Less than two weeks. That’s all we have left until we have regular season basketball. Finally. This week I’ll take a look at the Eastern Conference, split into tiers and next week it will be the Western Conference’s turn. First up, a very obvious top two.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Boston Celtics
This is the championship contender tier. Realistically, you could put the Cavaliers in this tier alone, but I’ll give Boston the benefit of the doubt. Completely flipping their roster could give them a shot at the Warriors, but it’s not likely. Adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward keeps them at the top, but their top two doesn’t match that of the Cavaliers, and the Cavs have leveled the playing field when it comes to depth. Cleveland is still the dominant team in the conference, and this offseason did nothing to change that. Now that they’re playing Kevin Love at the five, we could really see the Cavaliers become more of a modern NBA team instead of riding LeBron James to the finals.
3. Washington Wizards
4. Milwaukee Bucks
5. Toronto Raptors
6. Miami Heat
This tier is filled with teams that are near locks to make the playoffs. Outside of that, there isn’t much to look forward to, mostly because the top two in this conference is so locked in. The Wizards should cruise to home-court advantage on the backs of John Wall and Bradley Beal. After locking Otto Porter up this offseason, those three players will be the big three for the Wizards going forward. All three should go within the first three to four rounds of fantasy drafts.
The Bucks have the most upside of this group, mostly because they have the best player. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an incredible talent who could unseat LeBron James in a few years as the league’s best player. He’s surrounded by other young talent like Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker (when healthy) who could help make this team the three seed. Middleton is highly underrated in fantasy and should be going in the top three rounds.
Toronto and Miami round out this group as teams that should make the playoffs but don’t have the same upside as the other two. Toronto will continue to ride DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry to the playoffs and hope for more contributions from Serge Ibaka. CJ Miles is someone to watch in fantasy, especially if he can crack the starting lineup. As for Miami, this team isn’t that great on paper, but Erik Spoelstra has done a phenomenal job of getting everything he can out of the roster. Dion Waiters should make for a great source of scoring in fantasy this season.
7. Charlotte Hornets
8. Philadelphia 76ers
9. Detroit Pistons
Two of these three teams have to make the playoffs. Let that sink in. The Hornets would be in the tier above, but thanks to the injury to Nic Batum, they had to drop. Losing Batum crushes their depth and forces Malik Monk to start. That could end up being beneficial for the Hornets in the long run, but I would’ve liked this rotation more with him as the sixth man. Monk is definitely worth a speculative late-round pick in fantasy drafts.
The 76ers are by far the most volatile of any of these teams. If Joel Embiid stays healthy and plays 50+ games, this team could win 45 games. If he can’t stay on the floor and plays less than 25, they could win as few as 30. All of that, because of the health of one player. Of course, there are a myriad of variables that will also play a role. If Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz have a smooth transition to the NBA, less pressure will be placed on Embiid. Right now, I’d expect Embiid to play around 40 games and for the team to win 37-39. Either way, I’m avoiding Embiid in fantasy drafts at his current ADP.
The Pistons are the ultimate treadmill team. They’re too good to finish high in the lottery thanks to Andre Drummond and Avery Bradley, but they’re also not good enough to advance past the first round of the playoffs. As it stands, I don’t see them even making the playoffs. Avery Bradley is a nice mid-round pick up in fantasy drafts, as he should see a much bigger role in Detroit than he had in Boston.
10. Indiana Pacers
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks
13. New York Knicks
14. Brooklyn Nets
15. Chicago Bulls
This tier is bad. Very bad. I contemplated moving Indiana up a tier, but they have nothing past Myles Turner. Victor Oladipo would be best served as a sixth man, but instead he’ll be the secondary scoring option for the Pacers. At the very least, Lance Stephenson is back in Indy and should be incredibly fun to watch. He’s someone I’m stashing on most fantasy teams and should be a good DFS play early on.
Orlando finishes 11th thanks to having some actual NBA talent on the roster. Aaron Gordon will need to take a major step forward this year, but he should have the chance to do that by playing the four. Elfrid Payton got hot to end last season, and if he keeps that up, he could be a top-15 point guard in the NBA. As for fantasy, give me Evan Fournier for some scoring and threes, and as usual, I’m all about Jonathan Isaac in dynasty leagues and as a late-round flier in re-draft leagues.
These last four are brutal. The order won’t matter as much, because they’ll all be scrapping for 20-25 wins. Atlanta takes the crown because of Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore. When that’s the difference in all of these teams, you know they’re in trouble. Brooklyn could surprise and move up a tier if D’Angelo Russell decides to show up, but that’s unlikely. As far as fantasy, Porzingis is the best on any of these teams, obviously, but Russell could end up having real value as well. Give me Kris Dunn in a high-usage situation in Chicago, and John Collins in Atlanta, because somebody has to start at the five.
If you have any questions, feel free to follow me on twitter and ask, @JonSauber. For more information on my thoughts on the east, as well as Eric Cross’ thoughts, tune in to the 3-and-D Podcast on Fantrax Radio and Soundcloud.