What to make of the East?
If you’ve at least peeked once at the Eastern Conference standings during the last several days you will have noticed that it is a straight free-for-all after the Cavaliers and Raptors. The third place Celtics are picking it up a bit as of late but as currently constructed still aren’t in the same league with those big dogs.
While it’s not too surprising the conference has puttered along the way it has (poop, look at who the Magic and Bulls signed, not to mention the Hawks), I don’t think most people thought that so many teams would be this utterly mediocre or grossly disappointing. Surely the Hornets or the newly revived Knicks would be more stable and be up there with the Celtics, right? Or, say, I don’t know, surely the team called the Pistons would be higher on the board?!
Nope, not at all.
In fact, as of today the Hornets are just 1.5 games back of the Celtics, but from the way no one gives them any respect or publicity you’d think they were six games back and had no chance in hell of doing anything.
As for the Knicks, they are indeed newly revived and playing better than a lot of people thought. Still, something will go wrong with them. It’s a pity because Kristaps Porzingis and Brandon Jennings make that team instantly watchable. But come on.
Overall, only three games separate the fourth positioned Hornets (17-14) and the 11th/12th positioned Pistons and Magic, respectively.
Only five teams are above .500.
The Bucks are brewing something, though it could take a few more years.
The Wizards just don’t seem to fit together nor have enough depth.
Nobody knows what the Heat are doing. Nobody actually cares.
The Pacers never get any calls.
The Sixers have Embiid and play really hard most of the time, and the Nets play hard most of the time.
Essentially, it is just the Cavs and Celtics that get any love — poor Raptors, they’re a steady and fairly likable bunch — and the Knicks will always be a story line of some sort.
The point is that it’s only late December, still ten or so games left until the true mid-way point of the long season, and there HAS to be a couple of teams besides the Celtics that assertively emerge, poking their little heads out from their shells to say “We are going to be a legitimate basketball team that contends for a top four seed” and not get laughed at by pretty much everyone outside of their fan-base.
Furthermore, to better make sense of the Eastern Conference, let’s check out a SI piece about which teams to trust in the East. Since the Milwaukee Bucks (14-15) are playing at The Palace Wednesday night, here they are right here in the piece’s Probably Trust Them category:
Bucks (14-15). The Bucks have some real red flags. They are heavily reliant on guys like Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry in the backcourt. Jason Kidd isn't a bad coach, but after three years, he hasn't shown many signs of being a great one, either. Greg Monroe's role changes every other week. If teams protect the lane against Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokuonmpo, it’s up to Tony Snell and Dellavedova to hit shots, and then you remember why Khris Middleton was so important to this team. The Bucks are trustworthy solely because of Giannis. He’s already harder to guard than almost any player in basketball, and he makes life so much easier for everyone else on the floor.
In the Can't Quite Trust Them category are our darlings from Detroit:
Andre Drummond has been solid as poor man's DeAndre Jordan, but he hasn't really progressed over the past 18 months, and the same could be said for the entire team. The talent across the board is just a little bit underwhelming, and when you couple that with newfound ball movement issues, it gets harder to flourish. It doesn’t feel great to doubt Stan Van Gundy, but it's just as tough to believe in Jon Leuer and Marcus Morris as solutions for the next four months.
What does DBB think about the East? Who falls way off? Who amazes? Who just exists? Ohio sucks. At least we will all agree on that.