    Wow.

    I do like the Cavs pick because (a) James will be better, (b) they added Mo, (c) added Hickson (read:beast), and (d) will make a move sometime during the season. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a ton of holes, but after failing in the playoffs two years in a row, I think this is a make-or-break year for LeBron’s ego. The Cavs management needs to show the team is going to be a force for years to come, and they need to take a big step in proving that this year. So, unpopular pick for number? But crazy? No. If you’re going to stick your neck out, this is the choice.

    As for the rest, I cannot DISAGREE more. I think you’re crazy.

    The Pistons sixth? Man… Michael Curry is a hard-ass whom the players respect. Stuckey is a TREMENDOUS player and will get 30+ minutes per game off the bench (6th Man of the Year winner, hands-down). They’re starting Amir Johnson, who is also tough. They picked up a body in Kwame Brown (expect best season from him, with all of the positive team-oriented vets around him). Prince just played in the Olympics–expect him to be more confident this year. The Pistons have all of the ingredients to run away with the East.

    And you peg them sixth? Sixth? Insanity. Top three, for sure. For sure.

    The Raptors suck. They were a .500 team last year and now they’ve lost TJ Ford and added Jermaine O’Neal. Oooh, scary. The truth is both Bosh and O’Neal will miss at least 15 games each. Calderon is going to make up for that? I’m sorry but this team really isn’t very good. I say 38 wins and they miss the playoffs.

    The Wizards are garbage, and with the injuries, forget it. I think losing Roger Mason was a huge blow–he was big for them last year. Arenas doesn’t come back until after December–he looked fat and terrible after coming back last year, Jamison is aching, Butler is aching, etc. This team will also disappoint. I say 38 wins and they miss the playoffs.

    I think the top five round out like this (order can vary):

    1. Pistons
    2. Sixers
    3. Celtics
    4. Cavaliers
    5. Magic

    The last three? I’m going with the Bucks, Pacers, Hawks and Heat. Ok, that’s four (pick three of the four). The Bucks starting five might be the most underrated in the league. Granger is going to break out and TJ Ford is going to do wonders running a team full of shooters (Pacers will score a lot). The Heat have Wade, who when healthy, is a top five NBA player. He was the best player in the Olympics. They added Beasley to go alongside Marion. They have holes, true, but they have the trade chips and money to make big moves. And the Hawks, man, let us not forget Al Horford will get 35 minutes per night this season. The Hawks can be tough.

    Beasley is the rook to look for…same with Rose (forget about those guys?). CDR and Ukic are garbage. Hickson can be big for the Cavs this year though.

    DJ Augustin is good.

  4. xphoenix87 Says:

    As I noted in my season preview primer, and as I noted in this post, I think the Pistons will finish higher than 6th. However, I don’t think they’re a contender anymore unless they make a significant trade, and I think the teams ahead of them can be contenders. Stuckey is overrated. He was ok for a rookie, but he was well below an average-level player last year. He’ll no doubt improve, but I’m not nearly as enamored with him as everyone else is. Amir Johnson is actually the better young prospect, he could be a real stud, though I’m not sure he’s ready yet. They’re a deep, balanced team, which makes them a great regular season team because of their consistency. They absolutely kill bad teams. However, they’re not a good playoff team because a) nobody is scared of them anymore, and b) their defense against good teams hasn’t been nearly as good since Ben Wallace left.

    I won’t say too much about the Raptors since my preview of them should be posted today and I’ll leave it to that.

    The Wizards are the only team of the top 7 that I can see missing the playoffs. However, the rest of the East’s teams are a complete crapshoot. The Wiz were a 40 win team (by point differential) last year, and that was without Gilbert and with Butler missing 24 games. The development of Nick Young and Andray Blatche should help offset the loss of Mason. There’s certainly a chance they fall apart, but I think that chance is much smaller than all the other teams who could possibly go in this spot.

    Quick run through the rest of them. I like the Pacers. Bucks don’t play defense (no, Scott Skiles cannot magically change that). Heat have 4 players, and the rest are terrible. The Hawks barely squeaked into the playoffs last year, and they lost their third best player (Childress). Horford got 31 minutes a game last year, is the extra 4 minutes going to make that big a difference?

    For the rooks, I’m not pointing out high-profile guys, as I noted in the post.

    “These are guys who may not be high profile, but could surprise you with their effectiveness.”

    See?

  5. A-Train Says:

    RE The Pistons:

    “However, they’re not a good playoff team because a) nobody is scared of them anymore, and b) their defense against good teams hasn’t been nearly as good since Ben Wallace left.”

    The Pistons didn’t reach the Finals the past few seasons because they lacked a dynamic scorer. They had all of the right parts except for that one guy who, on one possession, could take the ball and score. Believe it or not, Stuckey is now that guy. He is incredibly dynamic, even Wade-like at times. Let us not forget he broke his leg early on and had to rehab back from that. In April, when he got the minutes, he averaged 14 points and 4 assists in 27 minutes per game over nine games. In two starts, he averaged 18 points in 29 minutes. He can flat-out score, Phoenix. You’ll see. He is a really good player.

    The Pistons have won 50 games or more seven straight seasons in a row. They’ve lost three straight times in the Eastern Conference Finals. What did Dumars do? Got rid of Flip Saunders, an idiot whom nobody liked, and inserted a no-nonsense guy the players respect. The Pistons have a good mix of young and old, and unlike in years past where they’ve neglected their youth, they finally understand they need to combine veteran guile and young talent/energy in order to get over the hump. You’ll see this season, more burn for Johnson, Stuckey, Maxiell, and Walter Hermann.

    But hey, we’ll see, right?

    Bucks starting five: Bogut, Villanueva, Jefferson, Redd and Ridnour. You’re right they won’t defend dirt, but this team will score.

    Sorry I missed your note… if we’re going with sleeper picks, then yeah, I agree.

    Look forward to Raptors write…

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