In the early days on the 2016-17 season, The Eastern Conference has both shocked us with how some teams are playing; while also reaffirming just how good others can be.
Cavs stranglehold on the East continues
Going into the season, everybody knew that the Cavaliers were going to be good, but nobody knew they would be this good. LeBron James is great. No knew news there! His ability to get the best out of his teammates is second to none. While getting his teammates involved, James is still averaging 23.6 points and and 9.7 assists a game. He is still the best player in the world and it shows every night he plays (and does not play). Cleveland sit atop the East at 13-2 (with one of those loses coming with James sitting out) and are the clear juggernauts of the conference.
After a whole season of “getting back to himself”, Kyrie Irving struggled last year to get it going. Coming off a nasty injury in the 2014 Finals, Irving needed sometime to get back on track. Then the playoffs happened! Irving’s championship worthy play has seeped over into this season. He currently leads the Cavs in scoring at 25 points per game and he is scoring at a career high 49 percent from the field.
Nothing has been more welcomed to the Cavs then the resurgence of Kevin Love’s offense. Not only is Love grabbing rebounds left and right, but he is shooting glimpses of his Timberwolvse days. He even set a record for most first quarter points in NBA history this season (34) and its only 15 games in. If the Cavs hope to make it back to the finals and repeat as champs, Love will need to continue his play well into the season and beyond.
Will the real Paul George please stand up?
Sitting at 9-9 and currently seventh in the conference, the Indiana Pacers have not gotten off to the start everyone thought. From having on of the worst defenses in the league, to not clicking on offense, The Pacers have looked awful.
Superstar Paul George has looked ok at best, but as the leader of the team, more is asked from him that he just has not been giving. Railing in 20.8 points per game, George has emerged as the go-to man that Indiana calls on more times than normal. Other than big man Myles Turner, George is the ONLY defender the Pacers have and it has shown (Only three teams they’ve faced this year has failed to score over 100 points).
Jeff Teauge, Thaddeus Young, and Al Jefferson have been welcome additions, on the offensive side of the ball, but have done a little to nothing on defense.
Indiana was seen as a top three team in the East before the season started, Now it is unclear if they will even make the playoffs, let alone win a series.
But hey! its still early.
Fun Fact: The Bulls are top five in offensive efficiency this year. I’ll repeat. The Bulls are top five in offensive efficiency this year!
When the Bulls signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo this off-season, everybody (including Bulls fans) questioned where the scoring was going to come from. Jimmy Bulter was a solid scorer, but not solid enough to carry a team offensively. Wade was a dangerous mid-range shooter, but he was a not so scary three point shooter. And Rondo, just couldn’t shoot period.
Then the season started and games were actually played, the Bulls took off!. Wade has channeled his inner Curry and is hitting three pointers at a career high clip (39%). Butler has also increased his three point shooting and is leading the Bulls in usage rate. As for Rondo, well he still can’t shot, but his court vision has been a welcome sight for Bulls fans.
It is not likely that the Bulls can and will remain as a top offensive team through years end, but for now, Bulls fans will take what they can get.
DeMar DeRozan is looking like a $139 man
The moment it was confirmed that Toronto signed DeRozan to a $139 max contract, the Raptors turned into one of the biggest question marks of the NBA.
DeRozan was highly overrated last season. He was not a great shooter and one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Being along side Kyle Lowry, Toronto was able to mask DeRozan faults and highly his strengths. Fast forward to today, and DeRozan is one of the best players in the NBA, period.
Sitting third in scoring, DeRozan has turned his “forget threes! I’m going to shoot straight mid-rangers” into one of the best things to watch in the NBA. His defense even has improved to acceptable heights this season. DeRozan started the season scoring 30+ points in 10 of the teams 17 games, which has not been seen since Micheal Jordan.
DeRozan is the clear leader of the second seeded Raptors, and he continues to take the league over by storm.
We all knew that Miami would struggle this season after losing Wade. But nobody saw Boston and Washington struggle THIS much coming out the gates.
Acquiring Al Horford in the offseason, Boston was looked as the second best team in the East. They have young, talented players and was seen as a real threats to Cleveland. Those thought were quickly changes spoiled as the season began and we see how difficult it is for Boston to do anything!
They were a solid defensive team last year. This year however, they are closer to the bottom. They get lost on switches, don’t communicate, and flat out stop playing on some nights. And scoring wise, Isaiah Thomas has been the only bright spot to what looks like a dime situation. Horford and Jae Crowder have been sidelined with injury and will help stabilize everything once they are 100 percent healthy. Boston still has the chance to be what everyone expected of them, they just need to act like it.
Washington on the other hand has a laundry list of problem to attend to before they can get on a right track.
6-10 was not the record the Wizards were expected to have coming out the gates (especially after facing only three playoff teams from a year before). Washington hit rock bottom when they lost to the terrible 76ers on Nov. 16. The Wizards are second to last in defense and other than John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, Washington has been terrible on offense too.
Washington has one of the worst benches in the NBA and if they want to even see the post season, they will have to address that first.
Trust the Process
Coming out of Kansas, Joel Embiid was seen as a potential future star. That was until he missed his first two years due to injury. Many were quick to label him the next great “bust”.
This was all laid to rest after just a few games into his “official” rookie year.
Being 7’3, Embiid is not only a big body that’s crafty in the low post, but he has three point range as well. He worked tirelessly his first two years to get back to the court and it shows. Great footwork, good shooters touch, and a developing NBA IQ is what makes Embiid special.
As of right now, Embiid is the clear cut Rookie of the year, and it’s not even a competition right now.
And just think… Ben Simmons has yet to play.
With it being way-too-early in the season, here are my Eastern Conference Awards so far:
MVP: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
ROY: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
MIP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
DPOY: Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat)
6th Man: Mike Muscala (Atlanta Hawks)
It is still very early in the NBA season. So it will be fun to see who improves throughout the year, and who continues to struggle.