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Trending Topics: Who are the 3 best teams on paper in the East?

Assessing the top rosters in the Eastern Conference before all 30 teams begin play next month.

How can the Celtics regroup and plot a potential return to the NBA Finals?

As the 2022-23 season draws near, our writers will weigh in on some intriguing topics around the league.


Who are the 3 best teams on paper in the East?


Steve Aschburner:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Brooklyn Nets

Maybe I’m a sucker for Finals incumbents, but I like to believe that players and coaches learn a lot from the experience of losing the championship series. You could see Boston’s confidence grow game by game, even if it didn’t work out last spring. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown emerged as fully-fledged stars, Marcus Smart is a two-way spark plug and Malcolm Brogdon and (eventually) Danilo Gallinari were nice additions with little or no subtraction. Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo in his prime (assuming he’s not worn out from his Greek national team demands this summer), two co-stars in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, and a crew capable of getting back what was once theirs. As for Brooklyn, that team is all about “on paper.” The Kevin Durant trade demand was absurd, because this is his best chance to win since arriving there. Kyrie Irving is in a contract year and Ben Simmons should be similarly poised to make up for a nasty mulligan in 2021-22. On paper.


Brian Martin:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Brooklyn Nets

After making the Finals for the first time in 12 years, Boston is a top contender to run it back in 2022-23. They’ve kept the core of their team together – including not trading Jaylen Brown in a Kevin Durant deal – and added Malcolm Brogdon to add a reliable playmaking point guard to their mix. Milwaukee pushed Boston to seven games in the East semifinals without Khris Middleton. Had they been healthy, the 2021 champs may have had a shot at defending their title in the 2022 Finals. They have the talent to get back there in 2023. Ignoring the offseason turmoil and looking strictly on paper, Brooklyn edges out Philly for the third spot behind its three All-NBA talents in Durant (after rescinding his trade demand), Kyrie Irving (no longer limited by vaccine mandates) and Ben Simmons (finally healthy and ready to play for the first time since June 2021).


Mark Medina:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. Brooklyn Nets

The Celtics have what it takes to return to the NBA Finals. Boston still has its core players from last season’s team, most notably Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. The Celtics also addressed their offensive inconsistency by trading for veteran point guard Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks could challenge the Celtics, however, and could have last season if not for Khris Middleton’s left knee injury during the playoffs. Though Milwaukee’s success mostly hinges on Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks will largely benefit both from Middleton’s return and for mostly keeping their roster intact. They retained most of their key free agents, including Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews and Jevon Carter. As for the Nets, dismiss their dysfunction at your own peril. Kevin Durant remains one of the NBA’s top players. Kyrie Irving’s availability no longer hinges on vaccine mandates. And Ben Simmons is expected to be fully healthy.


giannis-durant

On paper, the Nets and Bucks are 2 of the best teams in the East.

Shaun Powell:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Brooklyn Nets

Milwaukee has the best player in the conference (if not all of basketball) and, we assume, a healthy Khris Middleton this time. The main ingredients from the 2021 title team return, with a score to settle. Giannis Antetokounmpo is actually becoming a more well-rounded offensive player, now that he’s refining his mid-range jumper, and his defense and rebounding remain top-shelf. The Celtics found the solution to their main issue, a playmaking point guard in Malcolm Brogdon. He can help make Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown less mistake-prone and fresher in fourth quarters. And, yes, it’s c-r-a-z-y … but after all the madness, the Nets are bringing a pair of certified winners in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with an X-factor in Ben Simmons. This would be on the Mount Rushmore of weirdness if Brooklyn is popping bottles in June, almost one year removed from KD asking for a trade and selling out his front office and coach.


John Schuhmann:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Brooklyn Nets
  3. Philadelphia 76ers

The Milwaukee Bucks have the best player and maybe the best top three in the conference. That matters a lot and the Bucks have certainly proven themselves more than a couple of teams on this list. But there’s a big drop-off when you get to spots 4-8 in the rotation, with the lack of a quality wing beyond Khris Middleton being a potential issue. If you go eight deep, the Boston Celtics appear to have the best group, with Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams backing up what was a dominant starting lineup last season. Brooklyn has two of the most talented offensive players in the world, two of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, and a pretty solid group beyond that. The Sixers obviously belong in the conversation too, having added De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker and Montrezl Harrell to what was already a talented group led by a Kia MVP candidate in Joel Embiid.


Michael C. Wright:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Philadelphia 76ers

Milwaukee features arguably the league’s best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and if you paid any attention to what transpired in EuroBasket, it’s not a stretch to expect improvement in 2022-23 from the rising 10-year vet. The return of a healthy Khris Middleton, from this vantage point, only solidifies the Bucks’ status atop the East. And we haven’t even broached the acquisition of Joe Ingles, who might provide some veteran punch if he recovers adequately from last season’s ACL tear. The reigning East champs should be squarely in the mix, too. Boston gained another valuable year of high-stakes playoff experience. How Jayson Tatum bounces back from a rough NBA Finals showing will determine the fate of the Celtics. In Philadelphia, it looks like James Harden has buckled down and locked in with improved conditioning to lead a hungry Sixers squad that improved by adding a few gritty vets.


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