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Simply Ballin's 2022-23 East Rankings

Simply Ballin's 2022-23 East Rankings

Welcome to Simply Ballin’s team predictions! I’ll be going through the East standings and putting teams in tiers(which may kind of be slightly different).

When making these predictions, I think there is a slight difference in how a team may do in the regular season and their ceiling in the playoffs. There are teams that aren’t necessarily going to deal with load management, injuries, or other external factors, which obviously means finishing with a better record. But that doesn’t always translate into the playoffs.

On the flip side, there are teams that may not go 100% in the regular season, and rest more players, but are still more equipped to make a deeper playoff run than certain great regular season teams.

Team names are linked to the team’s season preview!

Top tier Contenders: 76ers, Bucks, Celtics, Heat

This is the tier for the top teams. They are the legit contenders that all have around the same chance at making the finals. Also, none of these teams may necessarily have success in the regular season but will be more suited for a deep playoff run.

Despite losing PJ Tucker, and making little to zero moves, the Miami Heat are still contenders to me. They still have the concerns from last season going forward — questionable half-court offense, health, and players needing to step up — but I think they’re overblown, especially in the regular season.

Even last year, there was talk that the Heat lacked depth and will be more of a threat in the playoffs. But time and time again, Erik Spoelstra finds unlikely contributors that turn out to be quality starters. Last year, they had Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, and Tyler Herro all missing time, yet they finished first — and I don’t think that was a fluke.

They will still have an elite defense with both Adebayo and Butler — it doesn’t matter who the other three players are on the court. And what we’ve seen Butler in the playoffs, we know he’s capable of playing at a top 5 level. This year, it will all depend on who’s going to step up or at least not shoot 20% on open and wide-open shots.

The Milwaukee Bucks are going to be good. Period. Giannis Antetokounmpo is that good — Per PBP, over the past three seasons, the Bucks are plus 10.6 with him on the court in 6134 minutes. When you include both Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, they are plus 11.7 over two seasons.

So, there is little doubt about their success in the regular season. As for the playoffs, you can argue that the Bucks make the finals if Middleton was healthy this year. Although, I don’t think they are as dominant or above any team. But at the end of the day, it’s hard to bet against Antetokounmpo.

I’m not a believer in the Boston Celtics. This is a team that got pushed to seven by teams they should have comfortably beaten. I also think the addition of Malcolm Brogdon has been overrated.

Another question I have is their defense. They are going to miss Robert Williams early in the season plus Al Horford is 36 years old. Is Horford the next LeBron James when it comes to beating father time? Because he was huge in their playoff run.

I also don’t think they will be able to sustain their level of defense — they were elite since January 1st. If there’s a regression on the defensive end, there needs to be some improvement on the offense.

I really like the Philadelphia 76ers, especially in the regular season. They have a good chance of finishing with the top seed. We’re going to see the James Harden and Joel Embiid duo play more, and have better chemistry, and because of it, they should be elite.

Harden is going to be better with an off-season getting healthier, Embiid is going to carry on having MVP-caliber seasons, and there is a potential leap from Tyrese Maxey. Their supporting cast around Tobias Harris, Tucker, and De’Anthony Melton look solid, too.

Though, if I had to pick, I’d bet on the other three teams making it further in the playoffs. They need to prove they are capable of making a such deep playoff run.

High ceiling but a lot has to go right: Cavaliers, Nets, Raptors

The teams in this tier would usually be ones that you don’t want to see in the playoffs. You always get one or two of those teams that, man, you don’t want to face and risk having a seven-game series.

This is also the group that could make a deep playoff run and tests the contenders but a lot has to go right for them to do that, and I’d still bet against them in most cases.

The Brooklyn Nets are a weird team. Some of me believe their ceiling is one of the highest in the East because they still do have Kevin freaking Durant, Kyrie Irving, and now Ben Simmons playing. I kinda like this big three. Even the rest of the team looks decent, especially on offense.

But this team has a bunch of other issues. For starters, health and availability is a major one — that has been the one reason why the previous big three couldn’t win anything. And their defense is going to have a lot of questions going forward.

With that said, the Nets can easily go one way or the other. They could make the conference finals if all cards fall into place, or they’ll flame out in the first round for the second straight year.

I’ve put the Toronto Raptors in this tier because they somehow always end up exceeding expectations. However, I wouldn’t bet on their ceiling to be a conference finals appearance. There is talent on the team — All-NBA caliber in Pascal Siakam, an All-Star caliber in Fred VanVleet, and a collection of young talent ready to take a leap.

But I still think there are questions regarding their offense. Last year they ranked second (behind the Nets) in isolation frequency, but only averaged 0.83 points per possession, good for fourth-worst. I wonder what changes there will be to make the offense better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers can make some noise. I think they’re one year or one change away from being in the upper tier — not making a team comparison, but I feel like this is their 2014 Golden State Warriors season.

They made a splash in the off-season by trading for a top-25 player in Donovan Mitchell. I loved this trade. Not only do they get one of the best offensive guards in the league, but what they gave up, as far as player contributions from this season, isn’t a lot. They basically swapped Lauri Markkanen for him.

Darius Garland is going to be Mitchell’s best offensive teammate and those two could be deadly in the backcourt. It is an undersized one, though and any time there’s an undersized backcourt, I think of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The only difference here is the talent surrounding them, particularly on defense.

Having both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley in the front court will elevate the defense tremendously — Per CTG, with both on the floor, they had a 105.7 defense(94th percentile).

Combine that defense, plus the potential leap from Mobley on the offensive end, and this team could go far. Per PBP, over the past three playoffs, the Utah Jazz had a 120 offensive rating with Mitchell on, so we know he can make the offense significantly better.

Playoff bound with low ceiling: Hawks, Bulls

These two teams are kinda playoff locks to me. Technically, they’d still be in the play-in, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if one of them swapped places above. I’m still pretty confident in them making the playoffs one way or another.

The Chicago Bulls missing Lonzo Ball is unfortunate, especially when last season also got derailed because of injuries. Their defense relied heavily on both Ball and Alex Caruso being on the court — the Bulls were plus 9.8 with a 104.8 defense(95th percentile) with both on, but were minus 3.2 and had a 119.1 defense(10th) without. A 15-point swing on defense is insane.

But I still believe the core of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic, plus improvements from the young guys, are good enough offensively to carry this team into the playoffs. Although, I don’t know what DeRozan we’re going to see. I do expect some regression from the monster season he just had.

I think I’m pretty low on the Atlanta Hawks than other people. Despite sending quite a good amount of future picks for Dejounte Murray, I don’t think I believe in them. I don’t think they improved as much as some people make it out to be.

My hesitation is less about Murray and Trae Young and more so about the team in general. But even those two, their fit needs quite a bit of work for them to be effective. They are both highly ball dominant and aren’t exactly the best off the ball, so it will be interesting how they’ll change their playstyle.

My main issue is the rest of the team and their defense. They’ve been a bottom-five defense in four of the last five seasons. Sure, Murray is one of the best guard defenders but a guard is not going to turn your defense around. I know the context is but even with the San Antonio Spurs, for the past three seasons, they had a 113.7 defense with him and a 112.7 without.

Let’s just make the play-in: Wizards, Magic, Knicks

These are the teams that I think are just good enough to make the play-in and have no hope of making the top 6 and are most likely getting eliminated in the play-in.

I don’t care that the New York Knicks got Jalen Brunson — that was a solid signing, though. I don’t care that they may have improved on paper. I felt the same last year after they made the playoffs for the first time in a while.

I’m not getting fooled by the Knicks until they give me a reason not to. Their rank also has more to do with the rest of the teams. Every team in the upper tier is 100% better, and I don’t see any arguments against that.

The Washington Wizards are undoubtedly going to be better if Bradley Beal is going to play more games. But I don’t think it will be that much better. Pairing Beal with Kristaps Porzingis, who’s most likely the best big man he’s played with, should be fun. They have a bunch of wing depth that also should contribute consistently.

I’m most looking forward to the Orland Magic. This is going to be one hell of a young, fun, and exciting team. There’s so much to look forward to. Franz Wagner improving on his great rookie season. The number one overall pick, Paolo Banchero showing his talent off. Wendell Carter Jr taking a potential leap, and maybe win the most improved player. Their frontcourt is going to be fun! They had a decent defense toward the end of the year, and that may improve going forward. What’s needed now, is to kickstart their offense — they haven’t had an above-average offense since 2012 and only once were better than 20th.

Lottery bound: Pistons, Hornets, Pacers

I’m confident in these three teams being the worst in the conference with almost zero chance of even making the play-in. And I don’t see any of these teams wanting to be better when they could have higher odds of winning the lottery.

The Indiana Pacers are finally going into the season and won’t be stuck in mediocrity. For the past couple of years, the Pacers have always been that team that could be good enough to make the playoffs, but have an extremely low ceiling and always gets derailed by injuries.

Now, they’re entering with a core young core of Tyrese Haliburton, Benedict Mathurin, Isaiah Jackson, and Jalen Smith. They did have the worst defense(7.9 points worse than average) from February 1st, so I won’t be expecting them to win many games. It will also be interesting to see if they’ll finally move on from Myles Turner and Buddy Hield.

Man, I feel like the Charlotte Hornets are going to be bad-bad. They got worse this off-season. Although it’s understandable why Miles Bridges doesn’t have a job, it’s going to hurt losing your leading scorer. The Hornets were minus 2.1 with a 111.4 offense and a 113.5 defense without Bridges, per Cleaning the Glass.

LaMelo Ball is going to be LaMelo — he’s going to dazzle the fans with his insane passes and long-range shooting, but there will be only so much that he can do. They still have solid veterans in Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, but I don’t know how much I like that.

The Detroit Pistons are an interesting team, one that I think could have a shot at the play-in, but would still opt in to shutting the season down rather than push for it. But despite what their record may say, this team is going to be fun — from Cade Cunningham’s potential leap, and Jaden Ivey’s rookie season to improvements from the rest of the young core.

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