The Comprehensive 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

After an amazing 2013-2014 season, the unbearably long offseason is finally coming to a close. There’s a lot to look forward to this year in the NBA, with superstars on new teams, contenders adding pieces, and more squads than ever with a chance to make noise. Let’s get started with my projected standings for the Eastern Conference, and analysis for the teams in it:

1. Chicago Bulls

Return-of-Derrick-Rose-SSC

The Bulls and their fans are very excited for this year – Derrick Rose should be back, and new power forward Pau Gasol will help further with Chicago’s persistent scoring woes. How do they look on paper?

Last Season

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Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 4th 4th 4th 4th
Association 12th 14th 13th 13th

The Bulls’ rankings were pretty consistent across the board last season, with their defense keeping them in many games, despite relying on players like D.J. Augustin for offense. These rankings will improve this year with the real and virtual additions of a multiple-time champion Gasol and former MVP Rose.

Offseason

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Notable Additions:

  • G Derrick Rose (injury)
  • F/C Pau Gasol (free agency)
  • F Doug McDermott (draft)

Notable Losses:

  • F Carlos Boozer (amnesty)
  • G D.J. Augustin (free agency)

There are nice big names here, but plenty of concerns and possible pitfalls. It’s unclear what kind of effect Doug McDermott will have, how close to his potential Derrick Rose will be, and whether or not Pau will start to slow down at 34 years old. However, with three potential impact add-ons, the Bulls can count on help coming from somewhere as they improve upon last season.

Projected Lineup

Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Derrick Rose 86th (RPM)
SG Jimmy Butler 34th 55th 46th ~45th
SF Mike Dunleavy 146th 33rd 62nd ~80th
PF Pau Gasol 47th 95th 411th ~184th
C Joakim Noah 9th 12th 12th ~11th
B1 Taj Gibson 138th 27th 108th ~91st
B2 Kirk Hinrich 169th 138th 338th ~215th
B3 Doug McDermott 121st (NCAA)

The Bulls clearly have very good players across their roster at multiple positions. Both Jimmy Butler and Mike Dunleavy are statistical standouts, as Butler’s a defensive stud who’s improving on offense and Dunleavy’s an offensive stud who’s better on defense than you might think. Their frontcourt rotation of Noah/Gasol/Gibson will be terrifying for opponents, providing plenty of size, rebounding, and fearsome defense, along with low-post scoring – Pau is unguardable on the block when on his game, and alongside Joakim Noah, will be half of the best passing big man duo in the NBA. A healthy Derrick Rose would make this one of the top depth charts in the league.

Keys to success

  • Derrick Rose must stay on the court, as well as be productive on it. Is he still the same player that was once a top point guard in the NBA? During summer international play, he was behind both Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving in the point guard rotation.  Even a 75% D-Rose, however, could take this offense to one of the league’s worst to one of its best.
  • Jimmy Butler needs to improve his outside shooting to become a bigger contributor on offense. With his perimeter defensive prowess, he has the potential to become one of the league’s most valuable two-way swingmen.
  • Can Doug McDermott contribute offensively off the bench in his rookie year? Although he can shoot the 3, most of his success in college came in off-ball movements, screens, and post-ups inside the arc. How will McDermott be used to provide a scoring spark?

Wrap

No one will know how good this Bulls team can be until Derrick Rose gets into his rhythm in NBA games, but assuming he’s anywhere near where he was a couple of years ago, the excellent supporting cast and great coaching of Tom Thibodeau will have this team at the top of the East when the regular season comes to a close.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Media Day

What an offseason for the Cleveland Cavaliers – probably the best in Cleveland sports history. The first pick in the lottery, the coveted Andrew Wiggins, the return of King James, and the acquisition of one of the top players in the league in Kevin Love.  This will be an exciting year for Cleveland once its larger-than-life big three begins to mesh, but let’s delve into the hard facts.

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 10th 10th 10th 10th
Association 22nd 22nd 22nd 21st

All of the metrics pretty much agreed where the Cavaliers stood last year, and it wasn’t pretty. The talented Kyrie Irving-Dion Waiters backcourt had more growing pains, and the midseason acquisition of Luol Deng didn’t help as much as expected. Things should be much different this year with two new top players and a whole new culture, but concerns about the rest of the roster are persistent and should not be taken lightly.

Offseason

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Notable Additions:

  • F LeBron James (free agency)
  • F Kevin Love (trade)
  • F Shawn Marion (free agency)
  • G Mike Miller (free agency)

Notable Losses:

  • G Jarrett Jack (trade)
  • F Anthony Bennett (trade)

The Cavs clearly accomplished a lot in the offseason personnel-wise, and also brought in a new coach in David Blatt.  It’s amazing how one player can change your outlook as much as LeBron can, with him being the driving force behind new acquisitions Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, and James Jones’ intrigue in playing for Cleveland.  This roster was bolstered in a big way, and their vacation definitely deserved an A+.

Projected Lineup

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Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Kyrie Irving 28th 168th 65th ~87th
SG Dion Waiters 133rd 119th 473rd ~242nd
SF LeBron James 5th 1st 2nd ~3rd
PF Kevin Love 10th 6th 3rd ~6th
C Anderson Varejao 53rd 51st 58th ~54th
B1 Shawn Marion 67th 151st 334th ~184th
B2 Tristan Thompson 230th 228th 142nd ~200th
B3 Mike Miller 473rd 197th 126th ~265th

Based on their rankings from last season, the Cavs’ roster is very top heavy for a championship contender, especially considering how overrated Kyrie Irving has been, despite his undeniable talent, based on metrics.  Although many agree (or believe) that he’s a top point guard talent, deeper analysis has shown that he’s very average; perhaps not has good as the Suns’ Isaiah Thomas:

The new acquisitions will force Irving to change his game, but could be quite the blessing as defenses will no longer be able to key in on him.

Cleveland will count on their two stars, LeBron and Kevin Love, to do most of the team’s damage, with contributions from underappreciated Anderson Varejao (averaged 14.4 rebounds per game in 2012-2013 before 9.7 boards in last year’s shortened campaign) and their solid role players.  Tristan Thompson continues to improve as a hustle man, Shawn Marion is a versatile defender who can also contribute offensively, and Mike Miller has quite the rapport with former Miami Heat teammate LeBron James. In all, this retooled lineup looks formidable.

Keys to success

  • Kyrie Irving must learn to play off the ball and improve his defense if he wants to be the dominating third option most people think he’ll be.  Most possessions will be dominated by LeBron, and Irving, who was ineffective in catch-and-shoot situations last year, needs to make adjustments to his game in order to succeed.
  • Dion Waiters must improve his outside shooting and, like Irving, be content with a smaller role.  As another guy who likes the ball in his hands, Waiters will have to become a system player this season.
  • Rookie coach David Blatt must be able to not only mesh multiple big egos, but keep his team looking forward through their probably inevitable rough patches.

Wrap

Despite some serious concerns, a combination of the weakness of the East and the sheer ability of LeBron and Love should vault this team toward the top of the conference.

3. Toronto Raptors

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After a breakout year in 2013-2014, the young Raptors have chances to move further up the Eastern standings with the Heat and Pacers losing huge contributors, and to prove they weren’t a one-year fluke.  What do the stats say about how they’ll fare this season?

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 3rd 3rd 3rd 2nd
Association 11th 8th 12th 11th

It’s well-agreed upon that the Raptors were one of the top teams in the East last season, and one of the higher-echelon teams in the league. The question that arises is whether or not this young team will improve or regress in 2014-2015.  There are a lot of variables that will factor into that result.

Offseason

Notable Additions:

  • G Louis Williams (trade)

The Raptors should have plenty of team chemistry this year, as they’re rolling out effectively the same roster as last season, banking on improvements from their youth to help them contend better than they did last year, when they lost a first round series, despite having home court, to the Brooklyn Nets. Lou Williams should provide the bench sparkplug that they’d been missing when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan left the game.

Projected Lineup

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Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Kyle Lowry 18th 10th 11th ~13th
SG Terrence Ross 143rd 184th 234th ~187th
SF DeMar DeRozan 27th 98th 32nd ~52nd
PF Amir Johnson 153rd 23rd 59th ~78th
C Jonas Valanciunas 202nd 366th 49th ~206th
B1 Greivis Vasquez 188th 100th 291st ~193rd
B2 Louis Williams 237th 244th 280th ~254th
B3 Patrick Patterson 170th 103rd 122nd ~132nd

Toronto boasts one of the best starting lineups in the East, due to two very underrated players in Kyle Lowry, who played at a true superstar level last season, and Amir Johnson, whose contributions on defense and the boards gave the Raptors toughness while he was on the court. Improvements from their other three young starters would put Toronto on the rise, with All-Star DeMar DeRozan looking to solidify himself as one of the league’s top swingmen.

Keys to success

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  • Kyle Lowry needs to prove that he’s more than just a contract year player, and continue to play the point at the elite level that saw him as one of the best point guards in the NBA last season.
  • Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas need to make strides on both sides of the ball to better contribute.  Ross showed the sort of offensive potential he has with this unforeseen 51-point outburst:

while management is very high on the 22-year old Valanciunas.

  • DeMar DeRozan needs to use his athleticism to reach his defensive potential on the wing, while continuing to take a more efficient approach to offense – though he averaged almost 23 points per game last season, he shot under 43% from the field, while hitting less than one of his 2.7 attempted threes per game.

Wrap

With virtually the same squad as last season, the Raptors should be able to show they’re one of the most consistent teams in the East, and unless a lot goes wrong, win their division and home court in the first round.

4. Miami Heat

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LeBron may be gone, but the Heat will be right back in the thick of things this season in the East, as expanded roles for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with a retooled stock of talented role players, should keep winning alive in Miami. Let’s look deeper into where Miami stands, individually and as a team.

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 2nd 1st 1st 1st
Association 5th 5th 6th 8th

Although many people considered last season to be a disappointment for Miami, they were, by most measures, the best team in the East (sorry, Pacers fans). A large part of that was LeBron, but the Heat will have most of their champions back, alongside the same coaching staff.  Much of the organization will be motivated to prove they’re still a formidable team, despite the absence of the King.

Offseason

Notable Additions:

  • F Luol Deng (free agency)
  • F Josh McRoberts (free agency)
  • F Danny Granger (free agency)

Notable Losses:

  • F LeBron James (free agency)
  • G Ray Allen (free agency)
  • F Rashard Lewis (free agency)

No one can replace the King, but Luol Deng is an excellent two-way player who will excel in his new role as third option. Josh McRoberts is an underrated, skilled power forward, while the Heat hope former 26 points per game scorer Danny Granger can find himself coming off the bench.

Projected Lineup

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Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Mario Chalmers 96th 74th 144th ~105th
SG Dwyane Wade 46th 88th 54th ~63rd
SF Luol Deng 126th 47th 223rd ~132nd
PF Josh McRoberts 161st 96th 66th ~108th
C Chris Bosh 70th 28th 26th ~41st
B1 Chris Andersen 106th 79th 21st ~69th
B2 Danny Granger 337th 137th 313th ~262nd
B3 Norris Cole 377th 388th 471st ~412th

While the Heat will probably get what they expect from Chris Bosh and Luol Deng, there are many misunderstood players around the duo.  While Dwyane Wade and Norris Cole have both been massively overrated, Mario Chalmers, Josh McRoberts, and especially Chris Andersen have been darlings of advanced stats. Across this eight-man lineup, the Heat have solid contributors and plenty of talent at all positions.

Keys to success

  • Dwyane Wade must stay on the court and prove wrong the many experts that already believe he’s fallen out of the company of the league’s elite players.
  • Can Luol Deng and Danny Granger, both once considered elite small forwards, help Heat fans forget about the man who played the position last year?
  • How efficiently will this offense operate? If Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts can continue to improve their shooting range, alongside solid three-point shooters Mario Chalmers and Deng, Dwyane Wade will have plenty of room to operate inside the arc.

Wrap

The Heat won’t be the championship-level squad they were last season, but with Pat Riley’s retooled roster, they should be good enough to get home court in the first round.

5. Washington Wizards

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The Wizards were one of a few East teams to make huge strides last season, and their dynamic young backcourt leads them into 2014-2015 with newfound hope and hype.

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 5th 6th 5th 6th
Association 14th 16th 14th 16th

Washington hung around with the playoff teams in the East last year, even winning a first-round series against Chicago (who had home court). We can probably expect a similar season for them this year, as their backcourt should improve enough to counter any potential regressing from the frontcourt.

Offseason

Wizards Media Basketball

Notable Additions:

  • F Paul Pierce (free agency)
  • F Kris Humphries (free agency)

Notable Losses:

  • F Trevor Ariza (free agency)

The big change the Wizards made this offseason was replacing Trevor Ariza with Paul Pierce at the small forward position. The general consensus seems to be that this is an upgrade, but I’m not convinced. Trevor Ariza is an elite wing defender in the tail end of his prime, while Paul Pierce continues to age quickly – at 36 years old, he’s become a weak defender who couldn’t even spread the floor as well as Ariza last year (37% from 3 compared to Ariza’s 41%). John Wall led all point guards in finding corner threes last season (which we, of course, love at this site) – will the change hurt his chances of repeating? This swap will most likely come back to bite Washington and impede their progress.

Projected Lineup

Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG John Wall 12th 32nd 60th ~35th
SG Bradley Beal 66th 123rd 393rd ~194th
SF Paul Pierce 82nd 63rd 85th ~77th
PF Nene Hilario 135th 91st 221st ~149th
C Marcin Gortat 51st 17th 34th ~34th
B1 Andre Miller 173rd 126th 159th ~153rd
B2 Martell Webster 320th 155th 86th ~187th
B3 Kris Humphries 115th 220th 74th ~136th

John Wall and Marcin Gortat are both top-flight NBA players, who provide great impact on both offense and defense. Nene and Paul Pierce will both likely regress with further age this season, so Bradley Beal will look to pick up that slack with the potential for a breakout season. Either way, their bench will need to find consistency for Washington to contend once they get to the playoffs.

Keys to success

  • Can John Wall establish himself across the league as an elite point guard and put the team on his back in the trenches late in games?
  • How much does Paul Pierce have left in the tank on the court? Off it, how will the presence of this future hall-of-famer affect Washington’s two young guards?
  • Can Otto Porter and Glen Rice crack the lineup and contribute off the bench? Can Andre Miller continue to run the second offense consistently at 38 years old?

Wrap

Washington will build on their progress from last season as their star point guard and mercurial shooting guard continue to improve, but how far they get will be determined by their aging forwards and a top center coming off his contract year.  In all, they’ll be a playoff team with a good shot at home court in the first round.

6. Atlanta Hawks

Al-Horford-and-Paul-Millsap

Coming off a playoff berth many didn’t think they deserved, Atlanta will have Al Horford back with a group of players that are only building chemistry.  With an underrated ball movement/spacing offense and an excellent frontcourt, the Hawks could sneak up on a few people this year.

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 8th 9th 8th 8th
Association 18th 20th 18th 19th

Atlanta made the playoffs last year, but barely, as the they finished just one game ahead of the Knicks. In their first year under a new coach, the Hawks exceeded some expectations. Remember, before Al Horford went down, Atlanta was one of the top teams in the East (16-13 before Horford was deactivated).

Offseason

Notable Additions:

  • G Thabo Sefolosha (free agency)

Notable Losses:

  • G Louis Williams (trade)

The Hawks didn’t do much this offseason, but did add some much-needed perimeter defense and depth in Thabo Sefolosha, a player who is projected to come off the bench for Atlanta after starting 61 games for 59-win Oklahoma City last year.

Projected Lineup

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Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Jeff Teague 81st 145th 303rd ~176th
SG Kyle Korver 107th 30th 67th ~68th
SF DeMarre Carroll 55th 34th 81st ~57th
PF Paul Millsap 19th 54th 71st ~48th
C Al Horford 140th 96th (RPM) 99th ~112th
B1 Thabo Sefolosha 123rd 117th 207th ~149th
B2 Pero Antic 376th 139th 320th ~278th
B3 Mike Scott 316th 419th 301st ~345th

The Hawks made use of a cornerstone in Paul Millsap and two incredibly underrated swingmen in Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll last season. Korver, who’s known colloquially as a spot-up three point shooter, improved his defense and off-ball movement, even adding some ball handling to his game, giving him a better composite grade according to these three metrics than such Eastern two guards as Lance Stephenson, Bradley Beal, J.R. Smith, and Dion Waiters – and just behind Dwyane Wade.  Carroll is far from a household name, but was the 7th-ranked small forward in the NBA according to ESPN WAR, and still an above-average starter at 14th according to our CornerThree WAR. He brings toughness defensively against three different positions, and was able to spread the floor effectively if not excellently, hitting 1.3 triples per game in both the regular season and playoffs.  More playing time this season after his injury should also see elite center Al Horford raise his rankings. Across the board, the Hawks have a very solid starting five that will give other Eastern teams fits.

Keys to success

  • How effective will the Hawks be defensively? Their Spurs-inspired offense, full of ball and player movement, will put up points, and if Atlanta can slow their opponents down, they’ll be set to vault further up the standings.
  • Can Jeff Teague improve his efficiency? He could be well-served to take another page out of the Spurs’ book by emulating Tony Parker, who took his game inside the three-point line and was still able to use his quickness to beat opponents. Teague shot three triples per game last season (and four per game in the playoffs) while only hitting them at a 33% clip. With Korver, Carroll, and even Paul Millsap (36%) spreading the floor, along with Sefolosha and Antic off the bench, Teague would have plenty of room to work inside the arc.
  • Is Al Horford fully recovered? If so, he’s a force on both ends of the floor, averaging 18.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 29 games last season on an excellent 57% FG.

Wrap

A lot of people may be disregarding or forgetting the Hawks, but Atlanta has a very skilled starting five, a great coaching scheme, and some newfound depth. The Hawks will be a playoff team, and could give their first-round matchup a run for its money.

7. Charlotte Hornets

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The Hornets (formerly Bobcats) were another rising young team last season, with a coach that preached defense along with some talented offensive players. They’ve got a shiny new color scheme, uniform, and shooting guard, as they look to establish themselves as one of the forces in the East.

Last Season

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 7th 5th 7th 7th
Association 16th 15th 17th 17th

Charlotte was successful last year by their standards, after a long playoff drought. Despite being right at average last season, the weak East and roster improvements have them primed to move further up the ladder this year.

Offseason

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Notable Additions:

  • G Lance Stephenson (free agency)
  • F Noah Vonleh (draft)
  • F Marvin Williams (free agency)

Notable Losses:

  • F Josh McRoberts (free agency)

For the second consecutive offseason, Charlotte added serious pieces to their roster. Lance Stephenson could be primed to break out in a new town with a new role, while rookie Noah Vonleh and veteran Marvin Williams add much-needed depth to their front line. The Hornets were also able to retain all of their important contributing pieces for this year.

Projected Lineup

Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Kemba Walker 37th 62nd 302nd ~134th
SG Lance Stephenson 108th 71st 55th ~78th
SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist 168th 112th 182nd ~154th
PF Cody Zeller 215th 270th 245th ~243rd
C Al Jefferson 15th 53rd 40th ~36th
B1 Gerald Henderson 101st 356th 424th ~294th
B2 Noah Vonleh 143rd (NCAA)
B3 Marvin Williams 189th 132nd 286th ~202nd

Al Jefferson is a top-flight center, but it looks like weak defense and offense from Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist respectively hurt their rankings. They look to improve this year, as does projected starter Cody Zeller, who the Hornets hope can complement Al Jefferson until Noah Vonleh is ready to step in.

Keys to success

  • The Hornets need to improve their post defense behind solid perimeter defenders Lance Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
  • Kidd-Gilchrist is at a crossroads – he needs to prove he is the answer for the Hornets by showing them some semblance of offensive usefulness. A normal-looking jump shot is a good start:
  • Can Stephenson make the leap to elite shooting guard status? If he continues his improvement trajectory, there’s a good chance he pulls it off. Stephenson is a bit of an enigma, with many people wondering what his true value was this offseason.  It’s time for him to show he’s the All-Star Sir Lancealot thinks he is (sorry, Lance):

Wrap

The Hornets have a lot to be excited about, but expectations should be tempered until they can find consistency across the starting lineup. Still, they’ll likely be a playoff team with a shot at winning a first-round series.

8. New York Knicks

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The Knicks are coming off an extremely disappointing season where they missed the playoffs just one year after earning the second seed in the conference. However, the club is optimistic about its future after the addition of Zen Master Phil Jackson to the front office, a new coach in Derek Fisher, and the retention of star forward Carmelo Anthony.  Can the Knicks get back to their winning ways this year with a new culture in the Mecca of basketball?

Last Season

Boston Celtics at New York Knicks

Standing NumberFire Rank TeamRankings Rank Hollinger Rank
East 9th 8th 9th 5th
Association 19th 18th 20th 15th

New York had a dreadful year, but did end on a good note, winning 17 of their last 22 games (perhaps when they woke up and realized they still had a shot at the playoffs in the East). I look for them to continue their average-or-better play into this season, as players like J.R. Smith, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Iman Shumpert were able to find their games.

Offseason

Notable Additions:

  • G Jose Calderon (trade)
  • C Samuel Dalembert (trade)

Notable Losses:

  • C Tyson Chandler (trade)
  • G Raymond Felton (trade)

President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills decided to get rid of two players who had extremely disappointing seasons in 2013-2014. Both Chandler and Felton saw their performance fall steeply from where it had been the previous year. However, at this point in his career, Dalembert is definitely no upgrade over the former defensive player of the year. Calderon, on the other hand, despite his defensive weaknesses, is a perfect fit for the triangle offense and is primed to have a good season under the Madison Square Garden lights.

Projected Lineup

Player CornerThree WAR ESPN WAR NumberFire nERD Composite Grade
PG Jose Calderon 77th 192nd 75th ~115th
SG J.R. Smith 118th 84th 414th ~205th
SF Carmelo Anthony 7th 24th 13th ~15th
PF Amar’e Stoudemire 287th 427th 107th ~274th
C Samuel Dalembert 98th 149th 64th ~104th
B1 Iman Shumpert 102nd 93rd 449th ~215th
B2 Tim Hardaway Jr. 224th 436th 336th ~332nd
B3 Andrea Bargnani 189th 415th 387th ~330th

Outside of Carmelo Anthony, the individual rankings for the Knicks were pretty brutal last year. Weak defense from such players as Amar’e Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway Jr. helped plummet them in their ratings.  Derek Fisher will need to find a way to make these players make each other better, as the Knicks have many talented players needing correct schemes and motivation to succeed as one.

Keys to success

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  • Can J.R. Smith bounce back from an extremely disappointing year to return to his 6th man of the year form? Carmelo Anthony desperately needs a second fiddle. J.R. is actually one of the league’s elite spot-up shooters, but his spotty defensive effort and questionable offensive decision-making can hold him back. I believe the presence of Phil Jackson and the triangle will help Smith find his game this year.

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  • Will New York be able to stop anyone? With weak defenders across the board, Coach Fisher will need to devise his defensive schemes accordingly to cover up individuals’ weaknesses (as Mike Woodson could not).
  • Can Carmelo Anthony be the next superstar swingman to thrive in the triangle offense, as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did before him? That’s special company, but offensively, Melo isn’t too far off from the two legends.  A renaissance for Anthony in his new system would mean big things for the Knicks.

Wrap

Last season may have been dreadful in many ways, but the core of Anthony/Stoudemire/Smith/Shumpert remains from their 53-win season in 2013-2014. The Knicks won’t be playoff contenders, but have enough talent to make the postseason if the players buy into the triangle offense and bounce back from bad seasons.

Non-playoff teams

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9. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are in a rough spot after losing their top two offensive players this offseason – superstar small forward Paul George to a gruesome injury, and dynamic shooting guard Lance Stephenson to free agency.  Their excellent defense will keep them in games, but with Roy Hibbert struggling to find his form and David West reportedly contemplating retirement, it looks like Indiana simply won’t be able to put the ball in the basket enough to earn a playoff berth this season.

10. Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn lost several solid contributors from last season, including Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche, and even coach Jason Kidd. Their biggest question is whether Brook Lopez can be a healthy contibutor for the length of the season. Lionel Hollins will preach defense well, but declining big-moneymakers like Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett would need huge years for the Nets to make the playoffs.

11. Detroit Pistons

Detroit was unable to move either Josh Smith or Greg Monroe this offseason, which will most likely cripple them for this season. Despite the rise of Andre Drummond to stardom, the eye-opening inefficiency of high usage players like Smith and Brandon Jennings will likely have this team destined for the lottery, barring a complete system turnaround by Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons have a shot at the playoffs, but a lot would need to go right for them to get there.

12. Boston Celtics

With Rajon Rondo already sidelined with an injury, the young Celtics look to have a rough go of it ahead of them for the second straight season.  However, budding young players like Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, and rookie Marcus Smart will have plenty of minutes to shine and improve until GM Danny Ainge decides what big move he needs to make to take this team to the next level.

13. Milwaukee Bucks

With Rookie of the Year favorite Jabari Parker in town, the Bucks will hope to improve upon last season’s dreadful performance. New coach Jason Kidd will need to find a way to get elite shot blocker (when he wants to be) Larry Sanders to reach his full potential, while Brandon Knight could definitely accelerate his development by taking a few pointers from the future hall-of-fame point guard.  Perhaps the most pressing question for the Bucks this season is young Greek swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo, who showed signs of a bright future last season. Milwaukee hopes that with the Freak on the wing alongside Parker, with a motivated Larry Sanders down low, they have the makings of a future contender.

14. Orlando Magic

This will be another rebuilding year for the Magic, who lost the last remnant of the Dwight Howard era, point guard Jameer Nelson, to free agency this offseason.  Like the Celtics, they’ll have plenty of young developing players getting ample playing time, hoping to show management that they belong in Orlando’s fold in the long run. Combo guard Victor Oladipo is coming off an encouraging rookie year that saw him impact his team’s winning on both sides of the court, while bouncy top pick Aaron Gordon looks to prove he’s not the next college-dominating athletic power forward to bust in the NBA (see Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, and possibly Anthony Bennett). Young frontcourt mates Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, and Andrew Nicholson will also look to build on their growing stock over the course of the year.

15. Philadelphia 76ers

The future is bright in Philadelphia, but this season probably won’t be. They don’t have enough talent yet to move up the Eastern standings, but highly anticipated debuts for big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid will show that the future isn’t too far away.  Michael Carter-Williams will look to improve his efficiency (40% FG; 26% 3PT last season) as he builds upon his Rookie of the Year campaign.  After all is said and done, though, the Sixers will likely be adding another top-flight draft pick to their collection.

Western Conference preview coming soon!

by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University

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2 thoughts on “The Comprehensive 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

  1. Hmmm relying on a healthy Rose is risky since he hasn’t been healthy for the last 2 years. Pau Gasol isn’t really the same Gasol that helped the lakers win back to back titles.

    1) Cavs
    2)Wizards
    3) Raps
    4)Bulls
    5)Hornets
    6)Hawks
    7)Heat
    8)Nets

    That’s what I have. I’m guess what I’m really saying is I’m not sold on the bulls young guys like I’m sold on the Wizards and Raps young guys. Also I think everyone is sleeping on the hornets.

    Like

  2. Pingback: The Comprehensive 2014-2015 NBA Preview: Western Conference | Corner Three

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