East Playoff Stocks

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NBA Stocks and Bonds – 2020 Playoffs Edition: Eastern Conference

The NBA is set to proceed into the 2020 postseason with no major hiccups so far. Players haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 inside the bubble, and teams are playing intense and inspired basketball.

With that being said the circumstances in which this postseason is taking place under are by no means ordinary. There hasn’t been a season quite like this one. An entire off-season’s length of time has passed before the playoffs began, which has both benefitted and hindered the play of players.

Along with having to play games at the neutral site of Orlando, Florida, combined with the absence of in-arena fans, there are a lot of reasons why this could be one of the most challenging postseasons we’ve ever seen.

On this edition of NBA Stocks and Bonds we are evaluating the current ‘stocks’ of every Eastern Conference team going into the playoffs. We will be picking apart the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and ultimately predicting what the ceiling and floor of each team is in terms of how far they can realistically go in the playoffs.

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks 📈

Strengths: The reigning MVP, Stifling Defence, Multiple Three-Point Marksmen

Weaknesses: Can Giannis keep defences honest with his shot?

Photo Credit: UPI.com

The Bucks haven’t played their best basketball in the bubble, going just winning three of eight seeding games. Still, they were the best team throughout the entire regular season, finishing with a 56-17 record. They boast one of the most dominant talents to grace the hardwood since the likes of Shaquille O’Neal in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks also are historically one of the  best defensive teams, posting a defensive rating of 102.9. That’s especially impressive considering the current era of pace, space, and high-powered offences that are trending around the league.

The determining factor in the Bucks’ title hopes are still the same as last year. When opposing defences run zones, close out on Milwaukee’s shooters, and wall off the paint where Giannis thrives, can he knock down three’s to open up his team’s offensive game plan?

If Antetokounmpo is able to hit the shots he couldn’t from last year, the Bucks could be on their way to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time since 1971. If he can’t hit those shots, we may be looking at a surprise exit in either the second or third round at the hands of a couple Eastern Conference powerhouses built to defend the MVP.

Ceiling: 2020 NBA Champions

Floor: Eliminated in the 2nd Round

2. Toronto Raptors 📈

Strengths: Championship Pedigree, Excellent Coaching, High Basketball IQ/Defensive Juggernauts

Weaknesses: Isolation Scoring/Shot Creation

Siakam Deserves the All-Star Nod

Photo Credit: NBA.com

Many pundits and fans alike counted the defending champs out at the start of the season, and the Raptors have proved all doubters wrong. They are a top-five offensive and defensive team according to basketballreference.com, and they haven’t missed a beat despite Kawhi Leonard’s departure.

The Raptor defence this year is holding opposing offences down with a 107.1 defensive rating, and it shows against a lot of good teams who seem to be lost on offence.

What has been most surprising is how the Raptors have achieved all their success this year. Toronto has had to play this season with a majority of their main rotation guys in and out of the lineup due to injuries. The only player to suit up for all regular season games this season is Rookie Terence Davis II.

With that caveat in mind, it’s possible we haven’t even seen the final form of this year’s Raptor squad. Despite winning seven of eight seeding games, we haven’t seen the Raptor’s full potential on offence, which will be the biggest question mark for the team going forward.

Out of all the contenders the Raptors are by-far the most intriguing, given the fact that they don’t have a dominant isolation scorer or ‘MVP’ calibre player to go to in those moments where they need someone to get them a basket.

A lot of the Raptors’ hopes this postseason will be pinned on Pascal Siakam. Is Siakam ‘the guy’ on a championship roster? Can he create shots out of the double teams he will inevitably see? Is he able to be the isolation scorer and shot creator the Raptors need him to be?

If Siakam can be that type of player, the Raptors’ chance of repeating is fairly realistic. If he isn’t, the Raptors could be looking at a second-round exit, perhaps at the hands of a team like Boston.

Ceiling: 2020 NBA Champions

Floor: Eliminated in the 2nd Round

3. Boston Celtics 📈

Strengths: Shot Creation/Playmaking, Well Coached, Perimeter Defense

Weaknesses: Interior Presence/Defenders

Leading the Charge

Photo Credit: Brian Babineau, NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics this year have looked like legitimate NBA title contenders. The ascents of both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, along with the steady leadership of Kemba Walker have completely erased the memories of a disgruntled Kyrie Irving in Beantown.

Statistically, the Celtics have also looked the part by boasting both top-five offensive and defensive ratings, a common trait of teams that ultimately win it all.

They have four guys in Walker, Tatum, Brown, and Gordon Hayward, who are able to all create shots for themselves or their teammates.

That four-headed monster can play effectively all at the same time, or even staggered with the bench, which allows Coach Brad Stevens to have a multitude of mix-and-match options to ensure a steady diet of offensive production.

Where the Celtics lack, potentially severely, is in the interior. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have both been incredibly solid this season for Boston, but neither a combination of a physically imposing threat inside or of a plus-defender on the interior.

The Celtics will certainly have to get creative in their coverages against a guy like Joel Embiid (who they are set to play in round one), or Giannis Antetokounmpo, who both dominate the painted area.

Realistically, the Celtics could win-it-all, but their achilles heel inside the painted area is a big (pun intended) weakness to have, especially if they advance far enough to play Milwaukee.

The Celtics, if they get past the Sixers have a 50/50 shot at the Raptors, but ultimately the Bucks may be too much for them to handle inside.

Ceiling: Eastern Conference Finals (Eliminated by Bucks)

Floor: Eliminated in the 2nd Round

4. Indiana Pacers 📉

Strengths: Great Coaching, Defence

Weaknesses: Health

NIKE To Release "City" Jerseys

The Pacers have consistently been among the upper echelons of the Eastern Conference, qualifying for the postseason each year since 2016.

Despite constant roster turnover, Indiana has found production from players that were formerly ‘unwanted’ by their previous teams (namely Victor Oladipo and T.J. Warren). They also added pieces like Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and Malcolm Brogdon to the mix, making them one of the deepest teams in the league.

Indiana is also one of the better defensive teams in the league, posting the sixth-best defensive rating at 108.0.

Unfortunately the team is going into the playoffs with a large list of injuries to key players. Lamb tore his ACL and is likely out for the majority of the playoffs. Sabonis also looks to be out for the foreseeable future with a foot injury. Victor Oladipo is still recovering from injuries that kept him out majority of this season.

There’s no doubt that despite the injuries, the Pacers will pose a tough challenge to anyone that matches up with them, but realistically their chances at advancing farther in the playoffs look a lot better next year.

Ceiling: 2nd Round (if T.J. Warren goes ‘Bubble mode’ on Miami)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

5. Miami Heat 📈

Strengths: Bam Adebayo’s Versatility, Coaching, Deep Roster

Weaknesses: Shot Creation in Isolation

The Heat continue to be exemplars in organizational consistency, and it’s translated in many successful seasons post-big-three under the guidance of Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra.

Miami boasts one of the deepest rosters in the playoffs, with guys like Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, and Andre Igoudala, all solid veterans off the bench.

They also have young guys like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn who are importance pieces to their team’s success.

Ultimately the team’s biggest strength lies in the versatility Bam Adebayo provides them. Adebayo is a unique player who can guard the paint and perimeter equally well. He also is the primary playmaker in the Heat offence, often setting up his teammates for easy baskets.

Where Miami falters is when it comes down to crunch time. Can Jimmy Butler, who has shot poorly from anywhere outside the painted area, be the guy to get it done for the Heat when they need it most? Butler has proven time and time again that he is clutch, but his shooting, particularly this season, could be the deciding factor on just how far Miami can go this postseason.

Ceiling: 2020 NBA Finalists

Floor: Eliminated in the Second Round

6. Philadelphia 76ers 📉

Strengths: Joel Embiid is a walking Mismatch for most

Weaknesses: Spacing around Embiid, Coaching can be questionable at times

Sixers Eliminate Heat, Move onto Round 2

Credit: NBC Sports

The 76ers are arguably one of the most head-scratching teams to both watch, and evaluate among NBA contenders. Joel Embiid has certainly lived up to the hype, when healthy. There are not many in the NBA (save for a couple players) that can truly shut down Embiid’s dominance in the post.

Because the 76ers have this overwhelming advantage down low, it can serve as a potential swing factor against any teams that don’t have the personnel to guard such a talent like Embiid.

The problem is that the spacing around Joel isn’t designed to perfectly exploit that advantage Philadelphia possesses in the paint. This was especially evident when Ben Simmons and Embiid would share the floor together.

Brett Brown, who is without doubt, one of the most respected coaches in the league, has shown to lose the coaching matchups against guys like Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse in the past.

Part of it could’ve been roster construction, which is not fully on the decisions he makes, but at some point you have to question whether he is the right guy for this team, or if he could unleash his coaching potential with a different roster or team.

Regardless of how you feel about the 76ers, they are the biggest pretenders among contenders this year. The loss of Ben Simmons to injury was huge, and the Sixers likely will not recover from it. If Embiid can dominate the Celtics, they can potentially advance, but no farther than the second round.

Ceiling: 2nd Round (Embiid has to overwhelm Boston)

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round (and Brett Brown might be looking for a new job if this happens)

7. Brooklyn Nets 📉

Strengths: They Play Hard, Players Hungry to Prove themselves

Weaknesses: Injuries, Shot Creation, Defence

Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler, NBAE via Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets have no equals when it comes to players on the inactive list, featuring a whopping 11 players out due to injury. Because of the injuries the Nets had to look elsewhere (in Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley) for shot creators, and even those guys are now out with injuries.

Caris LeVert has been terrific in the bubble so far, and he looks like a valuable contributor for the team moving forward, especially when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving get healthy again.

LeVert probably isn’t enough though for a team that has future championship aspirations. Unfortunately the Nets have reached their ceiling by qualifying for the playoffs.

Wouldn’t bet against them taking a game against the Raptors though. The Nets basically have game one in the bag thanks to the Raptors game one curse.

Ceiling: 1st Round

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

8. Orlando Magic 📉

Strengths: Paint Presence Inside, Defensively Oriented

Weaknesses: Isolation Creation, Shot-making

Credit: Clutch Points

Orlando was looking to make some noise in the playoffs coming into the season, and it was reasonable to think they would. It would be another year for Jonathan Isaac to develop, along with keeping the roster mainstays in Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, and Aaron Gordon.

Unfortunately the injury to Isaac was a huge blow to any of the hopes the Magic had this season. He is integral to the team’s defensive schemes, and the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Isaac would’ve been the primary option to help defend Giannis Antetokounmpo, and with him gone, the Magic may not even stand a chance to steal one game from the Bucks.

Ceiling: 1st Round

Floor: Eliminated in the 1st Round

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