The Eastern Conference is going to be absolutely stacked next season, with 9 teams competing for a shot at making the Eastern Conference Finals and potentially the NBA Finals. The years when the Western Conference greatly overpowered the Eastern Conference are over because there are a host of teams that are going all-in for an NBA championship. Luckily, franchises are realizing that settling for mediocrity is no longer an option, as teams are either going all-in for a championship or tanking to rebuild through the draft.
Looking ahead to the 2022-23 NBA season, the Eastern Conference looks absolutely stacked. The Boston Celtics made the NBA Finals last year, overcoming some very talented teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat in the same conference. Next year, the Celtics are looking to repeat a Finals run by retooling their roster, including bringing in Malcolm Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari. But obviously, the Bucks and Heat will be returning while other teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks, have also improved. Not to mention, the Brooklyn Nets, on paper, have one of the most impressive rosters in the league.
Here is the complete breakdown of the current Eastern Conference competition and an idea of just how tight the playoff seedings will be from start to finish.
Starting Lineup: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam
Best Players On Bench: Malachi Flynn, Otto Porter, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young, Juancho Hernangomez, Precious Achiuwa
The Toronto Raptors will be competing for the playoffs next season, mainly thanks to the brilliance of two All-Star players in Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam alongside a budding star in Scottie Barnes. Barnes, specifically, is considered untouchable for the Raptors franchise as he was not offered in any trade discussions for superstar Kevin Durant. Clearly, Barnes is the future of this team.
Next season, the Raptors will run it back with the same talented lineup as they wait for OG Anunoby to develop into a truly impactful player. As long as the Raptors can play hard on both ends of the floor and the youngsters continue to reach their potential, the team will be talented enough to make the postseason. Again, it will not be easy because there are legitimately 8 other win-now squads in the East, but Toronto will make some noise.
Starting Lineup: Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela
Best Players On Bench: Aaron Holiday, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Holiday, Jalen Johnson, Onyeka Okongwu, Frank Kaminsky
The Atlanta Hawks were dismantled in the first round of the playoffs last year and looked out of their depth when compared to their run in 2021. But overall, the Hawks will have enough to make a serious push in the East next year with the addition of All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. The Hawks will likely need more pieces if they want to compete at the top, but on paper, their starting lineup looks very solid.
Trae Young will be Trae Young, as evidenced by his fantastic season last year when he posted 28.4 PPG and 9.7 APG. Arguably a top-10 player in the game, Young is a fantastic offensive player who creates for others and can also score 30 points a game. His partnership with Murray will be interesting because the former San Antonio Spurs guard is an elite defensive player who brings controlled playmaking ability. Together, the Hawks have the talent to make the playoffs as they look to add a third big name.
Starting Lineup: Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, Nikola Vucevic
Best Players On Bench: Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr, Andre Drummond
The Chicago Bulls had a great start to the season last year, as their franchise star DeMar DeRozan was in the MVP race at one point. But they faltered towards the end of the season and in the playoffs due to the unfortunate injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso. Not to mention, they lost Patrick Williams early on into the season. Next year, the Bulls should be back at full health with their talented starting lineup. Importantly, Chicago also bolstered their depth with the addition of Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond.
The Bulls have excellent two-way guard play with Ball and Caruso alongside Zach LaVine. Vucevic has proven to be a double-double threat when on the court, and he has solid backup with a former rebounding champion off the bench. Chicago has enough scoring and defense to be a factor in the East, but they just need to make it click. But their biggest hope remains in DeRozan and LaVine proving they can compete with the league’s best duos across the NBA.
Starting Lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Best Players On Bench: Ricky Rubio, Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Lamar Stevens, Robin Lopez
The Cleveland Cavaliers made the biggest splash of the offseason by bringing in 3-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell. Cleveland almost made the playoffs with an extremely young core led by first-time All-Star Darius Garland, so bringing in another explosive guard who averaged 25.9 PPG last year will be a huge deal in the city of Cleveland. The backcourt of Garland and Mitchell will be extremely exciting to watch, especially with Ricky Rubio and Caris LeVert backing them up. Quite frankly, very few teams have Cleveland’s guard talent.
The Cavaliers also have two excellent big men in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, men who can score inside and also defend at a very high level. Mobley was in the running for Rookie of the Year last year and could begin his ascension into an All-Star as soon as 2023. If Cleveland can keep Kevin Love as another solid bench option, they should aim to make a deep playoff run as they will be guaranteed a playoff spot. Mitchell is reportedly excited to be with the Cavaliers, so the present and future are looking extremely promising.
Starting Lineup: Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Tobias Harris, P. J. Tucker, Joel Embiid
Best Players On Bench: De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang, Paul Reed
The Philadelphia 76ers made some very strong moves by firstly consulting James Harden in terms of taking less money on his contract. That allowed the team to bring in valuable role players in P. J. Tucker and De’Anthony Melton who will both play vital roles on defense and also when it comes to making open shots. With an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid on the squad, Philly understands that they will need to go all in every season. In 2023, they are placing their entire stock on their superstar big man and also in All-Star James Harden.
James Harden will need to return to superstar form for Philly to have a chance at winning it all because last season’s version will not cut it. Harden must average close to 25 PPG for Philly to be a legitimate title contender because an aggressive version of himself will open plenty of opportunities for other players. Tyrese Maxey will continue his ascension into a star next year, and the rest of the roster looks solid. If Embiid can stay healthy and Harden returns to superstar form, they will be a massive problem next year.
Starting Lineup: Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Kevin Durant, Ben Simmons, Nicolas Claxton
Best Players On Bench: Patty Mills, Cam Thomas, Joe Harris, Royce O’Neale, T. J. Warren, Markieff Morris
The Brooklyn Nets could either be a disaster next season or click on all cylinders with their superstar roster. It is very likely that team chemistry is not at its apex right now, even if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are moving forward with the team. Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the world behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he will always be a threat to average 30 PPG efficiently. Alongside him is Kyrie, a player who has elite ball-handling ability and will be legible to play the entire season at home. Together, the Nets have the best offensive duo in the NBA. Of course, there is also Ben Simmons, a versatile player who can play elite defense and also act as a primary playmaker even if he starts at the forward position.
If Simmons can return to full health and get his mental health in order, Brooklyn’s Big Three is the best in the NBA by quite a margin. Alongside them is Seth Curry, one of the best shooters in the league, and an active big man in Nic Claxton. With the additions of Royce O’Neale and T. J. Warren, Brooklyn also has more depth to make a playoff push. Unfortunately for Nets fans, the team will have to undergo a ton of “ifs” regarding their star players and all-around team chemistry. If they get it together, the Nets have as good of a chance as the other top-3 teams in the Eastern Conference.
Starting Lineup: Kyle Lowry, Victor Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo
Best Players On Bench: Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, Nikola Jovic, Dewayne Dedmon
The Miami Heat were a Jimmy Butler shot away from making the NBA Finals last year, even without the presence of Tyler Herro in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami lost P. J. Tucker, and they will miss his presence as a defender and corner three-point shooter. Instead, it is expected that Caleb Martin will start in his place to space the floor. It was expected that Miami would have made a big move for Kevin Durant, but without him, they might have to fall behind the top-two teams in the East as things stand.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are one of the best duos in the NBA, and Tyler Herro is the best 6th man in the league after averaging 20.7 PPG on 44.7% FG, 39.9% 3-PT FG, and 86.8% FT. The Heat might also have Victor Oladipo returning to full form, and he will be a massive boost as he was a former All-Star and All-NBA performer. The Heat culture is set in stone and for that, they will contend as most likely a top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference. If Kyle Lowry can return to All-Star form, he will be a massive boost because last year he was incredibly inconsistent and wasn’t fully healthy.
Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Best Players On Bench: George Hill, Wesley Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Joe Ingles, Bobby Portis, Serge Ibaka
The Milwaukee Bucks are only two years away from reigning as NBA champions, and they were outplayed on both ends of the floor against the Boston Celtics last season. Their excuse was a good one because they did not have Khris Middleton, their second-best player by a mile, on the floor alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis and Middleton are an incredibly talented duo that complement each other, and Jrue Holiday is still one of the best defenders in the league. In terms of impact, the Bucks have one of the top-five starting lineups in the NBA when they are fully healthy.
The Bucks also have solid veterans coming off the bench, including Bobby Portis, Joe Ingles, Serge Ibaka, Wesley Matthews, and George Hill. These are capable role players who can shoot the ball, defend, and take smart shots. Of course, Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world. If the Bucks are fully healthy, they will be one of the best teams in the NBA as only one team has a slightly better chance at making the NBA Finals ahead of them.
Starting Lineup: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams
Best Players On Bench: Malcolm Brogdon, Payton Pritchard, Derrick White, Danilo Gallinari, Grant Williams, Luke Kornet
Out of respect for the Boston Celtics making the NBA Finals last year, they deserve to be ranked the best team in the conference. The duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown proved devastating for opposing defenses. The Celtics also have capable defenders, including reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Robert Williams, and Derrick White to back them up. But the biggest reason why the Celtics are the favorites to return to the Finals is the fact that they brought in Malcolm Brogdon to shore up their backcourt. Last season, the Celtics could not handle the ball well enough.
Brogdon averaged 19.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, and 5.9 APG on 44.8% FG, 31.2% 3-PT FG, and 85.6% FT. Brogdon is an efficient playmaker who brings size (6’5”) and shooting ability, so he will have a massive impact on the team. Boston is bringing back the same team that made the Finals last year except they have a real point guard who can make plays for others. Of course, Danilo Gallinari was expected to be another solid option, but he will likely miss most of the season with a torn ACL. The Celtics suffered through a disappointing end to last season and will be motivated to make another run at it again.