Power Rankings
Power Rankings

Mid-Summer Power Rankings: Boston Celtics set to rule Eastern Conference for years

Boston primed to shine in Eastern Conference's post-LeBron James world

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

Archive

Jul 30, 2018 10:37 AM ET

Depth, youth and continuity make the Celtics a formidable force in the East.

Where does the departure of LeBron James leave the Eastern Conference? In pretty good hands, actually, because some of the best teams in the conference should be even better this year.

The Boston Celtics, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward joining a group that almost reached The Finals two months ago, would have been the favorite in the East even if James stayed in Cleveland. The Philadelphia 76ers didn't add a marquee free agent, but still have two of the best young stars in the league, along with a top-five defense. The Toronto Raptors upgraded from DeMar DeRozan to Kawhi Leonard (assuming the latter is healthy).

> Western Conference Mid-Summer Power Rankings

The Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards fortified their benches, while the Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Hornets (all solid squads) shook things up with coaching changes.

Some teams will disappoint, but others will exceed expectations. Here's how we see the East stacking up with most of the summer's business having been taken care of. (And here's how the West is looking, too).

For these mid-Summer rankings, we're looking at each conference separately and we'll have Western Conference rankings next Monday (Aug. 6). The "Last Week" rankings are based on how teams did in the playoffs and regular season.

  • April 9: Cavs and Warriors look vulnerable as regular season closes
  • This time last year: West makes power moves to increase conference imbalance -- Kyrie Irving hadn't been traded yet, but Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap had all moved from the Eastern Conference to the West, while the biggest star to go in the opposite direction is the one who would suffer a horrific injury on the first night of the season. The Celtics and Sixers made a draft-pick swap that we'll be talking about for a long time and Dwight Howard got traded for a mostly unplayable center on a bad contract. We ranked the Hornets too high (15) and the Pacers much too low (27).

* * *

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averaged 99.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions last season.

* * *

NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

* * *

1
Last week:
2

2017-18 record: 55-27
Pace: 98.2 (23) OffRtg: 105.2 (18) DefRtg: 101.5 (1) NetRtg: +3.7 (6)

Key addition(s): Healthy stars
Key departure(s): Any thoughts that they aren't the best team in the East
Key question: How tough will it be to find Boston hotel space in June?

A year ago, the Celtics' story was a lack of continuity, with only four guys returning from the team that reached the conference finals in 2017. This year, they're returning 13, including their top 10 guys in regard to minutes played last season. And yet, they're adding Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a team that would have reached The Finals had it not missed a ton of open jumpers in Game 7 against Cleveland. With the continued development of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, they have a plethora of weapons. Still, Al Horford remains their most important player and arguably the best player in the Eastern Conference going into the season, given that he outplayed both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid in the playoffs.

2
Last week:
3

2017-18 record: 59-23
Pace: 99.8 (13) OffRtg: 111.0 (3) DefRtg: 103.4 (5) NetRtg: +7.6 (3)

Key addition(s): Kawhi Leonard, Uncle Dennis, Danny Green
Key departure(s): The Coach of the Year & the franchise's all-time leading scorer
Key question: Are they getting a healthy and fully-engaged Leonard?

We don't know how healthy Leonard is or how engaged he'll be with a team that he didn't want to be traded to. But the Raptors have raised their ceiling and have the ability to put together some really good defensive lineups, featuring Leonard and OG Anunoby at the forward spots. (Note that it was on defense where the Raptors collapsed in the playoffs this time.) Anunoby and the other young guys should be better and the offense should continue to evolve under coach Nick Nurse, though it must be noted that DeRozan had a higher assist rate last season (assisting on 18.8 percent of his possessions) than Leonard (career high of 14.6 percent) has ever had. That they haven't replaced Poeltl (or re-signed Lucas Nogueira) is a sign that they'll be playing plenty of small ball, with Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam at center.

3
Last week:
4

2017-18 record: 52-30
Pace: 102.2 (4) OffRtg: 107.4 (11) DefRtg: 102.0 (3) NetRtg: +5.4 (4)

Key addition(s): Wilson Chandler
Key departure(s): Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova
Key question: Can Ben Simmons and/or Markelle Fultz shoot from beyond 15 feet?

The Sixers ranked third offensively from the point (March 1) they had both Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova last season. They've replaced Ilyasova with Mike Muscala, a better 3-point shooter over the last three seasons, though probably a downgrade on defense. Wilson Chandler, meanwhile, gives them additional versatility on the second unit and is obviously a defensive upgrade from Belinelli, who got torched by the Celtics in the conference semis. But in order to get the most from their two No. 1 picks, one (or both) of them will need to be able to shoot from the outside. Fultz and Simmons played a total of just 51 minutes together last season (zero in the playoffs) and no player in the league will be under the microscope more than Fultz come October.

4
Last week:
5

2017-18 record: 48-34
Pace: 98.2 (24) OffRtg: 107.2 (12) DefRtg: 105.6 (14) NetRtg: +1.6 (12)

Key addition(s): Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott
Key departure(s): Lance Stephenson
Key question: Can Evans make their no-Oladipo minutes not so bad?

The Pacers were 13.7 points per 100 possessions better with Victor Oladipo on the floor than they were with him off the floor last season. That was the second biggest on-off NetRtg differential among 266 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes for a single team. The eight biggest differential (11.4 points per 100 possessions) belonged to Evans, who somehow had a positive plus-minus in 1,607 minutes for a team that lost 60 games. Evans replaces Stephenson as the primary playmaker and McDermott provides some additional shooting for a team that has ranked in the bottom five in 3-point attempts each of the last two seasons. The defense could depend on Myles Turner's ability to take another step forward.

5
Last week:
6

2017-18 record: 44-38
Pace: 98.5 (20) OffRtg: 107.8 (7) DefRtg: 107.1 (17) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)

Key addition(s): Coach Mike Budenholzer, Fiserv Forum, some bigs who can shoot
Key departure(s): Jabari Parker
Key question: How will the Bucks defend?

Budenholzer will surely add more ball movement and player movement to the Bucks' offense, which ranked 16th and 20th in those categories, respectively, last season. And with the additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez, he can put four shooters around Giannis Antetokounmpo (who still needs to develop a consistent jumper himself). But this was already a top-10 offensive team and the bigger question is whether the new coach can take advantage of his roster's length on the other end of the floor. Budenholzer had top-seven defenses in three of his five years in Atlanta and defensive improvement in Milwaukee could (lead to more Antetokounmpo in the open floor and) make this a 50-win team.

6
Last week:
7

2017-18 record: 43-39
Pace: 98.9 (18) OffRtg: 106.9 (14) DefRtg: 106.2 (15) NetRtg: +0.7 (16)

Key addition(s): A starting center with chemistry issues.
Key departure(s): A starting center with chemistry issues.
Key question: Is the bench going to be good this year?

The Wizards had two big problems last season. Fixing the first -- John Wall missing 41 games -- is in the hands of the injury gods. Fixing the second -- inconsistency (they lost 15 games to teams that finished with losing records) -- is in the hands of ... Austin Rivers and Jeff Green? Even if their production fluctuates, Rivers and Green can do more things than the guys they're replacing on the Washington bench and give coach Scott Brooks some more versatility with his lineups (and the ability to play Markieff Morris at the five), so that he won't necessarily have to rely on Dwight Howard as much as he did on Marcin Gortat. And maybe they'll run some plays for Otto Porter Jr. this year.

7
Last week:
9

2017-18 record: 39-43
Pace: 98.4 (21) OffRtg: 104.9 (19) DefRtg: 104.8 (11) NetRtg: +0.0 (19)

Key addition(s): Coach Dwane Casey
Key departure(s): Stan Van Gundy, Anthony Tolliver
Key question: Can they play modern offense with Blake Griffin at the four?

Casey wants to bring his offensive evolution (more 3-point shooting) from Toronto to Detroit, but it remains to be seen if the Pistons can really space the floor with Griffin and Andre Drummond on the floor together. Griffin has seen a huge jump in the percentage of his own shots that have come from 3-point range (from three percent in '15-16 to 32 percent in '17-18), but he's still pretty deliberate with his release and when he shared the floor with Drummond last season, the team took just 28.5 percent of its shots (a rate which would have ranked 25th in the league) from beyond the arc. They were more likely to shoot threes (and more efficient offensively) when either played alongside Tolliver. Casey may need to get creative with his two highest-paid players.

8
Last week:
8

2017-18 record: 44-38
Pace: 97.8 (26) OffRtg: 104.5 (20) DefRtg: 104.0 (7) NetRtg: +0.5 (17)

Key addition(s): N/A
Key departure(s): N/A
Key question: Is Hassan Whiteside still in the rotation?

Though we still don't know if Dwyane Wade is coming back, the Heat lead the league in continuity, set to return 12 guys who played 94 percent of the team's minutes last season. They're bringing (nearly) everybody back, but there's intrigue and room for improvement in regard to the big man rotation. They were at their best with Kelly Olynyk on the floor last season and need to allow Bam Adebayo to take the next step this season. So we'll see what that means for Whiteside, who was a disaster in the playoffs (he played 15 or fewer minutes in four of the five games) and is owed $52.5 million over the next two seasons.

9
Last week:
1

2017-18 record: 50-32
Pace: 100.1 (12) OffRtg: 110.6 (5) DefRtg: 109.5 (29) NetRtg: +1.0 (13)

Key addition(s): Collin Sexton
Key departure(s): The best player in the world
Key question: Are they still a terrible defensive team?

Kevin Love's contract extension is an indication that the Cavs want to remain competitive. But how competitive they'll be will depend on what kind of defensive team they are. And since James was one of only two rotation players they lost, we might determine that he was hurting them on that end of the floor (in the regular season, at least). Sexton will get after it, but a 6-foot-2 rookie guard can only make so much of an impact defensively. On the other end, they have five of the top 50 3-point shooters over the last three seasons (minimum 500 3-point attempts), but not much in regard to creating open looks for those five guys.

10
Last week:
10

2017-18 record: 36-46
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 107.0 (13) DefRtg: 107.0 (16) NetRtg: +0.0 (20)

Key addition(s): Bismack Biyombo, Coach James Borrego
Key departure(s): Dwight Howard
Key question: Which wing will step up?

The Howard trade clears the way for Cody Zeller to get back his old job as starting center. In 2016-17, the Hornets' starting lineup -- Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Zeller -- outscored its opponents by 6.0 points per 100 possessions in its 783 minutes together. But with the addition of Howard and with Zeller playing just 33 games, that lineup played just 18 minutes last season. Of course, new coach James Borrego may make a change on the wing if he wants more offense and if Jeremy Lamb or Malik Monk prove they should start. Kidd-Gilchrist would be the guy to go to the bench, but that doesn't mean that the Hornets don't really need a bounce-back season from Batum.

11
Last week:
12

2017-18 record: 28-54
Pace: 101.1 (6) OffRtg: 104.3 (21) DefRtg: 108.5 (25) NetRtg: -4.2 (23)

Key addition(s): Veteran-ly depth
Key departure(s): Draft pick debts
Key question: Is D'Angelo Russell what this team wants long-term?

With small moves around the edges, the Nets have inched toward relevance as they've waited to select a player with their own draft pick (11 more months to go). But the move with the most variability remains the one that brought Russell to Brooklyn (and sent the pick that became Kyle Kuzma to L.A.). Russell is entering the last year on his rookie deal and, though he's shown flashes of brilliance, it's not clear that he'll be the kind of player the Nets want him to be on a consistent basis. There was progress late last season in regard to his shot selection, but there needs to be a lot more (on both ends of the floor) come October. To a lesser extent, this is an important summer for both Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

12
Last week:
13

2017-18 record: 27-55
Pace: 100.3 (10) OffRtg: 101.3 (28) DefRtg: 109.1 (28) NetRtg: -7.8 (29)

Key addition(s): Big contracts for guys recovering from torn ACLs
Key departure(s): Lauri Markkanen's Nigel-from-Top-Secret! hairstyle
Key question:Will the ball move with Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker on the floor?

Will the Bulls' fourth season be their fourth straight season in the bottom 10 on offense? Overall, they were one of three teams (the Warriors and Sixers were the others) that ranked in the top five in both player movement (they were first in distance traveled per 24 minutes of possession) and ball movement (they were fifth in passes per 24 minutes of possession) last season. They were more efficient offensively for the two months that they had Zach LaVine, but still ranked 27th offensively over that stretch and LaVine clearly stifled the ball movement. Now they've added another guy -- Jabari Parker -- who can be a ball-stopper and Lauri Markannen should be the primary option. LaVine and Parker should both be better now that they'll be more than 18 month from their ACL tears, but the only player on the Bulls' roster who had a true shooting percentage above the league average (55.6 percent) last season was Cristiano Felicio, who did it on 215 shots. Markkanen (55.2 percent) was close on 862.

13
Last week:
11

2017-18 record: 29-53
Pace: 99.3 (15) OffRtg: 104.1 (24) DefRtg: 108.4 (22) NetRtg: -4.2 (24)

Key addition(s): Coach David Fizdale, Kevin Knox.
Key departure(s): Beas
Key question: What can Frank Ntilikina do offensively?

Knox will keep Knicks fans excited while they await the return of Kristaps Porzingis, which may or may not happen this season. The Knicks will be shopping for a star next summer, but the next nine months are still critical for Ntilikina, who remains an intriguing prospect with his size at the point guard position. He can defend, but had the worst effective field goal percentage among the 25 rookies who took at least 300 shots last season and averaged just 7.4 drives per 36 minutes, according to SportVU. That ranked 101st among 282 players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games and was less than half of what Emmanuel Mudiay averaged (14.9).

14
Last week:
14

2017-18 record: 25-57
Pace: 100.3 (11) OffRtg: 102.8 (25) DefRtg: 107.7 (20) NetRtg: -4.9 (25)

Key addition(s): Coach Steve Clifford, Mo Bamba
Key departure(s): Any lingering hope for a Mario Hezonja breakout
Key question: What about Jonathan Isaac?

In regard to personnel, the Magic still haven't taken a major step toward ending their six-year playoff drought (longest in the Eastern Conference). But when Clifford took over in Charlotte five years ago, the Bobcats went from 30th to sixth in defensive efficiency (in regard to points allowed per 100 possessions, it was the ninth biggest improvement of the last 40 years). Orlando isn't coming from nearly a bad place, ranked 13th defensively after extracting Elfrid Payton in early February last season, and has some length and athleticism in the frontcourt for Clifford to work with. The Magic retained Aaron Gordon, added Mo Bamba, and will be getting more of Terrence Ross (24 games last season) and Isaac (27). If nothing else, this team will be more fun to watch. But the wait for a starting-caliber point guard continues.

15
Last week:
15

2017-18 record: 24-58
Pace: 100.6 (8) OffRtg: 102.4 (26) DefRtg: 108.2 (21) NetRtg: -5.8 (26)

Key addition(s): Trae Young/Luka Doncic comparisons for all of eternity
Key departure(s): Dennis Schroeder
Key question: Is Young a star?

The development of John Collins' offensive game is important. The big man took 79 percent of his shots from the inside the paint as a rookie and will look to be more of a perimeter threat this year. Another step forward from Taurean Prince would give the Hawks the kind of player -- a versatile wing who can make an impact on both ends of the floor -- every team is looking for. But all eyes will be on the 6-foot-2 Young from Day 1, because most of the league believes that the 6-foot-7 Doncic is the more likely star, size matters (especially in the backcourt), and Travis Schlenk put his own future on the line with the Draft night swap (which also gave the Hawks a future first round pick).


Copyright © 2018 NBA Media Ventures, LLC. All rights reserved.

Privacy Policy | Accessibility and Closed Caption | Terms of Use |

NBA.com is part of Turner Sports Digital, part of the Turner Sports & Entertainment Digital Network.

Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. A Time Warner Company.