Cleat Geeks

NBA Eastern Conference Power Rankings ’15-16

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15 New York Knicks (Last Season 17-65)

You got a named Kristaps Porzingis, a few solid additions in Aaron Afflalo, Kyle O’ Quinn, and Robin Lopez of all. Even Sasha Vujacic is back which should prove interesting. All of these additions should hopefully turn the Knicks from unbearable to watch, to acknowledging they are improving. Melo will be back from injuries to help steer the ship on the offensive end at least. Don’t forget, Phil Jackson has not yet abandoned the Triangle. So until then, New York definitely has some feeling around to do with a few new faces, and returning superstar. New York, dead last in Pts averaged last season (almost 92 pg) has got to find a way for everyone, not including Melo to attack, and find their sweet spot on the floor. On the plus side, they at least managed to keep the turnovers to a minimum at 14.7 pg. Second to last in Rebounding though, something Robin Lopez should help alleviate.

 

14) Orlando Magic (Last Season 25-57)

Same Core. You got C.J. Watson…And that’s about it. A trade for Shabazz Napier as well who has room to grow in the NBA. They say history repeats itself. Look back at when Orlando was the team destined to take it all because of the Penny, Shaq, and 3D combo. Then that destiny fell short thanks to the Rockets. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson who trust me is nowhere near as good as Penny, came close again with a Finals run, and lost it to the Lakers. Now the turmoil continues in the Magic Kingdom for God knows how long. There is a silver lining however. Scott Skiles. Who between Phoenix, Chicago, and Milwuakee was able to turn things around with a winning record after previous disastrous seasons. The Magic won 25 games last year, and could easily see an extra 10 under Skiles command. Defense just needs ramping (Blocked shots in particular). Got a rim protector? Dewayne Dedmon might be able to help some.

 

13) Philadelphia 76ers (Last Season 18-64)

They say if your not first your last, but in this case that wont be the Sixers this year on either note. They decided to part ways with Previous ROTY (Michael Carter-Williams) in a trade with Milwaukee, but free agents Carl Landry should be able to provide a presence around the basket, while Nik Stauskas can contribute beyond the arc (something he was “supposed” to help the Kings with last year). J.P. Tokoto looked good during the summer league as well. Defense for Philly last year was almost non-existent. Sure 20th in the league at 101 oppg is better than 30, but Head Coach Brett Brown definitely needs to find a way to get his guys to grind on the defensive end of the floor. Nerlens Noel had a solid rookie season averaging 9 almost 10 ppg, but where he truly showed promise, was averaging 2 blocks, and 8 rebounds. Now with drafting Jahlil Okafor, where does Brown put him? Does he let Noel run a little more freely and stick Okafor to clean up and post play? Will Joel Embiid ever be healthy again?

 

12) Detroit Pistons (Last Season 32-50)

Stan Van Gundy and the organization decided to part ways with Josh Smith mid-season after an abysmal start to the campaign. Detroit started 5-23, but found life once Smith was forced out making a sweet 6-0 run, that eventually died, but showed what a team can do when they are able to allow the squad on the floor to play more cohesively without the thought of a terrible 3 pointer (Josh Smith), or turnover (also Smith), or missed defensive opportunities because of confusion in the rotation (pretty much everyone). Granted Brandon Jennings went down with an Achilles tear, Jodie Meeks provided some valuable time in his absence, and Reggie Jackson proved he is worthy to stick around. Markus Morris is in town from Phoenix, and although he is no Andre Drummond or Greg Monroe, but he does show the strong ability to hustle and provided valuable minutes. Let us not forget that D.J. Augustine continued to flourish even after being shipped to Oklahoma City, as well as Josh Smith who was a cog in helping Houston reaching the Conference Finals. The only concern for the Pistons is can Stan Van Gundy finally get something going for this team in his 3rd season?

 

11) Miami Heat (Last Season 37-45)

For a team that went from 4 straight Finals appearances to a season without a playoff birth, it feels mighty interesting, but felt expected…. We all know the reason why…. Dwayne Wade returns to provide the scoring, along with Luol Deng who is not his old self, but still valuable. Chris Bosh is healthy again from that nasty blood clot in his lungs, and will hopefully find his game again. Goran Dragic provided 16 ppg in a Miami offense that could only manage 94-95 points; and even with the emergence of Hassan Whiteside (11 ppg & 10 rpg), Miami was still dead last in the league in rebounds. So altogether, the Heat have some pieces that look good and sound good on paper, but it’s a matter of everyone staying healthy, and contributing in the long run.

 

10) Charlotte Hornets(Last Season 33-49)

I had the highest expectations for Charlotte to make the playoffs. That all went out the window and somewhere into the wind, for a number of reasons: poor shooting percentage (29th in the league at almost 95 ppg), lack of rim protection without Al Jefferson, and the inability of the supporting cast Jeremy Lin, Bismack Biyombo, and the disaster known as Lance Stephenson to provide valuable minutes. Nicholas Batum had a few struggles in Portland last year, but will no doubt be able to contribute to Steve Clifford’s up-tempo offense. Defense isn’t too much the issue, but if Clifford can find a way for Frank Kaminsky to become a more versatile defender, and get Cody Zeller to help around the rim, there is a good chance Charlotte can stay in games. Beyond that, is beyond me….

 

9) Brooklyn Nets (Last Season 38-44)

I’m a little unsure of how to describe the progress Lionel Hollins did for this squad last year. A late season tie record with Indiana practically propelled them into the playoffs. Joe Johnson is in the final year of his contract; and despite carrying a TON of minutes last season, as well as holding a good majority of the scoring weight without Derron Williams making any contributions; he will have to prove if he even deserves a contract again of such longevity again, and pay. Speaking of Williams, he’s gone, and the only replacements on hand are Shane Larkin whose on his 3rd team in 3 seasons, vet Jarret Jack who has the ability to post serious numbers if he gets hot, as well as Wayne Ellington who had a good season with the Lakers last year. The only question remains about the depth in the paint. Brook Lopez who’s effective when healthy, Andrea Bargnani who is a better shooter than rebounder, shot blocker, post player and so on, aaaaand that’s about it. So they better stay healthy. Small ball is also an option with the young and Savvy Thad Young, or Bojan Bogdanovic who proved an excellent wingman. Maybe Thomas Robinson can finally find some life as well. All in all, given a few concerns in depth and talent, not yet sold on the ability for the Nets to make another playoff run.

 

 

8) Indiana Pacers (Last Season 38-44)

Even with the return of Paul George in the late days of the regular season it wasn’t enough to get the Pacers in the 8th and final slot. Gone is Roy Hibbert and his rim protecting ability, but Ian Mahimi should be able to pick up the slack as he has shown. Jordan Hill had a healthier better season, and Rodney Stuckey will contribute. Monta Ellis no doubt will provide some playmaking and little D, (although his 3 point % could use a boost). Frank Vogel has let the offense pretty much run it self, which has left Indy in the bottom half as far as points scored. That even included when David West, they only managed around 97 ppg. Vogel has a heavy emphasis on Defense however. That alone propelled them to the Conference Finals.

 

7) Milwuakee Bucks (Last Season 41-41)

Why 7? Grievus Vasquez can provide minutes as a starter or secondary, MCW has the ability to score and share the ball, “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo will be a future All-Star, MCW has a chance to step up as a leader, and lets not forget one of the biggest signings of the summer in Greg Monroe. Jabari Parker is making his way back from an ACL injury. Behind him will be John Henson who will no doubt be valuable when on the floor. He could end up seeing some time at the 5 if Monroe or newly acquired Buck Miles Plumlee need a breather. Jason Kidd ran a team that believed in ball movement, and defense. Considering Kidd has shut people up these past two seasons as a HC, I’d say he’s in for good things going forward.

 

6) Boston Celtics (Last Season 40-42)

Boston has been a wave of up and down in recent years. With Brad Stevens getting his squad back into the post season there might be something to look forward to however. Jared Sullinger has committed himself to losing weight, and being a cog in helping this team win. Marcus Smart is without a doubt a leader, and will someday be an all-star if he continues to impress. The real meat and potatoes of all this in the frontcourt composed of champion and former Golden State Warrior David Lee, and the last player to come out of high school Amir Johnson from the Toronto Raptors. Which shows a good bit of inside out play at both ends especially if Lee should remain healthy. None of this is to exclude Tyler Zeller who has improved his game away from the basket. Kelly Olynyk is solid, but can definitely do more with the talent he has, and Isaiah Thomas will have to continue his consistent numbers off the bench. If there is one thing to be proud of too, it’s the Celtics defensive tenacity and willingness to hustle and get after the ball. Boston was 8th in the league last year in steals per game, and maintained a DEF rating of 12th overall in the league. Don’t be surprised if they collect a few star pieces and start making a run at the ECF like the old days…. Whenever that will be.

 

5) Toronto Raptors (Last Season 49-33)

4th in the East sounds awesome when you average 111 ppg (4th in the league), and commit very few turnovers in the process right? Well let’s say all of that went down the drain in a loss to a 5th seeded opponent (* cough* the Washington Wizards) in which they basically ran through a defense that was almost non-existent. Lou Williams, was definitely part of this problem, but now is in LA to be there issue. On the upside though, The Raptors signed former defensive ace for the Hawks “junkyard dog” Demarre Carroll. Which should definitely prove a better asset on the perimeter at stopping the ball. Is it safe to be sold on the Raptors having 1st round upsets in the past 2 seasons?

 

4) Washington Wizards (Last Season 46-36)

John Wall and Bradley Beal. Best backcourt in the NBA? Without a doubt! The team averages nearly 100 ppg when both players are on the floor, and shoots a whopping 48% from the field. A lot may have to do with the pick and roll game they implement thanks to Marcin Gortat and Nene. Although losing Kevin Seraphin and Paul Pierce may sting some, Kelly Oubre, Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson should be able to contribute some.

 

3) Atlanta Hawks (Last Season 60-22)

60 wins and a run to the Eastern Conference Finals is enough to impress anyone. The player has bitten into the system, and proved that what Coach Bud has to offer can work, if the Hawks are willing to apply themselves. Kyle Korver will remain one of the best shooters in the league (49% from beyond the arc last year), Jeff Teague continues to blossom, and Paul Millsap alongside Al Horford will continue to dominate the frontcourt. Walter Tavares finally makes his NBA debut as a hopeful defense force for the Hawks, and Tiago Splitter will provide the same along with some much needed rebounding. I personally don’t see the Hawks winning 60 this season, but keeping up with the top teams in the East shouldn’t be too simple of a task. Not to mention, I didn’t even rank Atlanta in the top 5 last year, and refuse to look crazy when they beat almost every opponent again this year.

 

2) Chicago Bulls (Last Season 50-32)

Even LeBron himself last season admitted that this team was defensively and chemistry wise better than they were. Although they did not fold, they didn’t quite sit where they should have been because Derrick Rose had a rocky season shooting and trying to return to All-Star form. All the while, Jimmy Butler put the team on his back and looked like a true All-Star in almost every form. Pau Gasol will continue to finesse the post and guard the block with Joakim Noah protecting the rim, while Taj Gibson continues to prove his worth coming off the bench as a scorer and defender. Aaron Brooks looks like the go to at the PG backup slot, with Kirk Hinrich assisting at the at the SG. One thing not to forget about as well is the coaching change from Tom Thibodeau to Fred Hoiberg, A move that probably suited the organization and maybe the players too. Let’s see if this change has a reflection on minutes, tendencies, and most important, player health.

 

1) Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Season 53-29)

Okay, they have the best player in the world (LeBron James). One of the best Power Forwards in the game (Kevin Love), and a Point Guard that when healthy completes a trio destined for absolute greatness (Kyrie Irving). There is no doubt in my mind the Cavs will be back in the Finals hunt. Additions like Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith last season helped Cleveland do the little things on both sides of the floor. This year, they bring back Mo Williams, sign Center Sasha Kaun who played for Head Coach David Blatt overseas, and Anderson Verajao returns from that nasty Achilles injury that kept him on the bench last season. What more could they possibly need? David Blatt was the most criticized coach in the League last year, to the point GM David Griffin had to shoot down rumors of Blatt being fired REGARDLESS of the seasons’ outcomes. Most feel the relationship between Blatt and his players is a bit rocky considering LeBron denied his plays several times before to do his own thing. His system his not flawed, and his confidence is there in himself and players. However, should Cleveland be without a title in the next 3 years, we may be having the conversation mentioned earlier. I doubt, that with this roster, or ability, that will happen.

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