1. Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Cavs currently sit in third place behind the Raptors and Celtics, expect them to inch their way to the top as the season wears on. The return of Isiah Thomas should give them a great boost, as their point guard play has lacked significantly since last season. Also, with the additions of Dwayne Wade, Jae Crowder, Jose Calderon, Derrick Rose, and Jeff Green they have a much improved bench, which is crucial over the length of a full season.
2. Boston Celtics
The opening night injury to Gordon Hayward was thought to be devastating to many, however, the Celtics were able to go on a 16 game winning streak. The addition of Kyrie Irving has proved to be great, as the sixth year point guard is averaging 25 PPG and 5 APG. The play of Al Horford has been steady to go along with break out seasons from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. So far the Celtics have looked good, but they don’t have the fire power to hold off the Cavs.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are off to an impressive start, holding the fewest losses in the Eastern Conference. This has been impressive considering the drop in point production from star point guard Kyle Lowry. From last season his scoring average has dropped upwards of 6 PPG, yet the men north of the border have been able to hold the top spot, going 9-1 in their previous 10 games. The trade deadline addition last year of Serge Ibaka has rounded out the team nicely, along with free agent signing C.J. Miles. If Lowry’s production can turn up a notch look for this team to contend for the #1 seed, if not they will be destined for the 3 seed.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The early season acquisition of Eric Bledsoe has give the Bucks a “big three” of their own, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton. Giannis has developed into the second best player in the East, averaging over 29 PPG and 10 RPG, putting him into the MVP conversation. They have also been without the dynamic play of Jabari Parker who is expected back some time in February. It is questioned whether he will be the same player returning from his second ACL surgery, but nonetheless he will provide some needed depth. While Bledsoe has been a great addition, the Bucks have missed an inside presence during that time by giving up Greg Monroe. The team has been rumored to be in the market for a big man, and if that comes to fruition look for the Bucks to make a strong late season push.
5. Washington Wizards
It is surprising to see the Wizards so stagnant early on. The team has had the same strong nucleus for numerous seasons, yet they sit 6.5 games back of the #1 seed and in the 6th spot. The decrease in scoring from Joh Wall of nearly 5 PPG may be one reason the team’s play is not as impressive as thought coming into the year. Look for the Wizards to get back on track, but their lack of depth with restrict them from getting within the top 4 seeds.
6. Indiana Pacers
The loss of Paul George has not been as detrimental as many thought coming into the year. Victor Oladipo has come in and taken on the star role averaging more than 25 PPG, which is an increase of almost 10 PPG from last season. The Pacers are currently holding the #4 spot in the East, but their lack of scoring will be costly down the stretch, restraining them from home court advantage in the playoffs.
7. Detroit Pistons
The former Milwaukee Bucks draft pick, Tobias Harris, has put together a great start to the season averaging nearly 18 PPG, while shooting over 43% from beyond the arc. The addition of Avery Bradley has been key giving them a guard that is a legit scoring threat. Newcomers, Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, and Anthony Tolliver have given them some much needed scoring off the bench, which has lacked in recent years. The Pistons currently sit ahead of the Bucks and Wizards, but their lack of star power will inhibit them from fending off those teams to stay in the top 5.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers have been a very intriguing team so far, sitting 2 games out of a playoff position. Future stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have led this young team in scoring, with Embiid also averaging over 11 RPG and Simmons over 7 APG. They’re length has been key to them, being first in the NBA in RPG. Their length, athleticism, and depth should be enough to propel them over teams like the Heat and Knicks to sneak into the final playoff position in the East.