The Beasts in the East: NBA Eastern Conference Power Rankings

The Beasts in the East: NBA Eastern Conference Power Rankings
Tue 16th July 2019

Dramatic departures and arrivals in Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston and Miami are the lead stories in the East, but elsewhere we’ve seen mediocre rosters take steps towards relevancy in Indiana; the status quo maintained in Orlando and the world crumbling in Charlotte.

With LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard now all departing the conference in recent years, and Kevin Durant sidelined for the next twelve months, the race for a Finals berth has never been as open as it is right at this second.

As a wild free agency period begins to wind down, what better time to step back and take a look at the power dynamic in the East.

15. Charlotte Hornets

Not only are the Hornets the worst team in the East, they’re quite possibly the worst team in the entire NBA. We’re willing to bet that 9 out of 10 people given the choice between Charlotte and Memphis in a 7-game series would a) gouge their own eyes out and b) take the Grizzlies in a heartbeat.

Without Kemba Walker, and with Jeremy Lamb now playing in Indiana, any chance of success the Hornets have is dependent on Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Terry Rozier. Yeah. Check their roster. Those are Charlotte’s best three players.

Giving Rozier $58 million may well turn out to be the worst decision of the offseason, although not if you ask him:

In terms of young talent Miles Bridges may turn out okay, Malik Monk has a chance to flourish with some increased responsibility and Dwayne Bacon is still only 23 and pretty handy, but this roster is overall putrid. Cody Zeller is getting paid $14.5 million next year for heaven’s sake.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


14. Cleveland Cavaliers

Rebuilding in a post-LeBronalyptic world was never going to be easy, but the Cavs are slowly beginning to pull themselves back together.

The signs for the future are bright, albeit muddled. Collin Sexton showed plenty in his first year at the helm as point guard, and Darius Garland was clearly the best player to take with the 5th pick in the draft, but the idea of two ball-dominant, inexperienced guards in the same backcourt sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Cleveland’s best chance is to flip Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson (both still on monster deals, mind you) for some future assets and begin the rebuild in earnest. That said, a starting lineup of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson (issues of fit put to one side) is actually not too bad on paper. We’d be surprised if that’s how they end the season, though.

Waiving J.R. Smith on Monday marked the end of the competitive era in Cleveland. Vale shirtless J.R.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


13. New York Knicks

Losing out on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to their neighbours across the bridge in Brooklyn may have been the Knicks-iest thing to have ever hit the Knicks. And that’s saying something. At least their fans didn’t overreact upon hearing the news.

For all the depressing Knicks-isms that have promulgated over the last fortnight, New York have actually carved themselves out a decent, flexible roster. Julius Randle is an astute free agent signing, Mitchell Robinson has star written all over him, Kevin Knox could be anything, Elfrid Payton will be handy off the bench and RJ Barrett is breaking Summer League records as we speak –becoming the first player ever to average more than 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

Don’t lose hope completely, Knicks fans. You’re still at the bottom of the pile, but there are rays of sunshine flickering in the future.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


12. Washington Wizards

If anything, this offseason felt like a missed opportunity for the Wizards.

Something stinks in Washington, and the rot begins and ends with the 4 years and $171,131,520 still owed to John Wall. That contract extension still only kicks in next season – let that sink in.

The opportunity missed was one to package Bradley Beal with the horrendous Wall contract, get some half-decent future assets in return and begin the tank in earnest. That didn’t happen (yet…) and Washington are now left with a roster built around Beal, Isaiah Thomas aanndd Davis Bertans?

Just to top things off, the Wizards then drafted second-round prospect Rui Hachimura with the 9th pick in the draft, despite not even talking to him beforehand.

We’re not saying their current lack of a GM was a contributing factor towards their putrid offseason but, well… It probably was.

With Beal at the helm this team is too good to bottom out, but the weight of Wall’s money hanging around their neck means they’re also not good enough to get anywhere near contention. It would suck to be a Wizards fan.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


11. Chicago Bulls

After some painful years in the wilderness, success feels like it might be just around the corner in Chicago.

The Bulls had a good offseason; they haven’t signed anyone notable but have kept all their young pieces and added some depth with Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young.

Importantly, they also appear to have hit with their lottery pick in this year’s draft. With hair like that Coby White was always going to be a baller, and his promising showing in Summer League only reinforces the view that he may have been the steal of the draft at pick 7.

Wendell Carter Jr and Lauri Markaanen are both on track for stardom, but the only question is how they both fit on the floor together. Otto Porter is already an All-Star candidate, Zach LaVine (if he can stay injury free) can average 25 ppg and Antonio Blakeney and Kris Dunn are both good offensive contributors off the bench.

It’d be ridiculous to suggest the Bulls are a chance to make a playoff push, but… We actually wouldn’t rule it out. If this squad can put it together then anything is possible.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


10. Detroit Pistons

By all reports, the Pistons were up to their ears in the chase for Russell Westbrook. Had they landed him this list would look significantly different.

Unfortunately they didn’t. That leaves this roster in the worst possible position; NBA purgatory. Stuck in that awful realm between 8th and 12th with no contract flexibility, no free-agent attractiveness and questionable assets.

On paper this is a playoff-calibre squad (as you would hope given they made the playoffs last year). Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are All-NBA contenders, the artist formerly-known as Derrick Rose is enjoying a resurgence, Thon Maker is intriguing in every sense and Tony Snell was a decent trade acquisition.

It’s just all a bit meh. It’s one thing to make the playoffs, it’s another to actually win a round or two. This roster is nowhere near winning a round in the playoffs. Griffin is every chance to miss chunks of time through injury, Reggie Jackson is Reggie Jackson and their bench depth is non-existent (full offense, Bruce Brown).

If this was a “Future Power Rankings” Detroit would be right down the bottom of the list with the Wizards. They’re not swinging in any direction apart from mediocrity. Westbrook would’ve pushed Detroit in to serious contention. Without him, they’re as blase as it gets.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


9. Orlando Magic

Speaking of mediocrity, come on down Orlando!

The Magic’s claim to fame in the last 6 years is that they took a game off the Raptors in round 1 of last year’s playoffs. It’s been a long decade, and it feels like an eternity since the days of Dwight Howard three-peating as Defensive Player of the Year.

Again, like the Pistons, this roster is good enough to make the playoffs but a loooong way off doing anything significant once in there.

Orlando spent big to bring back Terrence Ross and All-Star Nikola Vucevic – which is fair enough if they had also spent big to acquire a half-decent guard. They did not. Instead, Al-Farouq Aminu will make nearly $30 million over the next 3 years, and D.J. Augustin will continue running the point in Orlando. That dude is going to make a career out of that Game 1 win against Toronto.

Aaron Gordon is good, Mo Bamba might be great, who the hell knows what’s up with Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams is still decent enough to contribute something at the NBA level. Again though, it’s all just a bit ho-hum. Give us some excitement. We smell another .500 record and a first round exit. Great.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


8. Atlanta Hawks

Now we’re getting somewhere. Everyone’s favourite league-pass team from 2018 is about to become everyone’s dark-horse playoff-threat in 2019.

This was an eventful offseason for the Hawks. They managed to offload the restrictive Miles Plumlee and Solomon Hill contracts in exchange for the slightly more flexible (only because it’s singular) Chandler Parsons contract, and traded up in the draft to pair the highly-rated De’Andre Hunter with Cam Reddish,

John Collins and Kevin Huerter had breakout seasons last year, and there’s no need to delve too deep in to the budding Trae Young phenomenon; 24.7 points and 9.2 assists in the post-All-Star game period is a ridiculous rookie output. Particularly when you’d have to think his 34.8% three point shooting percentage will only improve exponentially over time. Get ready for a lot of this in the next few years:

The key for Atlanta is to continue to build and market themselves as a legitimate free-agent destination in the coming seasons. One way to do that is to win games. We think they’re about to start doing that.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


7. Miami Heat

Pat Riley is an evil genius. He may not have ended up with Russell Westbrook, but a team led by Jimmy Butler and with solid pieces – Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Dion Waiters, Derrick Jones Jr and Goran Dragic – is going to be pretty close to contention.

The Heat also added Tyler Herro in the draft. If you haven’t seen him play, check this out:

The guy can. Flat. Out. Score.

Riley also somehow managed to move Hassan Whiteside and his oversized contract, which should give the highly-rated but unproven Adebayo the room he needs to flourish. Losing Josh Richardson hurts but it was a necessary move to get Butler. Don’t be surprised if this team gets out of the first round of the playoffs.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


6. Boston Celtics

It was a strange offseason for Boston; if they’d managed to replace Kyrie Irving with Kemba Walker and run back the rest of their squad, it would’ve been easy to see them as a big player in the East.

Losing Al Horford is an enormous blow, though. Horford has a watertight case to be one of the top 5 most underrated players in the league, and his departure (to bitter rival Philadelphia no less) is both a massive hit to Boston’s short-term chances of success and (depending on who you ask) an indictment on the culture at the franchise with Irving at the helm.

Sure, there’s a world where a young Celtics squad led by Walker Jayson Taytum, Jaylen Brown and a rejuvenated Gordon Hayward finds a way to improve in the absence of Irving. We just don’t see it happening without Horford. Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and Daniel Theis are now Boston’s best big men on the roster (thanks to the perplexing move of Aron Baynes to Phoenix). Yikes.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


5. Toronto Raptors

It’s completely and utterly bizarre that the current NBA champions are the 5th best team in the East, but this is the NBA world we live in.

The unfortunate truth for Toronto is that outside Kawhi, their roster just isn’t that good. Pascal Siakam might end up being the kind of guy who can lead a team on his own but it feels like he’s not quite there yet, Kyle Lowry is surely on the downward arc of his career trajectory, same goes for Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet may never play as well as he did for the final 3 weeks of last season.

O.G. Anunoby is the real unknown. If he can show the development Toronto seem to believe internally that he’s capable of then this team may still be a contender. If not, it’s possible Toronto could make the drastic slide from championship-winners to missing the playoffs.

Don’t be surprised to see Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka (all on expiring deals) floated as trade options as the trade deadline approaches.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


4. Brooklyn Nets

For obvious reasons it’s hard to accurately assess where the Nets sit. Kevin Durant’s rehabilitation is a pall hanging over the team, and Kyrie Irving’s leadership failings in the absence of another on-court alpha have been well-documented in Boston.

Still, even without Durant basically this exact roster pushed Philadelphia in the conference semi-finals, and have undoubtedly made an upgrade at the point guard position by ostensibly swapping D’Angelo Russell for Irving.

DeAndre Jordan is a slightly weird addition to the club-house, but regardless of what happens with he and Irving, a core of Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen is formidable even on its own. There’s also every chance Rodions Kurucs – who the Nets seem to love – can take the next step and become a quality NBA role-player.

Even without Durant, don’t sleep on the Nets.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


3. Indiana Pacers

Indiana always seem to be a great regular season team, and their addition of Malcolm Brogdon in free agency is probably the most underrated move of the summer.

Brogdon can do it all on the basketball floor. The former Rookie of the Year found it hard to stand out on a Bucks team where he was a third or fourth option, but is going to excel when given the chance to play as the primary scorer with Oladipo out until Christmas. The loss of Bogdan Bogdanovic to the Jazz does hurt, but replacing him with unheralded wings Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren was an excellent way of compensating.

The Pacers seem hellbent on allowing Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis to share the floor, and we for one love it. This Indiana starting 5 is long, strong, and Brogdon (an excellent defender) makes them versatile. Of all the teams in the East this is the one people seem to be sleeping on the most.

If they can find a way to stay above .500 without Oladipo, look out in the back half of the season.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


2. Milwaukee Bucks

All things considered, the Bucks should consider season 2018-19 as a massive missed opportunity. They had Toronto on toast in the conference finals, couldn’t find a way to finish them off and the rest is history.

Whether Milwaukee improved over the offseason is a tricky question. They lost Brogdon, but added Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews, and (crucially) held on to Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez (as well as the playoff surprise packet George Hill). Giannis Antentokounmpo is also (scarily) only going to get better as he continues to add to his offensive arsenal, but, again, Nikola Mirotic’s shock return home to Spain does put added pressure on the Greek Freak to fast-track the development of his three-point shot.

Overall the Bucks are much the same team that was 2nd-best in the East last year. We can see no reason to move them above or below that ranking.

In terms of off-field though, boy we can’t wait to see the Lopez brothers in the same locker-room.


Projected 2019-20 Record:


1. Philadelphia 76ers

Come game 1 of the 2019 season the 76ers might be rolling with the longest, largest starting 5 in NBA history, and boy do we love it.

The beauty of sports is the ability to zig when others are zagging, and Philadelphia’s offseason moves are those of a team not afraid to try anything in the quest for a championship. The question we asked above of Milwaukee – have they got better? – is an unequivocal yes if you apply it to the 76ers.

Al Horford and Josh Richardson are two fantastic additions, and even though Jimmy Butler was brilliant in the playoffs there was always a sense he was one missed Ben Simmons jump shot away from ripping someone’s head off in the huddle. Horford was Joel Embiid’s only kryptonite, and the thought of the two of them on the floor together should be a terrifying thought for opposition big men.

Tobias Harris and Ben Simmons (along with their combined $350 million price tags) now have the long-term security they need to be comfortable in Philly, while vaunted prospect Zhaire Smith is only going to get better with NBA experience.

Philly, like Milwaukee, will be kicking themselves at last year’s missed title opportunity. The simplest question we asked ourselves when deciding this number 1 spot was “Can we see anyone in the East beating Philly in a 7 game series?” The answer is a resounding no.

Projected 2019-20 Record:


Written and produced for by Eddie Dadds

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