It’s official. After months of drama and speculation, Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio.
Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the best player in basketball.
Of course, he also might not be, but the fact that he might be tells you enough about his talent. The 23-year-old, 6’11” tall, 7′ wingspan, every-position nightmare from Athens has more than earned his nickname “The Greek Freak”. However, the name originates more through a combination of his raw physical measurables and his hard-to-pronounce surname than his actual skill, which has grown at an incredible rate. Just the 15th pick in the 2013 draft, Giannis has panned out to an extent perhaps unimagined by even the Bucks, and more quickly than the rest of the league would wish. Giannis ranks 3rd overall in CornerThree WAR and 2nd in RPM WAR across the entire NBA, and has an extremely versatile skillset that allows him to play all 5 positions on both offense and defense. Despite this, the Bucks sit just half a game above the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, sport a -0.3 average point differential per game, and rank 19th out of 30 in TSP, which expects them to perform at a level under that of a 38 win team in the postseason. FiveThirtyEight ranks them as the 2nd-worst team in the postseason.
The Toronto Raptors have won at least 48 games in each of the past four seasons, and barring catastrophe, this will be their fifth. They currently hold the top spot in the Eastern Conference, sitting 2 games above the second-place Celtics and a whopping 9 games above the third-place Cavaliers. They’re 9-1 in their past 10 games. Despite all of these easy to access, and perhaps even well-known, facts, they are not taken seriously. Why?
Last night after the All-Star Game, a bombshell deal was announced (now official) as the Sacramento Kings sent their superstar center, DeMarcus Cousins, along with Omri Casspi, to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and 2017 first- and second-round picks. This was a surprising move for multiple reasons, the first being that less than two weeks ago Kings GM Vlade Divac made it clear that Cousins would not be traded.
Rivalry renewed? LeBron and the Celtics have had many a playoff run-in, including his last few games as a Cavalier (the first time). However, this time doesn’t feel quite the same, with Rondo, Allen, Pierce, and Garnett all gone. These new Celtics, though, are nothing to sneeze at, and will have a chip on their collective shoulder in an effort to spoil Cleveland’s renaissance season.
The Western Conference has been dominant this season. With at least ten playoff-caliber teams and eight legitimate championship contenders – yes, eight (compared to probably two or three in the East) – the disparity between the two conferences may be as large as ever. Three of the most reliable analytics-based power rankings, Hollinger’s, NumberFire’s, and TeamRankings‘, all rank ten Western teams in the NBA’s top fifteen.
It seems the rich are getting richer: in the past week, two of the East’s most talented players in Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith left the Northeast for Texas. Nothing’s for certain, though, as both players have been centers of controversy over the past couple seasons, especially in analytical circles. While both are very skilled, they have the potential to be poor fits for any team, including their new respective squads. Let’s take a look at the possible pros and cons in each situation.
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: