Make no mistake: the Eastern Conference doesn't lack worthy challengers to the Cavs when this brand new season opens on October 25. You've seen our forecast for the Top 8 of the conference (based on playoff seeds last season) yesterday. If you think those eight are a lock to make it back to the NBA post-season in April 2017, then you're dead wrong. Thanks to lucrative free agent signings and unexpected player transfers, the reconfigured Eastern Conference is now loaded with superstars and upstarts aching to duke it out with Mr. James and Co. and the rest of the biggies in the league. Here we present the dangerously sneaky would-be disruptors in the East—and the plotlines that will likely determine how explosive they can be this season.
Are Chicago Bulls’ Big Three threatening at all?
It’s undeniable that Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Butler are still intimidating players. Wade showed he was still a force to be reckoned with in his last year with the Miami Heat, leading them past the first round of the 2016 playoffs. Rondo was statistically great across-the-board with the Kings while Olympic gold medal winner Butler proved he’s the clear-cut King Bull at the moment. But as a trio, they lack the three-point proficiency to succeed in a league where outside shooting has become primarily important. Collectively, they shot a measly 27 percent from beyond the arc last season. For the Bulls to stay relevant this year, Wade and Rondo better play in perfect form to compensate for the perimeter deficiency.
Will the Washington Wizards ever get their act together?
If John Wall and Bradley Beal can stay healthy and play harmoniously with each other, then they’ll certainly be in the running for being named the best backcourt duo in the NBA. Wall is a top-5 point guard in the NBA and Beal, when focused, is one of the most dangerous scorers at the two spot. Injuries and lack of chemistry forced the Wizards to miss a follow-up to their promising campaign two years ago. Now, Wall and Beal must put aside their differences on and off the court for the team to get back to relevancy.
Can we consider the New York Knicks a superteam?
If we were in 2008, then yes they could be deemed as one. The Knicks boast a starting five composed of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carmelo Anthony, Kriztaps Porzingis, and Brandon Jennings. The most attractive name in that bunch is Porzingis as he’s the only one in the group who hasn’t gone through a major injury. Yep, Anthony has yet to have a career-altering surgery, but his knees can act up anytime given his mileage at this stage of his career. We’re not putting down the Knickerbockers, though, we're actually rooting for them to have a magical, injury-free run. When healthy, this New York squad can actually do great things.
Will the Milwaukee Bucks gamble on Thon Maker pay off?
The Bucks’ lottery pick in the 2016 Draft is a 7’1”, 220-pound swingman Sudanese native Thon Maker. He was the 10th overall selection. The first nine teams probably shied away from the towering youngster because they didn’t know what to make of the guy. No one has probably seen a player that tall with a guard’s skillset before. Whatever happens, we’re fired up to see the Bucks’ newest 100 million-dollar man Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo running side by side with Maker on a Milwaukee fastbreak. If that becomes a thing in the NBA, they’ll be the perfect embodiments of the term freakish athleticism.
Is New York ready for Brooklinsanity?
In 2012, Jeremy Lin averaged 24.6 ppg and 9.2 apg during a 10-game tear that eventually gave birth to the global phenomenon dubbed Linsanity. Are we going to see Jeremy Lin doing MVP-like things again with the Brooklyn Nets. Well, this we can say: Lin’s stats are very likely to get a boost because no one from the Nets is capable of producing decent numbers other than him and injury-prone Brook Lopez.
Why do we need to watch Orlando Magic games?
We really can’t sleep on the Orlando Magic. They’re pretty solid on the frontcourt with Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo laying the smack down in the interior. The Magic is also armed with two international gunners, Evan Fournier and Mario Hezonja. Their floor general, Elfrid Payton, is dependable too. But, hey, the real reason why we need to watch Orlando Magic games is to see Aaron “Air” Gordon highlights.
Can Joel Embiid save the Sixers?
Philly just won 10 games last season. The new season already started horribly for the 76ers, with 2016 top pick and designated savior Ben Simmons unlikely to suit up because of his fractured foot. But who knows, maybe social media goofball center Joel Embiid, who has been sidelined for two years because of injuries, can now finally stay healthy and help prevent another last place finish for the team. The debuting former Kansas City Jayhawk has showed flashes of brilliance in the preseason. So, there is that chance, he’ll excel in an actual NBA game. Philly locals better hope his talent level will match his extreme goofiness on Twitter.