With the departure of LeBron James this past offseason, it wasn’t quite certain what the Eastern Conference would quite look like in its first season without the GOAT.
You had Victor Oladipo and the Pacers, DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors, the Celtics (of course), and the Philadelphia 76ers were certainly up-and-coming–but could any of them compete with the thoroughly-stacked West?
Well, with the trade of Jimmy Butler to the 76ers announced Saturday morning, everything has changed–the Eastern Conference is locked and loaded. It’s anybody’s conference, and the fight to the top will be something we haven’t seen in years.
Kawhi Leonard Has Made the Raptors Unstoppable
The dramatic trading of DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard shook up the offseason almost as much as LeBron’s move, but Kawhi seems to feel right at home in Toronto. The team was good last season, but so far this season their 11-1.
It’s the best record in the league–yes, even better than the Warriors, who even with a few stellar shooting performances already under their belt are 10-2 on the season–and it’s been all about Kawhi Leonard.
Coming into the season, talk about the Eastern Conference was basically centered around, well, the Celtics. And they’re a good team–they just aren’t as good as the Raptors.
The Milwaukee Bucks are Taking No Prisoners
Make no mistake, the Eastern Conference isn’t fully Raptor territory just yet. The Milwaukee Bucks are making a huge statement early under new coach Mike Budenholzer, and are 9-2 on the season–barely trailing the Raptors, who they have beaten (note the single loss on the Raptors record).
Giannis Antetokounmpo is living up to his name as “The Greek Freak”. Nobody can stop him, and he may have an MVP season on his hands. Besides that, the entire team is showing up and committing to coach Bud’s system of spreading the floor and shooting threes at will. It’s panning out, and so far the battle for the number one spot in the East has been tight.
The 76ers Were Already #3 in the East Before Butler Trade
Enter the Philadelphia 76ers. They’re the home of one of the most dominant (and flamboyant) centers in the league, Joel Embiid, who is currently averaging a staggering 28.8 points per game and 12.8 rebounds.
He had a 42 and 18 double-double just last night against the Hornets–he loves to laugh but his play is no laughing matter.
Forget not the fact that the 76ers also have last year’s impressive Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, who is also dominating and living up to last year’s award, and No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz–who is struggling right now but certainly won’t keep that up forever.
They are number three in the Eastern Conference right now behind the juggernaut Raptors and Bucks–but they’re above the also-stacked Celtics, Pacers, Pistons, and of course the talented but horrifically-underperforming Wizards.
This was all before the Jimmy Butler trade.
The 76ers are 8-5 right now, but watch out for them. They’ll be looking to take over the Eastern Conference. And in a league that was all talk about the indisputable superiority of the West–this changes everything.