Predictions for the 2019-2020 NBA Eastern Conference

With the 2019/2020 NBA season right around the corner, it’s time that we jump back into the swing of things. 

The Toronto Raptors have had a couple months to celebrate their first championship in NBA history. It still feels like it was yesterday. The game six win over the Golden State Warriors, the championship parade and the endless flow of energy throughout the entire playoff season. 

We have also had the chance to stomach some of the changes that have happened over the off-season, most notably, losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. These changes have a dramatic impact on both the offensive and defensive fronts, and leave a hole in the edge and length of the Raps. 

On the flip side, the addition of young talent shines a light on the future of the Raptors franchise, and the type of team we wish to build. From Isaiah Taylor to Stanley Johnson to Terrence Davis, Raptors fans can only be sure of one thing: this year, we are a very different team. 

As far as the Eastern Conference goes, there have been several changes that will shift the standings in comparison to last season. Here are our predictions for the 2019/2020 standings in the East. 

The top of the East

The Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers will be in a dog fight for the one and two seeds this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo, as the raining MVP for the Bucks, will be looking to surpass the outcome that last season yielded. The Bucks lost to the Toronto Raptors four games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Last year, Milwaukee had the best defensive rating in the league (105.2), and had the fourth best offensive rating (113.8). The deciding factor seems to be Malcolm Brogdon, who signed with the Pacers in free agency during the off season. Brogdon was the most efficient shooter on the Bucks last year. He shot over 50 per cent from the field, 90 per cent from the free throw line, and 40 percent from behind the arc. The addition of Kyle Korver into the lineup this season is meant to help with that loss.

The 76ers are the Bucks biggest competition for the top spot in the East. After a game seven loss to the Raptors in the second round of the playoffs, Joel Embiid must be looking for some redemption. In order to give Milwaukee a run for their money, Philadelphia’s shooting percentage will have to rise to the occasion. The 76ers had an offensive rating of 112.6 (eighth in the league) and a defensive rating of 110.0 (fifteenth in the league). Embiid needs to stay healthy this season for the 76ers to have a chance. Al Horford and Josh Richardson, who both shoot 36 per cent from three-point range, are going to have a dramatic impact on the Philadelphia offence.

The Toronto-Boston Matchup

The Boston Celtics are likely going to take the third spot this year. The addition of Kemba Walker is going to do wonders for their offensive line. The 29 year-old point guard shot an average of 25.6 PPG, with 43.4 per cent from the field and 35.6 per cent from three-point range. His offence, along with the defensive efforts of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward should give the Celtics a strong core.

The Toronto Raptors are a very changed team this year. Even though losing Kawhi Leonard cuts deep, the Raptors went 17-5 without the NBA Finals MVP in the regular season. The franchise has worked hard in the off season to tie down important members of the roster beyond this year. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have both signed extensions, each being over $30 million a year. Marc Gasol (player option) and Serge Ibaka are still tied down for at least this season. The Raptors still have a very strong core on both offensive and defensive fronts. They should not be counted out of the race for a playoff spot.

The Middle of the pack

The fifth through eighth spots in the East are really anyone’s game, depending on how the season goes. The Brooklyn Nets will likely take the fifth seed. They had one of the busiest off seasons in the league. They shipped their best player, D’Angelo Russel, to Golden State as a part of the Kevin Durant signing. Kyrie Irving will take over at the one and be expected to lead the team through the season while Durant recovers from an Achilles surgery.

The Heat’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler means that the Heat should pull some decent numbers this year. Butler, a six-foot-eight shooting guard/small forward, was drafted in the first round by Chicago in 2011. Last year he averaged 18.7 PPG, and shot 46.2 per cent from the field and 34.7 per cent from three. Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow are also expected to be key players for Miami this season.

The Bottom Playoff Spots

Since Victor Oladipo is not expected to return to the Pacers lineup until December, Indiana will likely take the seventh seed. Indiana does have some decent starters like T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren. However, it’s unlikely that they will have an outstanding season without Oladipo for half of it.

The Orlando Magic have a healthy roster this year, lead by D.J. Augustin, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. The Magic, who were eliminated by the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, are fighting for the eighth seed. Orlando placed twenty-second in terms of offensive rating last year (108.9). They had a defensive rating of 108.1 (eighth in the league). Markelle Fultz will have a season to prove himself as the sixth man this year. Meanwhile, the Orlando offence will have to be developed by Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac.

The rest of the East

The Detroit Pistons could arguably compete for the eighth seed if they have an outstanding year. Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose will be the deciding factors in that matchup between Detroit and Orlando. The rest of the Eastern Conference teams have either just started a rebuild, or are in the middle of one. The Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls are furthest along with those rebuilds, but I doubt we will see a playoff appearance from either of those teams for at least a couple years. Meanwhile, the Wizards, Cavaliers, Knicks and Hornets have all just started rebuilding their teams.

Some closing notes…

Even though the East doesn’t seem as competitive as the West this year, I still expect to see some healthy competition from these teams. There’s a little bit of everything, if you think about it, not to mention the 2019 NBA Champions are on their victory lap.

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