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Opinion

NBA: Predicting the 2020-21 Eastern Conference standings

Ben Simmons (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
27th December, 2020
4

The NBA season has just begun. Psychics and punters alike are attempting to predict the winners and losers of the regular season.

I shall attempt to do the same today, as I attempt to predict where every team in the Eastern Conference will place (much like I already did for the Western Conference standings).

Some teams are expected to make a leap this season, with some teams having an excellent offseason through both the draft and free agency.

Meanwhile, some teams are expected to take a step backwards as little to no improvement has been made. So, without further ado here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference standings this coming season.

1. Milwaukee Bucks
What a rollercoaster of an offseason for the Milwaukee Bucks. After convincingly falling to the Miami Heat in the semi-finals in the playoffs, the team had an offseason full of nerves as Giannis Antetokounmpo was rumoured to want out of Milwaukee.

Management promised to build a championship team around him, with rumours flying that players such as Chris Paul were being targeted.

Alas, the Bucks did not pick up CP3. The team also failed to complete a trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic (which was a disaster).

However, the Bucks ended up giving Giannis another star player in Jrue Holiday (although it cost them Eric Bledsoe).

Holiday will provide good offensive and defensive capabilities, and should do a serviceable job at running the point guard position. The team also added Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes and DJ Augustin for some bench depth.

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With Giannis now signing the biggest contract in NBA history, all eyes are on him to make it work in Milwaukee. With players such as Kris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo still around along with the new additions, there is no team arguably better in the Eastern Conference than the Bucks and they should be the favourites to lead the East despite multiple disappointing postseasons.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo – not heading to Dallas? (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

2. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are an intriguing prospect this season, as both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will finally hit the floor together. The preseason has showcased small glimpses of what the duo can do together – and it is deadly.

Irving and Durant both missed significant time last season, with Durant missing the entire season. The Nets performance will depend on how well the duo can play together and if Durant manages to get back to his level of play before the injury.

However while the two stars will be major in determining the Nets season, the supporting cast and coaching staff will be just as important.

Steve Nash will be running the Nets in his first head coaching gig, with fellow Phoenix Suns alumni Mike D’Antoni and Amar’e Stoudemire joining Nash’s coaching team. It will be interesting to see how the trio manages this talented Nets team and whether Nash will shine in his first coaching gig.

Players such as Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen provide the Nets with proven talent and depth in the team, who should all compliment the star duo well.

The team has already started off well this season and have won in convincing fashion. Expect the Nets to make more noise this season, barring any injuries.

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Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets talks to Kyrie Irving

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets talks to Kyrie Irving (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

3. Boston Celtics
Despite not quite making it to the big dance in recent years, the Boston Celtics still have had a successful run. Led by the young star Jayson Tatum and players such as Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown, the team has created a solid foundation to build upon for years to come.

The Celtics were unlucky in a competitive series with the Heat last season, however expect to see the team back towards the top of the league again this season.

While the team lost Gordon Hayward to the Hornets, Tatum and Brown will continue to develop towards their full potential. Added along with role players such as Jeff Teague, Daniel Thesis and the potential surrounding Tacko Fall, the Celtics shall be a threat again this season.

4. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat shocked the basketball world last postseason by scalping both the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics in the playoffs to book themselves a date with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Despite having injuries during the series, Jimmy Butler managed to carry the team through to six games along with help from the likes of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

The Heat’s core of Herro, Butler, Adebayo and Dragic will be good enough to take on most teams on any given night. Added with players such as Andre Iguodala, Duncan Robinson, new draftee Precious Achiuwa, Kendrick Nunn and others, this Heat team will be looking to make a few more upsets this season.

5. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers had a very productive offseason, with the team focusing on setting up a team to fit around their two stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The team parted ways with coach Brett Brown and added a seasoned coach in Doc Rivers, while newly minted GM Daryl Morey made some positive moves for the team.

Morey managed to get rid of the dreadful contract owed to Al Horford, who never seemed to quite fit with the team. Adding players such as Seth Curry and Danny Green also adds shooters around Ben Simmons to hide his weaknesses as a shooter, while also giving him options to pass out to when he is driving to the paint.

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The Sixers could bolster their team further, as the team has been active in talks for Rockets superstar James Harden. However, before any confirmation on that end, the Sixers will sit around the middle of the pack in terms of the Eastern playoff teams. While they could easily be a top four team, it will all depend on how their team meshes and whether further changes are made during the season.

Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers. (Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

6. Toronto Raptors
After a successful couple of seasons, the Raptors have now become a tricky team to judge. Sure, they are a talented team with the likes of Pascal Siakim, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry and a solid head coach in Nick Nurse. However, the team has lost a lot of talent over the past few seasons.

While losing Kawhi Leonard did not cripple the team last season, losing their two big men in Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol to the two Los Angeles sides certainly does not help their chances. While Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher are both solid, they do not compare to the talents of Ibaka and Gasol.

The performance of the team this season will come down to the supporting cast, with players like OG Anunoby needing to have a big impact to make the Raptors a major threat in the East. However, for now the Raptors are stuck in the middle of the pack.

7. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks had an outstanding offseason this year and will be looking to make a push towards the playoffs. While maintaining their young core of Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela, the team also added some major talent to bolster the bench and starting five.

The likes of Rajon Rondo, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, new draftee Onyeka Okongwu and Kris Dunn will all aid the team in making that next major step towards the postseason. The continued development of Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter will also be key to watch, as this Hawks team becomes arguably one of the most interesting and deep rosters in the East (if all the players reach their potential).

Atlanta is my dark horse this season, and it is not a far cry to predict that they would have a chance to cause an upset in the first round of the playoffs this season.

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8. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers did little to improve themselves this offseason and find themselves stuck in the middle of the pack. Victor Oladipo has been plagued by injuries and unable to return to his All-Star form, while the cast featuring TJ Warren, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon is good, it has been proven that they are unable to make any notable noise in the Eastern Conference.

While this team is full of talent, it seems stuck in a spot where they can either decide to blow the team up and rebuild or try and trade Oladipo and some other players in an attempt to bolster their forces. The former seems more rewarding in the long term.

9. Washington Wizards
The Wizards took a gamble this offseason, as the team and Wall both decided that it was time to part ways. Washington took a chance by trading Wall to the Rockets for former MVP Russell Westbrook. Westbrook had reportedly been unhappy with the Rockets over their preferential treatment towards James Harden.

However, Westbrook already seems happier and both Beal and Westbrook look to be a scary duo. With a supporting cast featuring key contributors such as David Bertans, Rui Hachimura and rookie Deni Avdija, it would not be surprising to see the Wizards crack the top eight if everyone clicks.

For now though, expect the team to just miss out on postseason action.

10. Orlando Magic
The Magic (like a few other teams on this list) seem stuck. The team has remained mainly unchanged for multiple seasons, with the main core consisting of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Johnathon Isaac. While the Magic have added other solid young pieces such as Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and now rookie Cole Anthony, the team still seems stuck in the middle of the pack.

While it will be interesting to watch their young talent, which will certainly develop during the season, the Magic will struggle to make it back to the playoffs this season.

11. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets were the team who managed to secure arguably the best player going into the draft in LaMelo Ball. While Melo has had a slow start to the season, his talent is evident (as showcased during his time in the NBL). The Hornets also have two quality point guards in Terry Rozier (who started off this season strong) and DeVonte Graham, who was robbed of Most Improved Player honours last season.

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Management did take a risk in offering Gordon Hayward that big contract, however if he stays healthy he could potentially return to his All-Star level. While this young team has some promise, do not expect them to make any noise this season as they try to develop.

LaMelo Ball

LaMelo Ball (Cassy Athena/Getty Images)

12. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs have a solid young core to develop for the future, with talent such as Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Kevin Porter Jr and Cedi Osman. Added along with veterans Kevin Love and Andre Drummond, the team is quite an interesting unit.

Aussies Dante Exum, Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker round out a very young Cleveland team. However, much like the Hornets, the Cavs time is not here yet. They should use this season to develop their young talent and see if they can find Kevin Love a new home in exchange for some young talent and draft picks.

13. Chicago Bulls
Another young team towards the bottom of the standings, the Chicago Bulls have not had much success since the injury and departure of Derrick Rose. However, the Bulls do have upside and potential on their list. Players such as Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr and Lauri Markkanen will look to further their development, while new draftee Patrick Williams will adjust to playing in the NBA.

With Zach LaVine leading the team, the Bulls can never be counted out in games. But, this team does not have what it takes just yet to make the next step.

14. Detroit Pistons
Detroit have had a very strange offseason. The team has filled its roster with big men, picking up a number of notable bigs in Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Trevor Ariza and Jahlil Okafor while already having Blake Griffin on the team.

While all four players are good players, it leaves some congestion in the front court as they also have other players capable of playing solid minutes in those positions. The team also lost Christian Wood, which was a major loss considering Griffin’s injury concerns.

One bright spot for the Pistons will be their draft pick Killian Hayes, who should develop nicely under the mentorship from Derrick Rose. Still though, the Pistons are not making any waves this season.

15. New York Knicks
Ah the Knicks, the poor New York Knicks. This team seems to be living at the bottom of the standings, however have not had much luck on draft night.

Sure, RJ Barrett has potential as does Mitchell Robinson, however the Knicks have not had much luck elsewhere. Their best draft pick in years in Kristaps Porzingis is now starring for the Dallas Mavericks alongside a future MVP, while the Knicks are left pondering what if.

While Obi Toppin is a great pick up for the team, the Knicks are going to be living at the bottom of the standings once again this season.

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