The Raptors are a scary team, much more frightening than we all thought. After Kawhi Leonard left, Pascal Siakam has established himself as a top 15 guy in the league, and is a candidate for Most Improved Player for his second year in a row. He can score, defend, and shoot. He has doubled his 3 point attempts from last year he is still right at 36%. Kyle Lowry, as always, is no slouch. He is a cerebral point guard that makes the right reads consistently. His ability to defend bigs and wings on a switch is probably the best in the game for his position, and Nick Nurse utilizes this to an advantage in their defensive rotations. Ad Fred VanVleet to the mix as a reliable scorer as a starter or running the second unit and the Raptors have the ability to beat anyone on any given night.
Boston is the most interesting team in this bunch, they’ve had a lot of variance the last couple of years. The young duo of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been to the eastern conference finals twice already, basically by themselves. The J-team made a dramatic leap this year after suffering a slump in the previous year. Tatum especially. Both were All Star candidates but Tatum has established himself as the best player on this team, with Kemba Walker, an all nba guard coming in at close second. Kemba, statistically, has almost the same time of possession and passes as Kyrie Irving did in the previous year. The difference here is how the team has functions in the locker room, chemistry matters. Adding to that chemistry is the re-emerging Gordon Hayward, who is now looking a lot like Utah Gordy. Hayward’s performance could be what this team needs to get over the hump. In addition, this team is also currently ranked 5th in league on defense, despite not having a reliable center. All this working together in Brad Stevens’s system, and this team could make a serious run in Disney World.
The Bucks are, no doubt, the best team in the east. The reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is even better than he was last year. He’s improved his shooting from long range, his playmaking and passing has been on a steady incline, and, of course, he’s an alien from outer space that can literally jump over people to get to the basket.
Though the loss of Malcolm Brogdon appeared to be a significant one, they’ve only gotten better. Mike Budenholzer has taken the Bucks to their peak, and had the team on a record setting point differential pace. Giannis’s ability to draw double and triple teams leaves his teammates open to make plays. Brook and Robin Lopez are good big men in rotation, and Eric Bledsoe and George Hill are quality duo in the backcourt. Khris Middleton, the guy who makes this all work, is a perfect second option on offense. He’s 0.1% away from being a 50-40-90 guy and is a high volume rebounder for his position. As a whole, the Bucks are definitive favorites to win the east.
Photo: (Greg M. Cooper – USA Today)