Trending Topics: Who's the new threat in the East?
Chicago, Cleveland and Washington have all gotten out to quick starts, but which one is poised to keep it going all season long?
Each week, NBA.com’s writers will weigh in on some of the most important topics around the league.
More likely to finish the season with a top four seed in the East: Wizards, Bulls or Cavaliers?
Steve Aschburner: Chicago. Nothing against Washington or Cleveland, they both have been surprising and highly entertaining teams, and credits to both their management and the assembled talent. But the Bulls were particularly primed for this fast start, beginning with the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline last season and supplementing that with free-agent additions Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso. Zach LaVine is locked in, focused both on winning and his contract extension, and has been a remarkable bookend on the wing with wily vet DeRozan. Ball and Caruso have been disruptive defensively with deflections and steals, helping Chicago with what has become an increasingly small lineup. It was tough enough when forward Patrick Williams went out for the regular season with wrist surgery. Then just Vucevic looked to be adjusting to the new ball-reliant offensive pieces, he got waylaid by virus protocols. But a 5-2 record on the road heading into Wednesday’s game at Portland (including back-to-back victories at the Clippers and the Lakers) surely has boosted the Bulls’ confidence and camaraderie. Billy Donovan will merit a long look by Coach of the Year voters.
Mark Medina: The Bulls. Chicago has a handful of experience (DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic) and emerging youth (Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball) that mostly have had deep playoff experience. Cleveland technically does with Kevin Love, but they are mostly represented by a young roster in Evan Mobley and Collin Sexton that will take time to develop. As for Washington, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have elevated their games since the Lakers traded them. But as the Lakers saw last season, those players still have limitations.
Shaun Powell: Bulls all day here. Hey, much respect to the Cavs and Wizards for overachieving to this point. But those teams seem vulnerable to a four-game losing streak which could happen without warning. Meanwhile, the Bulls are fueled by proven players, and two of them, Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball, still have upside. Not saying the Bulls are title contenders, but top four? Write them in before you do Washington and Cleveland
John Schuhmann: Chicago. It has the best talent from 1-5. The Bulls might not be a top-five defense all season; They’re seemingly one rotation short on a few possessions per game and they’ve maybe benefited from bad mid-range shooting from their opponents. But the Bulls have certainly answered questions about their ability to defend at top-10 level. The concern is depth beyond their top six or seven guys and what happens if there’s another injury beyond the one already suffered by Patrick Williams. The Wizards’ success does feel real to a degree. Their added depth is critical for picking up regular-season wins, and the the guys they imported from last season’s No. 1 defense have clearly made an impact on that end of the floor. But the Wizards have played the easiest schedule among these three teams (only two of their 13 games have come against teams currently over .500), so the next six days (two games each against Charlotte and Miami) will be a good measuring stick. The Cavs’ success seems ahead of schedule, and without Collin Sexton (we’re still waiting on a timeline for his meniscus tear), they could have a tough time offensively. Over the four games since he was injured, they’ve scored less than a point per possession, and Ricky Rubio and Cedi Osman shooting a combined 40% from 3-point range doesn’t feel sustainable.
Michael C. Wright: Another tough question here. The Wizards and the Bulls are the most likely of the three teams to finish in the top four in the East, but if we’re picking one, let’s go with the squad in Chicago. Washington did a great job of surrounding Bradley Beal with a strong supporting cast, and the Wizards — with so many new additions — have clicked quickly in racing off to the second-best start in team history. But the Bulls are the only team in the NBA that has not one, but two of the top 10 scorers in the league in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, with a pair of strong facilitators (and low-key stout defenders) in Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — not to mention a solid big in Nikola Vucevic. The Wizards appear to be the deeper team, and we don’t mention Montrezl Harrell’s contributions enough (he’s shot 63.8% from the floor in his last 10 games). The Wizards are a tad better than Chicago defensively, but the Bulls possess much more offensive firepower. You can’t underestimate motivation, either. DeRozan, LaVine and even Caruso, to a lesser extent, appear to be on a mission to disprove all the doubters. So, from this vantage point, the Bulls are the team most likely to finish in the top four.