Blame AAU basketball, blame the one-and-done generation, blame whatever you want, but what cannot be argued is that there is an international wave taking over the NBA. Increasingly it seems like the best and most influential players in the NBA are from countries and regions outside of the U.S.
The Eastern Conference is Saving the NBA
Back in October, we mentioned how the Eastern Conference was essentially saving the NBA by offering the only kind of unpredictable basketball we could expect. We figured since the King left for LA, the Eastern Conference was now up for grabs. Well since October a lot has happened and the conference is now more intriguing than ever.
Since then, the 76ers added two all-star caliber players, the Toronto Raptors traded for a former all-NBA player and now field a starting 5 featuring two former Defensive Players of the Year, the Boston Celtics started rough but seem to have things figured out, Budenholzer has the Bucks on pace for 60 wins, and the Pacers rose as high as the two-seed before suffering a season ending injury to their best player.
In other words, we have no idea who is going to win the Eastern Conference.
As things stand the Milwaukee Bucks are the 1-seed, the Raptors are second, the Pacers are third, the 76era are fourth and the Celtics are fifth. Let's assume the Pacers are out of the championship equation following the loss of Victor Oladipo for the season, where do the other four team stand and who makes it out?
Boston Celtics (35-21)
The preseason favorites were the Boston Celtics, after all they took the Cavs to 7 games in the conference finals without two of their best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. But the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward has alienated the same players who helped them to the conference finals and the roster is full of players who don't understand and/or agree with their roles.
Milwaukee Bucks (42-14)
The Bucks are currently the one seed and have been outstanding so far this season. However, Budenholzer has earned a reputation as a regular season coach that struggles in the playoffs. And on the other hand, Antetokounmpo is having a career year but as we have detailed in the past he tends to struggle in the playoffs. The Bucks got him more help on deadline day but it remains to be seen if Antetokounmpo can improve in the playoffs or even just remain the same.
Toronto Raptors (42-16)
Next up are the Raptors, they had one of the deepest rosters in the league going into the season and they parleyed some of those assets to acquire former Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. On paper the Raptors are doing well but what might trip them up is the happiness of Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry already had beef with the front office but that only got worse when news came out that they tried to trade him for Mike Conley towards the end of the trade deadline. Kyle Lowry is the leader of this franchise and this might not go down well.
Philadelphia 76ers (36-20)
Last and certainly not least are the Philadelphia 76ers who finally have a team capable of competing for a championship. From the 1 to the 5, the 76ers have 5 all-star caliber players after the acquisition of Tobias Harris who was having a career year with the Clippers on 21 points and 8 rebounds a game. The only issue with the 76ers is their lack of depth but the argument could be made that depth doesn't really matter in the playoffs where stars are expected to play close to 40 minutes a night.
The East is saving basketball for NBA fans around the world and we have no idea who will win the conference.
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