2018-19 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

With the NBA season starting on Tuesday, we’re deep into prediction season. I’ve already come out with part one of my prediction series with the Western Conference, and today it’s the Eastern Conference preview. Let’s get it going.

Note: Projected starters are for opening night and account for injuries

1. Toronto Raptors

Projected Starters
PG: Kyle Lowry
SG: Danny Green
SF: OG Anunoby
PF: Kawhi Leonard
C: Jonas Valanciunas
Key Reserves: Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam

Forget the past. This team is going to be GOOD. They won 59 games last year and exchanged DeMar DeRozan for a healthy Kawhi Leonard. The defensive versatility of this team is insane, and they’ll be paired with great shooters on the court at all times. This team can legit win 65 games if Kawhi stays healthy.

2. Boston Celtics

Projected Starters
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Al Horford
Key Reserves: Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris

The Celtics, are being hyped as the favorites in the East and the most likely team to possibly knock off the Warriors in the NBA Finals. While this may be true, this regular season could be more of an adjustment period than last. Nobody on the roster knows really how to play alongside Gordon Hayward (who himself says he’s a bit rusty), and it will be an adjustment for Brad Stevens to get all these talented players the right minutes and getting everyone the ball enough. The Celtics though, could be easily flipped with Toronto at the end of the year, it should be close all season long.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Projected Starters
PG: Markelle Fultz
SG: Robert Covington
SF: Ben Simmons
PF: Dario Saric
C: Joel Embiid
Key Reserves: JJ Redick, TJ McConnell, Mike Muscala

The Sixers seem cemented into the 3rd spot and a tier below the top squads of Toronto and Boston. They’ve got the definite star power with Simmons and Embiid, and two very good role players in Covington and Saric, but they’re missing something. I didn’t like that they let their depth just walk in free agency, and we still can’t be confident on how many games Embiid will play. The key for the Sixers will be how well Fultz can rebound from his disastrous rookie season.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Projected Starters
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Malcolm Brogdon
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez
Key Reserves: Tony Snell, Thon Maker, Ersan Ilyasova

The Bucks are one of the teams in the East that have been middling in the past, but have one of the highest ceilings. The Greek Freak has been dominant this off-season, and this club will go as far as he takes them. As for the others? Eric Bledsoe has to put his awful playoffs behind him, Khris Middleton will provide great two-way play, and the addition of Brook Lopez can really diversify their offense. But their biggest addition was getting a quality coach in Mike Budenholzer. I can’t wait to see what he does with this team.

5. Indiana Pacers

Projected Starters
PG: Darren Collison
SG: Victor Oladipo
SF: Bojan Bogdonavic
PF: Thaddeus Young
C: Myles Turner
Key Reserves: Domantas Sabonis, Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph

Are the Pacers for real? That’s the question everyone is asking after their breakout year last season. I’m a big fan of what Oladipo did last year as he almost carried them to an upset over LeBron’s Cavs in the playoffs. I like the makeup of this squad and Myles Turner took a good jump last year as well. Tyreke Evans should be able to compete for 6th man of the year and help prove the Pacers are not a fluke.

6. Miami Heat

Projected Starters
PG: Goran Dragic
SG: Josh Richardson
SF: Justise Winslow
PF: Kelly Olynyk
C: Hassan Whiteside
Key Reserves: Dwyane Wade, Bam Adebayo, Dion Waiters

If the Heat got Jimmy Butler, this team could be as high as the 4 seed. But as of now, the Heat seem like a lock for #6. Solid everywhere on the court, and one of the best coached teams in the league. Josh Richardson has balled out in the preseason during all the trade talks, and Justise Winslow just signed a 3 year extension with the team. The thing I’ll be waiting for this year is when Bam Adebayo takes over the starting job from Hassan Whiteside.

7. Washington Wizards

Projected Starters
PG: John Wall
SG: Bradley Beal
SF: Otto Porter Jr
PF: Markieff Morris
C: Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr, Austin Rivers

On paper, the Wizards have the talent that should be the 5 seed at worst in the Eastern Conference. But man, this locker room has very high dumpster fire potential. John Wall has shown for a few years now that he’s not afraid to clash with guys in the locker room, just ask Otto Porter and the recently departed Marcin Gortat. Adding Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers just looks like they’re asking for trouble. Add that to the fact that the Wizards always seem to fluctuate their play based on the level of their opponent, they’re a frustratingly inconsistent squad that always seems to underachieve.

8. Detroit Pistons

Projected Starters
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Luke Kennard
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Andre Drummond
Key Reserves: Reggie Bullock, Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway

The thing that the Pistons have going for them this year is the new coach Dwane Casey. The lack of talent on the roster outside their front court is concerning, but if anyone can bring this team along it’s him. With that though, if Reggie Jackson misses any extended period of time, the Pistons won’t be in the playoffs.

9. Charlotte Hornets

Projected Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Nic Batum
SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
PF: Marvin Williams
C: Cody Zeller
Key Reserves: Miles Bridges, Frank Kaminsky, Malik Monk

I’m rooting for the Hornets to do well. They have good talent like Kemba and Batum, Malik Monk needs more run, and Miles Bridges looks like he could be a steal. Their frontcourt is lacking but if the rest of the team plays like they’re capable of, there’s no reason why the Hornets shouldn’t be in the playoffs.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected Starters
PG: George Hill
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Cedi Osman
PF: Kevin Love
C: Tristan Thompson
Key Reserves: JR Smith, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson

What’s in store for the second series of the post LeBron era? I see a lot of losing in their future. Kevin Love isn’t what he used to be back when he was the solo act in Minnesota, and their second best player might be Rodney Hood who was awful at most points of last season. News out of their camp is that Jordan Clarkson has been their best player even though coach Lue, “Had to teach him how to dribble with his eyes up.” If that’s not a clue for a disaster season, I don’t know what is.

11. Brooklyn Nets

Projected Starters
PG: Spencer Dinwiddie
SG: D’Angelo Russell
SF: Caris LeVert
PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Jarrett Allen
Key Reserves: Joe Harris, Kenneth Faried, Ed Davis

The Nets are might be the most interesting team outside the top six in the East this year. They have some intriguing young prospects like Russell, LeVert, and Allen; Spencer Dinwiddie had a breakout season, and they’re one of those teams that plays hard every night with a run and gun style of play. Even with those things going for them, the Nets have their own first round pick for the first time in years, so they should probably try and tank with this loaded draft class coming up.

12. New York Knicks

Projected Starters
PG: Frank Nkilitina
SG: Tim Hardaway Jr
SF: Kevin Knox
PF: Lance Thomas
C: Enes Kanter
Key Reserves: Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja, Courtney Lee
Injuries: Kristaps Porzingis (Return TBD)

The Knicks this year need to all they need to do in order to tank as bad as possible. We still don’t know when Porzingis will be able to return from his torn ACL, so I think the best course of action would be to hold him off for the whole year, and make sure he’s back next year fresh with a top 5 pick and their expected $60M+ of cap room this summer.

13. Chicago Bulls

Projected Starters
PG: Kris Dunn
SG: Zach Lavine
SF: Denzel Valentine
PF: Jabari Parker
C: Wendell Carter Jr
Key Reserves: Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis, Justin Holiday
Injuries: Lauri Markkanen (Out 6-8 weeks)

It’s a real shame that Lauri Markannen got hurt right before the season started. This team has the potential for a young fun offense, but with Markkanen hurt, and Jabari looking awful (in preseason), maybe we need to hold those thoughts back a bit. When Lauri gets back, it’ll be fun to see him paired with Wendell Carter in the frontcourt.

14. Orlando Magic

Projected Starters
PG: Jerian Grant
SG: Evan Fournier
SF: Jonathan Isaac
PF: Aaron Gordon
C: Nikola Vucevic
Key Reserves: Mohamed Bamba, Terrence Ross, Jonathon Simmons

Is there anything to be excited about with this team? Aaron Gordon can throw down the occasional highlight, but has yet to find his niche in the league. Mo Bamba has all sorts of defensive potential, but might not get a ton of minutes early. And there’s not much outside shooting out of that, which isn’t good for a team that finished 28th in 3 point shooting last year.

15. Atlanta Hawks

Projected Starters
PG: Trae Young
SG: Jeremy Lin
SF: Kent Bazemore
PF: Taurean Prince
C: John Collins
Key Reserves: Kevin Huerter, DeWayne Dedmon, Vince Carter

Going to be a big season of ups and downs with the Hawks. I’m sure Trae Young will have his share of highlight moments, but I think there will be a lot more games with a 5/20 or a 7/23 shooting night. If things go right though, they could be a fun League Pass team with Young chucking it up and John Collins down low.

 

How do you think the Eastern Conference race will turn out? Follow us on Twitter and let’s start a conversation @AFewGoodMics, @thomas_mooney1

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