NBA Eastern Conference spotlight: 5 Game-Changers
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 5: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks blocks against Lance Stephenson #1 of the Indiana Pacers on November 5, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
There’s been a long-standing perception among most NBA fans that the West is the more talented conference in the league. But, despite that notion, my interest has always gravitated towards the East. And the reason for that belief of mine is that every season, the best player in the world almost always plays in the Eastern Conference.
Going back all the way to the early 80's, there have only been a handful of names who were offered the throne by the basketball world: Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. In this very small circle of greats, the two players who wore the number 23 stayed on top of the mountain the longest. Even today, The King still reigns supreme.
Taking the crown away from The Land has become an annual quest for all contenders in the Eastern Conference. This seemingly impossibly mission always influences the way teams and players go about their business. And that’s what makes this half of the association exciting. Because by the end of the season, the ones that pushed themselves to be better will have earned the recognition that they desired so deeply.
Let’s at take a look at five notable players in the East and the status they will most probably achieve as a result of their pursuit of greatness.
Victor Oladipo = All-Star
Remember this guy? He’s that 6’4” dude with a little Dwyane Wade in his game that was drafted second overall by the Orlando Magic in 2013. A borderline All-Star who averaged pretty much the same numbers with OKC last season (15.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 2.6 APG) as compared his first three years in the league. But, you probably didn’t notice because he played under the shadow of Russell Westbrook.
Now that he’s in Indiana, there's no stopping Victor Oladipo from elevating his status to one of the game’s elite. The 25-year-old guard is averaging a career-high 24.9 PPG (10th in the NBA) with the Pacers sporting a 18-14 record (4th in the East). Having played college ball with the Indiana Hoosiers, it seems only fitting that Oladipo blossoms into a star in a place that has always felt like home.
Kristaps Porzingis = All-Star Starter
Another player who is done being a sidekick is the 7’3” 22-year-old from Latvia, Kristaps Porzingis. With the curtains finally closed on the “Melo-Drama” in New York City, the age of the Unicorn is officially underway and things look promising so far. The Knicks are in the Playoff picture (16-14, 8th in the East) and Porzingis is averaging a career-best 25.5 PPG in just his third season in the league.
Among the players who made the All-Star line-up for the East last season, only Kevin Love and Paul Millsap were true big men. Love does not put up the numbers Porzingis does and Millsap is now part of the Denver Nuggets. With that said, KP is surprisingly the best big man in the East. Unless of course, Joel Embiid is awarded a clean bill of health.
Ben Simmons = Rookie of the Year
Speaking of health. The number one overall pick in last year’s draft, Ben Simmons is up and running after missing all of last season due to a fracture on his right foot. Oh, and when I say running, I mean, he’s running the point for Philly. All 6'10" of him.
For a 21-year-old, his numbers are staggering: 17.2 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 7.9 APG and 2.1 SPG. Lonzo Ball may be getting the most attention among the rookies, but Simmons is getting the most respect.
Giannis Antetokuonmpo = Scoring Champion
His name was all over NBA Fantasy articles after becoming the first player since LeBron James in the 2008-09 season to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks for an entire season. But while the Greak Freak was being revered as a god in the digital world, a legend took notice of his potential and challenged him to make his mark in the real world.
To be MVP is what Kobe Bryant told Giannis Antetokounmpo to aspire for. It’s a tall order. I don’t doubt Antetokounmpo’s work ethic and desire to reach the Black Mamba’s expectations of him. But, with the way James Harden and the Houston Rockets are playing, it seems more likely for him to win the NBA scoring title.
Dwyane Wade = Sixth Man of the Year
When you run down the list of the greatest shooting guards to ever play the game, you will see the name of Dwyane Wade in third behind Jordan and Bryant. Now, in his fifteenth season and at the age of 35, Wade has reinvented himself by coming off the bench. What a luxury it is for the Cleveland Cavaliers to have a player with that type of mystique as a reserve.
Wade’s sacrifice has helped his new team find the right balance and chemistry to become successful. Aside from that, I think he could be on his way to becoming the most decorated Sixth Man of the Year awardee ever.
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