By Hocine LOUKKAF on 10/18/2022
The Celtics could have been the big favourites but the turmoil around their former coach Ime Udoka and the Gallinari’s injury put the Bucks above them to start the season. Behind these two teams, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Brooklyn but also the Heat and the Hawks look like solid outsiders to reach the Conference Finals.
#1 Milwaukee Bucks
With Middleton back healthy and an almost identical roster tas the one which won it all in 2021, the Bucks have no reason not to be ambitious this year. The starting five remains the same and the bench is full of solid vets like Ibaka, Portis, Connaughton, Hill or Carter. Thrown in the mix rookie Beauchamp or interesting role players like Nwora or Mamukelashvili and the Bucks have the weapon to win a second title this year.
#2 Boston Celtics
It’s hard to find a better duo than the two Js. Yet, Boston’s summer has been full of drama with the injury of freshly signed Danillo Gallinari and Robert Williams (after trading Daniel Theis), but above all with the suspension of coach Udoka. Everything is not so bad as Boston also managed to improve the backcourt with one of the most underrated PG, Malcolm Brogdon. The Celtics have the talent but could be one injury away of underachieving with a certain lack of depth.
#3 Philadelphia Sixers
Despite the talent of Embiid, Harden or Maxey, the Sixers may have lacked some toughness. They have solved the problem by briging three vets known for their defense and intensity, Harell, House and M. Corner PJ Tucker. This group of recruits perfectly fits last year’s roster and should improve Philadelphia’s chances in the rough Eastern Conference
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers
After years of disappointment, the Cavs have succeeded in creating an exciting and winning roster through the draft and the trades with Garland, Mobley, Allen and now Donovan Mitchell. Indeed, while there were talks about New York being Mitchell’s prime destination, Koby Altman sacrificed Markannen, Sexton and a bunch of draft picks but without touching their core of the future. If Mitchell comes with humility and try to fit the roster, the Cavs could have their first successful season without Lebron for a long time and even become a troublemaker.
#5 Brooklyn Nets
After rumors of KD and Irving trying as much as they could to leave, Brooklyn finally has kept its roster almost intact with the two stars and hopefully now healthy Ben Simmons. Very mocked for his shooting problem, Simmons still is a fantastic player who can defend and create for his teammates. He will surely not be counted on to take the clutch shots in the playoffs but could be very beneficial to the team’s chemistry. Around these three, Thomas, Curry, Claxton or O’Neal have the tools to help the Nets reach the top five of the Conference and maybe prove doubters wrong.
#6 Miami Heat
With 12s left in last year’s seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat was only 2pts away from the Celtics. Yet, while its opponents upgraded their roster, Miami lost one of its most important soldiers, PJ Tucker, as its PG Kyle Lowry went through a very tough postseason (7.8pts 4.7as on 29% FG). Of course, Butler, Adebayo and Herro still make Miami a playoff team but with Jovic as the only real PF in the roster and numerous players (too many) on the wings (Robinson, Strus, Martin, Cain), Coach Spoeltra will need to find the balance and motivate its forwards to defend hard and rebound to make up for Tucker’s departure.
#7 Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta needed another star next to Young and a defensive-minded player to pair with him in the backourt. They got one of the best two-way players in the league and a perfect fit, Dejounte Murray. The Hawks gave three first picks but didn’t touch their core to bring the Seattle-raised guard. They also used the summer to bring solid vets (Justin and Aaron Holiday, Frank Kaminsky) but also found a potential steal in the draft, Duke forward AJ Griffin. An exciting roster (add Collins, Okungwu, Capela or Hunter) that we project at 7 but could gain some spots quickly once the season starts.
#8 Toronto Raptors
Raptors President Ujiri loves versatility and athleticism, and that’s what his team is made of. With Siakam, Anunoby and ROTY Scottie Barnes set to start alongside Van Vleet (Trent or Achiuwa for the last starter spot), this team has tools to run and defend. Inside depth can be questioned as there are no pure centers but Boucher, Birch or rookie Koloko all bring something different to the table. As if there were not enough forwards, Otto Porter Jr or Eurobasket sensation Juancho “Bo Cruz” Hernangomez (27pts in 26min on 7/9 3pt in Eurobasket Final) could improve Toronto’s outside shooting (34.5% last year, 8th worst).
#9 Chicago Bulls
Another team bothered by injuries, the Bulls could be in the top five if their players could stay healthy with Lavine and DeRozan leading the pack. Yet, Chicago has already lost Lonzo Ball for an undetermined period of times while numerous players of the roster missed games last year. While the backourt seems pretty stacked despite Ball’s injury with Dosunmu, Caruso, White, Dragic or rookie Dalen Terry, the Bulls seem weaker inside as, except Drummond as Vucevic’ back-up, there is almost no rotation behind Williams, who only played 17 games last year (Simonovic, Green, Jones ?).
#10 New York Knicks
After missing out on Donovan Mitchell, the Knicks have decided to fix the PG spot and sign Jalen Brunson. The management has been criticized for signing the former Mav to a 4y/$104m contract but Brunson has winning experience both in college and in the NBA and has always overachieved and exceeded the expectations. Another solid signing was Robinson’s extension on a friendly 4y/$60m deal while RJ Barrett has been signed on a non-max 4y/$120m deal. If all of them can justify their contract and keep improving, with solid vets like Randle, Fournier, Rose but also still improvable young players like Hartenstein, Toppin or Quickley in the roster, New York could reach the playoffs they only saw once over the last nine years.
Wild card : Washington Wizards
Beal and Porzingis look like a great duo to be ambitious. Yet, truth is Porzingis hasn’t had a season with more than 60 played games since 2016-17 while Beal has been bothered by injuries the last three seasons (only 40 games played last year). If both can stay healthy, there are other solid players to help them with Kuzma (17pts 8.5rbds 3.5as last year), Will Barton, Avdija or Hachimura. While he may not be the flashiest player, the one player who could help the Wizard clinch a playoff-spot is steady PG Monte Morris. The former Nugget had a 4.4 a/to ratio last year while shooting almost 40% from three, a much-needed upgrade at the PG spot who will form a solid pair with Delon Wright.
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