The East below the fold
David Thorpe on the Raptors, Hawks, Pacers, Bulls, Nets, Magic, Hornets, Wizards, and Pistons
BY DAVID THORPE
A few weeks ago, I suggested dismantling the Milwaukee Bucks. Then we went into some depth discussing the Heat, 76ers, Celtics, Cavaliers, and Knicks, who are all in the mix at the top of the Eastern Conference. The East is more top heavy than it was a year ago, when fringe contenders like the Raptors, Bulls, and Hawks had lofty aspirations. Each team’s season ended in disappointment, resulting in a litany of questions about the future.
Meanwhile, fascinating things are happening with the rest of the East. The Pacers and Nets are developing stars like Tyrese Haliburton and Mikal Bridges, who both played huge roles for Team USA this summer. The Hawks could have the league’s best offense. The Magic have some interesting pieces around Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. And then there are the ever-fascinating Raptors, who have failed to realize the high expectations they’ve had every year since winning the 2019 title.
Addressing teams by highest-to-lowest probability to make the playoffs, here are my thoughts on the rest of the East:
Will the Raptors finally realize their immense talent?
My friends in Memphis tell me that losing new Raptors head coach Darko Rajaković, a former assistant for many of the league’s best teams, is huge. The Serbian head coach is well-respected in league circles, and he’s very good. But he’s in his first year as the top guy, and a swirling storm surrounds this Raptors squad.
As for the roster, it’s trickier—and if the Raptors end up going all in for Damian Lillard, the personnel could change dramatically. Before Dame came into play, there were whispers that, with Fred VanVleet gone to Houston, Scottie Barnes would run the point.
Time will tell if that’s the right answer, but Barnes is, at the very least, a gifted and willing passer. A starting five of Barnes, Dennis Schröder, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl has potential. Schröder can help organize the team, with help from Siakam, who racked up six assists per game last season.
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