The NBA season is less than a week away(!). The Cavaliers are entering the year, somehow, in a bit of a state of turmoil. Tristan Thompson remains unsigned (GAAAAAAHHHH), Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert won't be ready for the start of the season, and Timofey Mozgov and Kevin Love are both working their way back into shape.
They do still have LeBron James though, which is a pretty cool thing, I guess.
With the season so close, let's take stock of the Eastern Conference with a round of Power Rankings. With each team, I'm going to attach their win total over/under line from Bovada to give a sense of where these teams are expected to finish, and may comment on the lines that I like the best.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
2014-15 Record: 18-64 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 21.5
Well, fancy seeing you here, Philly. The 76ers remain embroiled in their plan to be freaking terrible until they land themselves a superstar, and I don't really see the results changing much this year. I'm pretty sure Brett Brown is an awesome coach, and he had the team tied for 12th in defensive efficiency last season. Jahlil Okafor should help boost a punchless offense, but there's so little dependable spacing on the team outside of Robert Covington (kind of,) that he's going to struggle to deal with all the bodies in the lane while probably dampening the team's defensive effectiveness. I anticipate early struggles as Philly attempts to find a way to play Okafor and Nerlens Noel together offensively, and as a result, they just won't be winning many games this year, especially early on.
14. Brooklyn Nets
2014-15 Record: 38-44 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 27.5
Having the Nets slotted this low makes me think that this Eastern Conference might not be filled with quite so many walkover teams. This Nets team will have no incentive to tank, with their first-rounder being owed to Boston after this year.
The Deron Williams era ended with a whimper and a cash-saving buyout this summer, and Jarrett Jack will hold the keys to this offense. Uh, that's a little troublesome. In addition, the team lost savvy and useful NBA players in Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic and traded Mason Plumlee to the Blazers for the rights to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I love RHJ as a prospect, but Plumlee was an effective NBA player already, and a very explosive roll man in the pick and roll that the team doesn't really have anymore.
Brook Lopez is shooting threes and is a genuinely gifted player, but injury concerns have dragged him down in the past. I think that if things break just right, this team can leap past their 27.5-win line, but it's not looking great at the Barclays in the short term.
Oh, also, they just signed Andrea Bargnani.
13. Orlando Magic
2014-15 Record: 25-57 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 33.5
This is a weird team. Tobias Harris can't really play with Nikola Vucevic on defense, Elfrid Payton can't really play with Victor Oladipo on offense, we still don't know if Aaron Gordon can shoot, and Scott Skiles may actually murder Mario Hezonja if he ever lets him play.
That said, they're so athletic and the defensive potential on the perimeter is staggering. This team could take a leap under Scott Skiles, but I'm not sure it's going to happen early in the year. He's got a lot of teaching to do, and his system isn't picked up overnight. This team probably won't burst out of the gates as a top five defensive team and I'm not sure that they'll be able to score too many points either.
12. New York Knicks
2014-15 Record: 17-65 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 29.5
The Knicks added a ton of talent this offseason, including Carmelo Anthony who for all intents and purposes wasn't really on the dumpster fire of a roster in 2014-15. Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Anthony are all legitimate NBA players, and Kyle O'Quinn is better than anything they brought off the bench last season.
I'm a little unsure of them being able to hit this win total because Derek Fisher showed nothing in his rookie year and they'll be giving heavy minutes to young players like Kristaps Porzingis who, despite his potential, probably won't help much his rookie year.. Are they really 13 games better than they were last season?
11. Charlotte Hornets
2014-15 Record: 33-49 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 33.5
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's season-ending injury probably dooms this team, but if the rest of the roster stays healthy, there's a chance they'll be scrappier than you'd think. They've been bombing away from three during the preseason and if they add a dose of shooting volume (even at relatively low percentages) to Al Jefferson's steady diet of post-ups, they can compete in a muddled East. Steve Clifford is a good coach and will help them defend at a rate higher than they should, while Nicolas Batum, if his jumper is on, can hold down the wing in MKG's stead.
10. Indiana Pacers
2014-15 Record: 38-44 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 41.5
This is my favorite under bet in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the hope is that the Pacers will have Paul George back to 100%, and ordinarily, that'd bump up a win total significantly. That said, this team is going through a complete identity overhaul, losing their two best big men last season and replacing them with Jordan Hill and Myles Turner.
Paul George is openly unhappy about playing the power forward spot, and that's a problem. Small-ball only works with your team is willing to scramble on defense and crash the boards hard to overcome the size disadvantage, so disillusion is not a good addition to that cocktail. They're depending on Monta Ellis to score effectively and they no longer have the great perimeter defense to protect against hiccups in rim protection. This could go real bad in 2015-16, even if it turns around for the better eventually.
9. Detroit Pistons
2014-15 Record: 32-50 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 36.5
I think this team will be competing pretty intensely for the eight seed in the East, and I think they've got the tools to do it. Stan Van Gundy has built a poor man's version of the roster he had in Orlando with floor spacers and a killer 1-5 pick and roll attack with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. He'll have to coax a good defense from a roster with multiple question marks, but this team has a chance to be very competitive. Remember, they started last season 5-23 before jettisoning Josh Smith and turning their season around. If they win at the pace they did post-Smoove, this is a potential playoff team.
8. Boston Celtics
2014-15 Record: 40-42 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 44.5
I think this team's over/under is way too high. They played over their head at times last season, and teams will be more ready for them this year. They don't really have enough offensive weapons to score late in games, and while Amir Johnson is a nice add, he's not going to move the needle that much. They've got one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, and they've got defensive hounds littered across the perimeter. Isaiah Thomas is a legitimate scorer, but I just don't think this group of players can sustain the effort they'll need to sustain to take a five-win leap this season.
7. Milwaukee Bucks
2014-15 Record: 41-41 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 44.5
I really love this team's pieces individually, but the roster construction is poor here. I don't know if team length can save Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker as a defensive pairing even with heavy doses of John Henson. The starting lineup features one proven plus-shooter in Khris Middleton, so I'm not sure Greg Monroe's going to have much room to operate. The team was objectively bad after the trade to acquire Michael Carter-Williams, so until MCW figures out how to positively contribute to winning basketball on either end of the floor, it's going to hurt them. I'm worried about this team's ability to score in the half court, so they don't really have the luxury of a defensive drop-off.
But, y'know, Giannis is cool, and if he and Jabari go crazy this season, I might just look stupid.
6. Miami Heat
2014-15 Record: 37-45 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 45.5
Color me pessimistic on the Miami Heat. The team's talent level is certainly going to win them some games. Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng is certainly a talented group. They're going to just be better than other teams on given nights, including some of the league's best.
That said, Wade, Deng and Whiteside are all non-shooters, Dragic is not as consistently great as you'd think and needs the ball in his hands to be effective. The best shooter in this five-man unit is likely Chris Bosh, but his percentages plummet when he's not wide open.
This team is going to struggle to stay healthy, and their fit on both ends of the ball is suspect. They may roar out of the gates, but sustained high-level season long success would surprise me.
5. Toronto Raptors
2014-15 Record: 49-33 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 46.5
I kind of need to know how damaging their playoff humiliation against the Wizards was to their collective psyche. This team is talented on the perimeter, with a slimmed-down Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll looking like an imposing unit with Carroll specifically providing perimeter defense that was so clearly absent last year. They'll need Jonas Valanciunas to take a leap now that Amir Johnson has left town, and I'm not sure how they'll survive defensively. That said, this team was legitimately pretty good last season. I don't love them, but they'll still challenge teams.
4. Washington Wizards
2014-15 Record: 46-36 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 45.5
We've entered the second-highest tier in the East here. The Wizards are the first team I really expect to challenge the Cavaliers for the top spot in the conference, and they've got the horses to do it. John Wall is insane and should thrive in Washington's new much-discussed read-and-react offense they're installing. The Wizards have played weirdly traditional styles given their star, and if they let him loose, the results could be rewarding. I worry about the age and fit of their bigs and Otto Porter's progression, but they'll defend like hell and score just enough to take home plenty of wins.
3. Atlanta Hawks
2014-15 Record: 60-22 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 49.5
Holy expected regression, Batman. This team returns almost exactly the same roster with Tiago Splitter swapped in for DeMarre Carroll. I think this over/under is pretty harsh, though the team did falter down the stretch before a somewhat embarrassing postseason run. Splitter is great, but may mitigate the identity the Hawks had last season due to his lack of ability to space the floor. I think this team's still super talented though, and Dennis Schroder could take a leap at the point guard spot. They've got solid depth and few teams can match a healthy Paul Millsap and Al Horford. They could very well take a game or two against the Cavs if they met in the playoffs, though last year's performance may cast that into doubt.
2. Chicago Bulls
2014-15 Record: 50-32 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 49.5
Maybe it's just living in this city, but man, I think I'm a Fred Hoiberg believer. He had a well-earned reputation at Iowa State of using unconventional bigs creatively and leveraging their skills in a way that maximized their impact. The basketball fan in me is foaming at the mouth to see what he does with basketball weirdos like Jo Noah, Pau Gasol and Niko Mirotic. Derrick Rose is hurt again, as usual, but if Hoiberg can prevent a major dropoff defensively, this offense could be scary, which is a weird thing to say about the Chicago Bulls.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
2014-15 Record: 53-29 | 2015-16 Win Total Over/Under: 57.5
Long live the King. This team isn't healthy at all, and LeBron's going to have to do some heavy lifting early on. That said, the schedule is more than manageable in the early going, and this team is up to the task. They absolutely should win the East with little resistance. It's going to be a fun year in Cavalier-land.
Once Tristan Thompson signs a #$#*#%ing contract, that is. (Just kidding, take your time guys. I'm patiently waiting.)