With LeBron James out on the west coast, there is a void out on who is the best player in the Eastern Conference. There are plenty of players worthy of the throne, but will there be another guy in the East to be able to take their team to the Finals year in and year out. Granted, no one expects anyone to have the same impact on the game that LeBron has had the last 15 years, but there could be a guy to push his team to their limits and set up a possible meeting in the Finals with Golden State (assuming Golden State continues their dominance). Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo could be that guy. He’s started off this season hot averaging 26 points about 14 rebounds and 6 assists per game. As we all know Giannis impacts the game in all facets. With his length and his speed, he’s a nightmare matchup. He’s improved his numbers year by year and with a coach in Mike Budenholzer, we can expect even more out of Giannis.
The knock on him though is the fact that he can’t impact the game from the perimeter. He’s shooting 50% from the field but only 11% from three. That tells you that most of his points are coming from within the paint. Now if Giannis was to ever add a consistent jump shot or even become somewhat of a threat on the perimeter, there is no question about who would be the best player in the East. If we go a little bit further north, we have a player that is new to the East but is playing some of the best basketball of his career. Kawhi Leonard so far this season looks like he hasn’t missed a beat after missing the majority of last season.
The “Klaw” has started the season averaging 26 points while shooting 50% from the field and 45% from deep. Kawhi may be a one-year rental for the Raptors but he’s playing like he’s been there his whole career. He’s meshed well with the core of young talent that they have around there along with their star point guard in Kyle Lowry. It was a question of how the bond would build between Lowry and Leonard after Leonard was traded for Lowry’s best friend in Demar Derozan, but they have seemed to put those questions to bed. Kawhi still impacts the game defensively and he has become an efficient scorer and seems to be the team’s new closer. If the Raptors can retain Leonard past this season, I see them being the favorites next to Boston to come out of the East. Within this same conversation we have the “King” of the trolls is Joel Embiid. With the league becoming more of a guard/wing friendly league, Embiid has shown that you can’t forget about the big man. Joel is also one of those guys that impact the game in multiple ways, whether defensively or scoring in the post or the perimeter. The one thing Joel is great at as a big man is drawing fouls, getting to the line about ten times a game. Also, Embiid is known for known for getting his matchups out of their game. He’s been great at trolling and playing mind games to the point where we’ve seen his matchups either get techs or have an off game because they are so worried about getting back at him. Embiid is only in his third full season which means there is always room to grow. This year he’s averaging 28 points a game along with 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. He’s a threat to win Defensive Player of the Year and possibly MVP in the near future. Now some may say there is another player that rules the East, but there is no doubt that one of these three will be in that conversation. With players in the East like Kyrie Irving, Victor Oladipo, there can be added speculation. Then there is the up and coming stars like Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons that could eventually rule the East.
Either way it goes, the East still has a lot of star power but only one can be the “New” King.