Home Basketball Post-Deadline Eastern Conference Playoff Outlook

Post-Deadline Eastern Conference Playoff Outlook

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The trade deadline has come and gone and what an interesting one it was. Cleveland completely changed their roster while other potential playoff teams in the east did not make a single move at the deadline. So how good were the moves that were made and for the teams that didn’t make a move, did that help or hurt them? Only 9 teams in the east have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.  Our crew decided to look at how each team used the trade deadline and whether they made the right decision.  We then predicted how the rest of their season will play out.  We each made our predictions for the final playoff rankings, but collaborated to project the final standings and trade deadline grades.

Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions:

Max Scott Trevor Tyler
  1. Raptors
  2. Celtics
  3. Cavs
  4. Bucks
  5. Wizards
  6. Heat
  7. 76ers
  8. Pistons
  9. Pacers
  1. Raptors
  2. Celtics
  3. Cavs
  4. Wizards
  5. Bucks
  6. Heat
  7. Pacers
  8. 76ers
  9. Pistons
  1. Celtics
  2. Cavs
  3. Raptors
  4. Bucks
  5. Wizards
  6. Pistons
  7. 76ers
  8. Pacers
  9. Heat
  1. Celtics
  2. Raptors
  3. Cavs
  4. Bucks
  5. Wizards
  6. Heat
  7. 76ers
  8. Pistons
  9. Pacers

 

Toronto Raptors

When you think of the Toronto Raptors in the last four years, you think of teams that have exceeded expectations during the previous regular seasons, but have failed to perform in the playoffs.  All of these Dwayne Casey coached teams had been led by veterans, consisted of heavy isolation plays, and often found themselves near the bottom of the league in assists.  As a result, Casey has found himself in the hot seat in recent years due to being “out coached” during crunch time and early playoff exits.  However, this year is different.  Gone are veterans and bench players: DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross.  Gone are the heavy isolation plays and low assists totals.  Instead, this new Raptors team features bench players such as: CJ Miles, Delon Wright, Fred Van Fleet, and Jakob Poeltl.  While the names do not seem impressive the numbers don’t lie.  The 2017-18 Raptors run a free-flowing offensive strategy that has placed them in the top ten in assists and bench scoring.  

Last year at the trade deadline, the Raptors made a big splash by acquiring Serge Ibaka and giving up Terrence Ross and a 1st round pick.  This year, they were much quieter and traded Bruno Caboclo for  Malachi Richardson.  Caboclo, drafted 20th overall in 2014 by the Raptors, hasn’t panned out so trading him made sense.  Richardson, currently in his second NBA season, has only appeared in twenty five games this year.  In my book, this trade is worth the “gamble” for the Raptors because they gave up Caboclo, who hasn’t panned out, and acquired Richardson, whom may still develop into a good role player in the future.  This trade does not boost their already strong bench depth, but following a bit of luck, that bench depth could improve in the near future. Rumors have reported that the Raptors will look to sign Vince Carter if the Kings buyout his contract, which at this time the Kings have expressed zero interest in doing.  However, with the Kings looking to tank, the Raptors have until March 1st to hope Carter’s contract is bought out so Vinsanity can return home.

On 2/6 the Raptors showed a glimpse of their full potential with a 111-91 dismantling of the Celtics at Air Canada Centre, in which their bench put up 59 points.  As the remainder of the season plays out, the Raptors and Celtics have fairly low remaining strengths of schedules so I expect these two teams to duke it out for the top seed.  I don’t expect the Cavs to make a push for the top seed due to the hole they have already dug themselves, and the next few months will be devoted to figuring out rotations and team chemistry following their trade deadline mania.  For the Raptors, winning the battle for the #1 seed is more important.  Home court advantage means a lot to them, seeing how they are 23-4 at Air Canada Centre.  However, come playoffs will this revamped Dwayne Casey team have enough tools to make a deep playoff run?  Only time will tell.

Deadline Grade: C+

Current Record/Standing: 39-16 / 1st

Projected Record/Standing: 55-27 / 2nd  

 

Boston Celtics

The Celtics are dominating their Eastern Conference foes and they lost their best player during the first game of the season. Currently, they are neck and neck with the Raptors at the top of the conference and they felt confident that their current roster would be capable of making a deep playoff run.  They stood pat at the trade deadline despite several rumors surrounding Marcus Smart and Tyreke Evans. The signing of Greg Monroe was postponed until after the deadline incase they decided to make a move. This was a great signing for the Celtics. Despite rumors of Monroe heading to the Pelicans, he elected to join one of the top teams further chasing his well-known dreams of playing in the playoffs. He will be a dominant force in the paint for Boston’s second unit, being a significant upgrade over Aron Baynes.  

 

Boston resisted giving up any of their many valuable assets so they remain stocked for the next several years.  With the outstanding play of their young forwards Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum complimenting Kyrie Irving’s dominant play and Al Horford’s great all-around play, the Celtics have been one of the most consistent teams in the league.  According to NBA.com, Boston does not dominate on the offensive side of the ball, ranking 20th in the league with an offensive rating of 104.3, but defense is what wins championships and the Celtics are the best in the league with a defensive rating of 100.1.  This gives them a net rating of 4.2, good enough for 4th in the league, only behind the Warriors, Rockets, and Raptors.  

 

Without any major disruption to their roster, it is difficult to see the Celtics fantastic play tapering off.  They added an offensively dominant big man to boost their bench.  With several more players likely to be bought out over the next several days and the Celtics being an appealing destination for players who want to win, I’d imagine they could add another solid rotation player if they desire.  Even if they don’t, they have shown that they can compete with anybody in this league.  I do believe that they would have benefitted from a Tyreke Evans acquisition, so I can’t give them an A for their deadline, but they get the next best thing, a B+.

 

They have two games left against the Raptors and those very well could be the dictator of which team will win the conference.  Currently, each team has a win against the other, with the home team winning each contest, the Raptors winning last week 111-91.  With the way that the Raptors have been jelling lately, I am going to expect them to take both of the remaining games against the Celtics to give them the tie-breaker and set the Celtics back just enough to hold onto 1st place.

 

Deadline Grade: B+

 

Current Record/Standing:   40-18 / 2nd

 

Projected Record/Standing:   57-25 / 1st

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

As you have most likely heard the Cavaliers have completely overhauled their roster at the trade deadline. Owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman have seen a lot of dysfunction in the locker room since Christmas and have decided to overhaul this roster. They have done the complete opposite of what they have done in previous years. Previously the Cavaliers would go after veterans that have proven that they are able to play and have good playoff experience and it has worked fairly well for them as they have made it to the finals the past 3 years albeit in the weaker Eastern Conference. This trade deadline the Cavs do the complete opposite by getting all fairly young players with the exception of George Hill who is 31 years old and turns 32 in May. And they have gotten rid of a lot of veterans, below is the list of who the Cavs have traded and who they got in return:

 

Cleveland receives:

G Rodney Hood

G George Hill

G Jordan Clarkson

F Larry Nance Jr

Heavily protected second round pick

 

Cleveland trades:

Iman Shumpert

Derrick Rose (Has been waived by Jazz)

Jae Crowder

Dwyane Wade

Isaiah Thomas

Channing Frye

2018 First Round Pick (protected)

 

So what do all these moves mean for Cleveland? The obvious thing is that Cleveland was looking to get younger. This could mean that Dan Gilbert is not confident that LeBron is going to stay in Cleveland after this year so he could be preparing for a LeBronless future. There is a lot of speculation about this and I will not go into more than it appears that the Cavs wanted to get younger at the trade deadline and they accomplished this.

 

Isaiah Thomas was not nearly the success that the Cavaliers were hoping to have when they traded away Kyrie Irving for Thomas. He played just 15 games with the Cavs this year and he shot a career low from both the field (36.1%) and from 3 point range (25.3%). Another player that they got this year was Dwyane Wade from the Bulls, D-Wade is aging and hasn’t been the same player he was in years past with the Heat but this year in the 46 games played with Cleveland he had career lows in minutes (23.2), points (11.2), assists (3.5) and steals (.9 spg). So with underwhelming performances from veterans that they were expecting to be contributors this year they decide to trade them and get younger, we will see how much this helps them in the playoffs this year.

 

From the additions that Cleveland got at the trade deadline there is a thing that seems to be a trade with 3 out of 4 players playing better than their career numbers in the shooting department. Rodney Hood with the Jazz this year has been shooting career highs from both the field and from behind the arc. George Hill who is a career 38% shooter from 3 has been shooting a career high 45.3% this year, that will likely be maintained or increased while playing with LeBron James. Larry Nance Jr who is an Ohio native will no be able to play with his childhood team, is shooting a career high 60% from the field, but Nance does struggle from 3 as he is shooting 25% this year. Jordan Clarkson has been playing right around his career numbers this year in every major statistical category. So with the improvements to these players games and now being able to play with arguably the best player in the world right now we should see a little bit more of an increase in these numbers and I think that these younger more energetic players will be able to help the cavs this year. The locker room was toxic and these moves were probably very necessary if the Cavs want to get back to the NBA finals this year, but we will see if these younger more experienced players will be able to contribute a lot in the playoffs this year.

 

Deadline Grade: A-

 

Current Record/Standing: 33-22 / 3rd

 

Projected Record/Standing: 53-29 / 3rd

 

Washington Wizards

The Wizards are a team that always seems to finish among the top four teams in the eastern conference, so why would they change anything? Well the answer is they don’t, and this year is no different, they haven’t made a move this year even with losing their star point guard John Wall to knee surgery. The one move that they did make was trading away Sheldon Mac to the Hawks for a future second round draft pick but in the short term that has minimal impact on a team looking to stay among the top teams in the east.  Mac has only played 30 games in his NBA career and they all came last season as he has been out all year with a torn achilles he suffered shortly before the season started.  So for this season there isn’t really an impact outside of clearing a roster spot. The only thing that could possibly change the rest of the season for the Wizards is the health of Wall.

 

Wall hasn’t played since their loss to the Thunder on January 25th and had surgery on January 31st. Up to that point they were 26-22, and since he has been out they have been an outstanding 6-2. Plus the two losses were tough faught losses against the celtics and 76ers so there has been minimal drop off. But there is no telling if that will continue or if they will have future struggles without the star playmaker. His current rehab schedule would get him back for the last week of the season, which could be big for them assuming there is minimal rust coming off of such a long absence. He should be 100 percent rolling into playoff time.

It is hard to say whether or not the Wizards will be able to continue this hot streak but there is nothing to say that it won’t happen.They have lots of talent left with Beal and Gortat and a lot of supporting cast around those two. So with that being said I predict that the Wizards stay in the playoff picture but drop down into the 5th spot in the east.

 

Deadline Grade: C

 

Current Record/Standing:   32-24 / 4th

 

Projected Record/Standing: 49-33 / 5th

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks had been linked to many big names throughout the entire season, making an early splash acquiring Eric Bledsoe from the Suns. But the question was would they make a deadline day move? Everybody expected them to trade for a solid rotation big.  Then the big day came, a few days before the deadline..  The Bucks cut ties with Rashad Vaughn and brought in their big, Tyler Zeller.  This was their big deadline deal.  According to Matt Velazquez, Jon Horst was in attendance for the Bucks’ practice on the day of the deadline and wasn’t even checking his phone.  He felt comfortable with this core, relying mostly on the recent coaching change to propel them into the top half of the conference.  

 

The move to bring in Zeller may seem like a minimal deal but in the long run it could be much more than that.  Zeller is in his sixth season in the NBA and has had a limited role in his time.  He has career averages of 7.0 points and 4.4 rebounds a game, and this season was no different.  For the Nets in 42 games he was averaging 7.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 16 minutes a game.  Again these numbers are nothing big, but for a team that needed a solid big that is bigger in stature, he may be exactly what the Bucks needed.  This with the fact they only gave up a player in Vaughn who has struggled to find playing time and a future second round pick to get a role playing big; it seems like they have made a good deal here.

 

The Bucks moving forward look to be more consistent in the remainder of the season and with Coach Prunty allowing the players to go out and play their own game it looks promising. The addition of a rotation big in Zeller gives the Bucks an extra push off the bench and a bigger presence in the paint and on the boards.  This will hopefully allow for a strong finish and an even bigger playoff push.

 

Deadline Grade: B-

 

Current Record/Standing: 31-24 / 5th

 

Projected Record/Standing: 51-31 / 4th

 

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are another team with no player movement at the deadline. They are a young team that has surpassed even the highest expectations. The emergence of Victor Oladipo has propelled the Pacers firmly into the playoff hunt. Their fast start had them at the top of the conference, but that momentum has stalled a little bit. They still hold a winning record, but the difference between 3rd and 9th place is only 5 games, with the Pacers in the middle of that.  With the teams currently below them making changes to the roster, the Pacers could easily miss the playoffs. Now, the Heat only added Wade, but his return could be a huge spark for the franchise. The 76ers brought in another sharpshooter and Joel Embiid is finally starting to play in back-to-backs. Blake Griffin has ignited the Pistons and adding players like Jameer Nelson and James Ennis will bolster their rotations.  

 

The Pacers decided to hold firm and not mess with the chemistry.  The only rumor that they were mentioned in was trying to dump Al Jefferson, which never came to fruition.  The Pacers also have the least amount of games to separate themselves from their tight pack.  They only play Miami and Philadelphia once each.  Their lack of opportunities against the three teams directly behind them gives them a bit less control.  As well, their lack of interest in any deadline moves shows that they understand that this year is still, truly a building year for their young group and they will not likely compete with the top dogs of the conference in a playoff series, if they make it to that point.  

 

Let’s be real.  The Pacers have overachieved this season.  They have a solid core of talented young players, but they do not have the depth or experience to hang onto one of the last playoff spots.  They have been very good at home with a 19-11 record, but only 11 of their remaining 25 games are on their home court.  Their record will depend on their offense.  If they can keep up their offensive efficiency(currently 6th in the NBA), they have a shot at the playoffs.  To us, this just doesn’t seem likely.

 

Deadline Grade: B-

 

Current Record/Standing:   32-25 / 6th

 

Projected Record/Standing:   42-40 / 9th

 

Miami Heat

Let’s be honest, Dwayne Wade back in Miami feels right.  The even better news is that the Heat only had to give up a heavily protected second round pick to acquire the former wingman who spent his first thirteen years of his career in Miami. Wade coming back helps the Heat fill the hole left when Dion Waiters went out with season ending ankle surgery.  This trade gets an A+ grade from me. Good work Miami!  

 

Prior to the trade deadline, the Heat had 7 players averaging over 10 points per game. I would expect that number to increase to 8 with the addition of Wade. Having several scoring options is crucial for the Heat who pride themselves on defense and do not have a “true superstar”. The most impressive player on the Heat this year I believe is Josh Richardson. Although his scoring average is only 13.4 points per game (up 3 from last year), he is shooting an outstanding 45% from the field and 38% from the 3 point line, all while logging 34 minutes a game. Although the scoring doesn’t jump off the board, Richardson has stepped up and is making winning plays.

 

Last year, the Heat finished 9th in the East just missing the playoffs. Pretty impressive if you remember they started off 11-30. This year, much like last year, the biggest obstacle they have to overcome in order to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14 is health. If the Heat stay healthy and play at least .500 basketball over their remaining 16 games they could make the playoffs. Personally, I hope the Heat play well enough to claim the 6th seed in the East, which would ultimately set up a Cavs/Heat first round matchup, and who wouldn’t like to see that?

 

Deadline Grade: A+

 

Current Record/Standing: 30-26 / 7th

 

Projected Record/Standing: 45-37 / 6th

 

Philadelphia 76ers

Rejoice Philly! The Eagles have won Super Bowl 52, and Joel Embiid is finally playing in back to backs. This means that opposing teams are going to start seeing the 76ers best player a lot more often, as long as he continues to stay healthy! The 76ers made a move to get Trevor Booker in early December, they had to give up Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, and a future 2nd round pick. Since Booker has been in Philadelphia he has been averaging only about 15 minutes, 4.7 points per game, while shooting 53.7% from the field and 20% from 3 point range. Booker has never been a 3 point shooter and has not been a volume scorer in the NBA, he has averaged 7 points per game in his career. He has not produced like Philly probably would have liked but he be asked to be the veteran leader in the locker room. With the young talent on this philadelphia team Bookers biggest contribution might not be on the court but rather in the locker room as a level headed veteran voice. At the trade deadline the 76ers did not make a trade.

 

There are now reports out that the 76ers are planning to sign Marco Belinelli after he was bought out by the Hawks and has cleared waivers. Belinelli is another veteran that will be able to help this team in the locker room but his shooting will also be a big plus for this team as they look to make a playoff run. He his a career 37% shooter from 3 point range and he is shooting right at that percentage this year, alongside JJ Redick they will really be able to stretch the floor with these two and really open the paint for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Embiid is capable of shooting from 3 point range if needed and can pull an opposing center out of the lane to make even more room for Ben Simmons who has struggled with his jump shot in the NBA. Every team needs shooting in today’s NBA and to add another veteran guy who is a very capable shooter to a young, energetic, and athletic team will help this team tremendously.

 

This team and organization knows who the core players to build around are and they were not willing to get rid of any of those players to try to expedite the process, they seem to be in it for the long haul, and to build a team that is going to be in contention for a title in the years to come. It really seems like they are trusting the process and building this franchise the right way, that being said I like that they did not give away any of their core to try to compete for the title this year because they will be a good time in a couple years just need their young core to mesh and grow together and they will be a title contender fairly soon.

 

Deadline Grade: B

 

Current Record/Standing: 28-25 / 8th

 

Projected Record/Standing: 43-39 / 7th

 

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are a borderline playoff team with a lot of potential. Before making any moves they could have been said that they were a .500 team and would have probably missed the playoffs by a few games. But that has now changed with the major moves they made recently. To sum it all up they gave up Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, and Boban Marjanovic as well as a first and second round draft pick to the Clippers. In return they got Blake Griffin, Willie Reed and Brice Johnson. They went on to deal away Willie Reed to the Bulls for Jameer Nelson, and Brice Johnson to the Grizzlies for James Ennis. That is a lot of turnover in a very short time, but overall they look to be an improved team in all aspects. And to me there is only upside to the deals they made.

 

The Pistons come out on the other side of this deal with a player in Blake Griffin that can be a superstar caliber player if he stays healthy, which has been questionable as he hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since 2013-14. But if he can stay healthy he is great addition to the team offensively and defensively.  He has played 38 games this year so far, and he looks to be healthy and at the top of his game.  He is averaging 22.4 points, almost 8 rebounds, and 5 assists a game on the season, but since becoming a Piston his numbers are 20 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists a game. His points may not be flashy but he has emerged as their leading playmaker a role that they have been lacking in.  Not to mention since his addition they are 5-1 with their only loss being his return to LA.  His presence has been greatly felt by the team as they look to make a playoff push.  

 

The other two additions  to the team Jameer Nelson and James Ennis are able to take some of the roles left behind by trading away Bradley and Harris.  Nelson is a veteran of league capable of providing leadership to an otherwise young team, and even though his role will be limited with Reggie Jackson returning in a few weeks, he may be crucial in providing depth and some bench scoring at either guard position.  James Ennis provides depth at either forward position, and is capable of playing well at both ends of the court.  He is long and athletic and capable of defending against any of the best players in the league. He brings that athleticism to the other end when it comes to finishing huge slams, but is also a 37 percent shooter from deep; making him a good replacement for Harris and Bradley who were shooting the ball well.

 

Overall the Pistons made some big moves and acquired a big name in Blake Griffin and some supporting cast to go around him and Drummond. The change can already be felt and they are heading in a better direction so now the question is will it be enough to make that last push.

 

Deadline Grade: A

 

Current Record/Standing: 27-28 / 9th

Projected Record/Standing: 43-39 / 8th  

 

Authors: Max Perdue, Scott Wilsens, Trevor Bender, and Tyler Koerth