NBA Eastern Conference Preview: 5th and 6th Seeds

Before we get into the sixth and fifth seeds of the East, take a moment to read up on the bubble teams, as well as who I’ve predicted to finish seventh and eighth.

Additionally, take a deep breath, because this is where the claims begin to get a little bold. I’m going to admit upfront, that for one of these teams, I have a particular disdain for. I don’t know if it’s years of meeting them in the playoffs, or years of “analysts” predicting them to represent the Eastern Conference only for them to lose in the second round. People will make excuses for them, but here’s what I have to say: they just aren’t as good as you think they are.

So now that I’ve pretty much started, let’s see what’s behind door number six:

  1. Chicago Bulls

derrick-rose-excited

Last Year Finish: 3rd

Projected Starting Lineup:

Point Guard: Derrick Rose
Shooting Guard: Jimmy Butler
Small Forward: Tony Snell
Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Center: Joakim Noah

6th Man: Taj Gibson / Nikola Mirotic

Okay, okay, okay. They’ve consistently finished in the top four the last five years or so. They haven’t changed anything except coaches. There are reasons to bank on their experience and defense.

Counter: The Bulls haven’t been anything special since 2011. Had they faced the Wizards in the first round instead of the Bucks, they would’ve been swept again. Joakim Noah may have been Defensive Player of the Year in 2014, but I credit that to his ability to swipe the ball low. He has a solid basketball I.Q. and his passion for the game is respectable, but for a center, he’s incredibly undersized, and for an undersized center, he doesn’t have nearly enough range to really compete with this new NBA. Did you see what Nene did to him in the 2014 playoffs? He embarrassed him with pump fakes and a simple post game.

Now, Derrick Rose is a special player. I’ll even argue that Jimmy Butler is a special player and Taj Gibson is easily a SMOY candidate every year. The grit and grind attitude of a team like this is refreshing, especially in an Eastern conference that may not always represent the most competitive side of basketball. But offensively, they suffer greatly when Rose isn’t in the game. They’re an old school team in a new school league.

There are too many teams embracing change, making moves in the offseason, and acknowledging their own faults. The Bulls are predictable. A solid team, but nothing special.

X-Factor?

I have a feeling the Bulls will be center stage when it comes to splashy moves at the trade deadline. Outside of Nikola Mirotic the only range they have down low is Pau Gasol’s occasional fifteen-footer. They need one more stretch four, or an upgraded version of Tony Snell to really compete with some of the other teams in the East.

  1. Atlanta Hawks

hi-res-187132786-paul-millsap-of-the-atlanta-hawks-against-the-san_crop_650

Last Year’s Finish: 1st

Projected Starting Lineup:

Point Guard: Jeff Teague
Shooting Guard: Kyle Korver
Small Forward: Thabo Sefolosha
Power Forward: Paul Millap
Center: Al Horford

6th Man: Tim Hardaway Jr.

The Hawks took everyone by surprise last year. After years of consistent mediocrity, they went on a 19-game winning streak and won the Eastern Conference by seven games. Coach Buldenhozer was the NBA Coach of the Year, and for good reason. He turned Atlanta into an offensive force, and an efficient defense.

My argument for their fall comes from the improvement of the teams above them, and the fact that Atlanta isn’t going to surprise anyone this year. It’d be one thing if they were this efficient and athletic, but as pretty as their play is, Teague is the only one who can really lead a fast break. Teams with a disciplined defense know that if they trap Teague and cover Korver, this team can be broken.

I feel far less comfortable with this pick than I do my Bulls pick. The Hawks are so smooth and effective with their ball movement, that that alone could put them back at the top of the East. Tim Hardaway, Jr. had a solid year for the Knicks last year, and in a system that could use his athleticism, he may find that Atlanta is the place for him. If he can start hitting that outside shot, you may see him fill in as a solid replacement for DeMarre Carroll, but the likelihood is that Carroll’s presence is going to be missed by this team. He carried them through a handful of games in last year’s postseason, and Tim Hardaway won’t be doing any carrying any time soon for this team.

X-Factor?

Exactly what I mentioned above. Tim Hardaway’s rise, particularly as a three point shooter and on the defensive end could prove to fill the hole the Carroll left. On the other end, Atlanta will have to figure out how to cope with some of its new size. Tiago Splitter has joined in to replace Pero Antic, and while Tiago has a championship background, he doesn’t have the range that Antic has. I don’t know how he’ll fit into Atlanta’s system, but the answer to that could determine Atlanta’s success this year.

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