Way too early 2020 NBA standings & finals prediction~ Eastern conference edition

Unlike any other sport, one or two players can single-handedly swing the entire pendulum of power in the NBA in free agency or via trade. This wild summer reiterated how much power players really have. With this in mind, I want to preface this 2019-2020 NBA season outlook by saying my opinion on this can and will change constantly leading up to late October when the season begins. Potential team chemistry issues, injuries, or trades can alter the entire landscape at any moment. Here’s how the highly anticipated 2019-2020 season will shake out as of today.

One seed~ Milwaukee Bucks 

The team with the best record in the association this past year brings back everybody outside of Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic. These are two nice cogs that they would’ve liked to have kept in a championship run. 

Having said that, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo now has serious playoff experience. He’s on a pathway to becoming the most unstoppable player in the association with a little more work on his overall game. That goes for regular or post season. The Bucks also checked a big box resigning sharp shooter Khris Middleton.

With Milwaukee’s huge roadblock this postseason being Kawhi Leonard, whose now moving out west with the Clippers, the Bucks are going to be tough to bet against now that the Greek Freak won’t have to deal with Kawhi’s stifling defense in the east playoffs again.

Two seed~ Philadelphia 76ers

The only other serious championship contender in the eastern conference outside of Milwaukee is the retooled Philadelphia 76ers. The offensive production of Jimmy Butler & JJ Redick, who have both left Philly in free agency, is a significant loss.

Instead the 76ers will bring in a couple very solid two way players in Al Horford from Boston and Josh Richardson from Miami. The 76ers will be the second best defensive team in basketball behind the LA Clippers this year.

Philly’s lack of depth and shooting, particularly from their young star point guard Ben Simmons, are recurring roadblocks to a title for Philly. But they were a few bounces away from potentially reaching the eastern conference finals this year. They’re a force to be reckoned with moving forward.

Three seed~ Indiana Pacers

The aforementioned point guard and former rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon left the Bucks for eastern conference foe Indiana. Coming off a 50-40-90 season (Total field goal %-three point %- free throw %) to go along with great defensive ability, him and all star two guard Victor Oladipo create one of the top backcourts in the conference.

Young ascending talent Myles Turner, one of the best rim protectors in the league who was completely snubbed from an all-defensive team selection, and sixth man of the year finalist Domantas Sabonis headline the front court for the Pacers.

This squad is devoid of the star power necessary to compete with the top dawgs for a championship. However, Indiana is led by a great head coach in Nate McMillan and he’s got a solid team to work with top to bottom, making for a top three team in the east. 

Four seed~ Boston Celtics

In the last 300 games the two star point guards have played, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker have roughly the same point & assist averages at 23 and 5.5. Irving is the more skilled player and has gotten the opportunity to display it on an NBA finals stage unlike Walker.

Having said that, Walker is clearly better suited for the leadership position and positive locker room presence. A role that Irving couldn’t thrive in this past year as “the guy” for the Celtics.

Elsewhere on the roster, expect the Celtics wings Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown to be reinvigorated and reborn after all three dealt with a setback seasons in 2018-2019 for various reasons. Those three will have much more defined roles and fair share of shots with the likes of Irving, Rozier, and Marcus Morris gone. 

The Celtics biggest issue lies in the front court. Veteran power forward Al Horford moving on to Philadelphia leaves a huge void for Boston. Controversial Turkish jokester and recent Celtics signee Enes Kanter is a nice offensive weapon, but unfortunately he can’t defend a parked car. Rob Williams has great length and rim protecting ability, but is far too raw and unpolished to make an impact at this point. The C’s will need to seriously upgrade their frontcourt to have any sort of shot at winning the east

Five seed~ Toronto Raptors

The great Kawhi Leonard and high end role player Danny Green have left Toronto to join each Los Angeles team respectively (who could blame them?) This takes the defending champion Raptors out of title contention for 2020.

But make no mistake about it, the fighting dinosaurs aren’t going anywhere. Keep in mind this team went 17-5 last year in games Kawhi sat out for load management. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Fred Vanvleet, and Marc Gasol headline the core of this year’s team. They’ve got championship pedigree and DNA and are out to prove they can still be relevant without “The Klaw”. Also never count out the Raptors elite general manager Masai Ujiri, as he’s capable of upgrading this roster at any moment.

Six seed~ Brooklyn Nets 

This squad remains in the middle of the pack for 2020, as they’ll be without Kevin Durant for the duration of the season as he recovers from his ruptured achilles. But there’s finally some serious optimism for a franchise that has seen some dark times recently. 

New management staff in Brooklyn led by general manager Sean Marks has done a fantastic job bringing Brooklyn out of the NBA basement. It looked like the Nets had no direction or future after Danny Ainge and the Celtics fleeced them, acquiring a slew of draft unprotected first round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with their best years behind them.

Brooklyn turned heads this season making the playoffs as the sixth seed this past year. This coming year they bring back the same squad, except they swap young one time all star guard D’Angelo Russell with six time all star and 2016 NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving. The Nets also added DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince to the mix this offseason.

It’ll be a fun team to watch but we saw this past year in Boston that Irving can be a volatile locker room presence when he’s the primary leader. Until we see KD return at 75-80% of what he was pre-achilles tear, the Nets can’t reach championship contention.

Seven seed~ Miami Heat

The 2019 free agent move that might’ve turned the most heads was Jimmy Butler turning down a max contract from Philadelphia. Instead, he got signed and traded to the Miami Heat.

Butler is betting on himself and showing the NBA world his top priority moving forward is being “the man”. He left an opportunity to stay with a legitimate championship contender in the 76ers to join a borderline playoff team in Miami. 

Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic, Justice Winslow, and Bam Adebayo round out a solid but limited supporting cast around Butler. 

Eight Seed~ Detroit Pistons

I’ve got to give credit where it’s due. Since getting traded to the Pistons, Blake Griffin has rounded out his game quite nicely. It earned him an All-NBA spot and all star appearance after being a bit of a forgotten commodity until this year.

 He always left something to be desired in Los Angeles as he just relied on his overwhelming athleticism to perform, having very little of an actual offense game to go with it.

Griffin and frontcourt mate Andre Drummond make the second best front court in the conference behind Joel Embiid and Al Horford in Philadelphia. The recurring issue for Detroit is their pedestrian backcourt. Unless free agent signee Derrick Rose can turn back the clock to 2010 MVP D Rose, the Pistons backcourt will hold them back again this year. 

Finals Pick: Milwaukee Bucks

As aforementioned, the Malcolm Brogdon departure hurts. But let’s not overstate it. Milwaukee still had success in the playoffs this past year while he was sidelined with injury. The Bucks have gone through the necessary growing pains to make that big championship hurdle.

They’ve got the generational franchise player in Antetokounmpo, great leadership from the sideline in 2019 coach of the year Mike Budenholzer, and the necessary playoff experience. They’re the safest pick at the moment. Stay tuned for the western conference standings and finals prediction edition.

-Simon Brady

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