The All-Star Game is coming up, so we decided to take a look at where the East stands at the symbolic midway point. I’d like to thank David, Chris and the rest of the gang at Fear The Sword for giving me this opportunity. Here are my Eastern Conference power rankings:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (37-14, 1st in East) - The Cavaliers are starting to settle into post-Blatt life, and every game that goes by sees Kyrie Irving return more to form. Kyrie’s last five games: 26.2 points, 6.6 assists, 2.8 boards, while shooting 54% from the floor and 37% from three. Watch out. Elsewhere, JR Smith's red-hot shooting and consistent defensive play have been a constant since the new year and he was snubbed from competing in the Three-Point Shootout at All Star Weekend in Toronto. Starting at the beginning of 2016, JR has made the most threes of anyone in the NBA besides Steph Curry, and is now up to 40% on the year which is remarkable after his slow start to the season (and would also virtually tie his best shooting season ever). He’s making five 3s a game in February so far while shooting a scorching 45.5% on 11 attempts per game.
2. Toronto Raptors (35-16, 2nd in East) - The first couple months of the NBA season saw multiple teams declared as the East's 2nd best team with Miami, Indiana, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago all taking turns. The Raptors have now securely cemented themselves in this position, and with All-Star Weekend being held in Toronto and Kyle Lowry in the game as a starter with Demar DeRozan coming off the bench, things are looking very good up north. Watch out for these guys at the upcoming trade deadline; they have assets in draft picks and young prospects like the two young Brazilians Bruno Cabolco and Bebe Nogueira and also combo guard Delon Wright (a first rounder in the past draft). They could use an upgrade at the 4 over the adequate but not spectacular combination of Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson or possibly an upgrade at the 3 with DeMarre Carroll still on the shelf for the foreseeable future. Grabbing someone like Ryan Anderson would be scary for opponents and the Raptors may have a shot at getting this done.
3. Boston Celtics (31-23, 3rd in East) – Loaded with more assets than any team in the league, the Celtics are also going to be involved in most of the trade discussions before the deadline but it is unlikely the big name they crave will be available.
4. Miami Heat (29-24, 5th in East) – The big looming question for them is what to do with Hassan Whiteside. He’s a free agent after the year, they don’t own his Bird Rights and he doesn’t seem to fit into the Heat culture, but he’s also leading the league in blocks at 3.9 per game, a good 1.5 more than anyone else.
5. Indiana Pacers (28-24, 6th in East)
6. Atlanta Hawks (30-24, 4th in East) - To the surprise of almost no one, the Hawks have failed to repeat their magic of last year's 60-win season and now according to a report from ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst, the organization may be looking to switch things up with the trade deadline looming. Center Al Horford will be one of the top names on the free agent market this summer and if Atlanta doesn't want to max him out or potentially lose him for nothing, they may move him before the deadline. Point guard Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver's names have come up in trade rumors as well. The past iteration of the Hawks, led by guys like Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, were stuck as an average playoff team for years without much hope of moving above that and the organization seems to not want to be stuck in slightly above-average mediocrity again.
7. Detroit Pistons (27-26, 8th in East)
8. Charlotte Hornets (26-26, 9th in East) – These guys have won 4 of their last 5, 7 of their last 10, and are starting to get fully healthy. Defensive ace Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is back, Nicolas Batum is healthy, Kemba Walker is continuing his career year and Marvin Williams is thriving as a stretch/small-ball 4. Kidd-Gilchrist is rebounding and defending like he always does, but what has been a welcome surprise has been him matching his career total in three pointers made. In MKG’s first 3 seasons, he played 195 games and made a total of 3 3-pointers, which is the same amount he’s made in 6 games this year. It isn’t much, but he is often left unguarded out there and knocking a few down will help open things up more for Kemba, Jeremy Lin and others.
9. Chicago Bulls (27-24, 7th in East) - It’s been a rough go recently for the Bulls. They have lost three in a row, are now in the negative on point differential on the season and just lost their best player in Jimmy Butler for the next 3-5 weeks. Their plan coming into the season was to give it one more shot with the same roster and maybe new Head Coach Fred Hoiberg could instill some life. At times, they can look great, but overall injuries and inconsistency on both ends of the floor has made this an up and down season. Butler is out and Charlotte is playing well again, and Chicago may actually be in danger of falling out of the playoff picture. With Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah amongst others entering free agency, the Bulls seem due for a major shakeup this offseason. When healthy and clicking, I would definitely put the Bulls in the upper echelon of the East but right now they are neither.
10. Washington Wizards (23-27, 11th in East) – The most disappointing team in the East this season reached the .500 mark at 19-19 a couple of weeks ago. Since then, they’re just 4-8 as the disappointment continues.
11. Orlando Magic (23-28, 10th in East)
12. Milwaukee Bucks (21-32, 13th in East)– He’s coming off an ACL tear and deserves some slack, but for all the hype he got coming into the league, Jabari Parker has had a pretty anonymous sophomore campaign. Touted as a stretch-4 coming into the NBA, he has yet to make a three-pointer this season in just seven attempts.
13. New York Knicks (23-32, 12th in East) - With a guard/wing rotation of Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant, Langston Galloway and Sasha Vujacic, it might be asking a coach a bit much to get these guys in the playoffs, even with Melo and the emergence of Kristaps Porzingis. But GM Phil Jackson must've had higher expectations and fired 2nd year Head Coach Derek Fisher this week. Tom Thibodeau is arguably the best coaching candidate on the market and the Knicks are reportedly his dream job. But Phil supposedly wants a guy who he is close with and will incorporate the triangle and names like Warriors assistant Luke Walton and former Nuggets' Head Coach Brian Shaw are being floated around. But aren't those criteria exactly what Fisher fit? The Knicks are just one game below .500 when Carmelo plays this year and 0-7 when he sits.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (8-44, 15th in East)
15. Brooklyn Nets (14-39, 14th in East) – Still the most hopeless franchise in the league.