While Free Agency Dominates, The 76ers Go Against the Grain

Ever since The Decision, NBA fans have been talking themselves into the possibility of Lebron’s team missing the Finals. The first candidate to knock him off was the “Big 3” Celtics. Lebron’s Heat knocked them out in 5 games during his first year in Miami, and took them out in 7 games the next year. The next challengers were Paul George’s Pacers. The Pacers met the Heat two straight years in the conference finals, but couldn’t slay the dragon. After that, Lebron returned to the Cavs in 2015. His Finals appearances have felt more preordained than ever. Neither the Hawks nor the Raptors posed any real threat. Te parade of challengers came full circle last year, with a completely rebuilt Celtics team falling to the Cavs in the Conference Finals. But there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for those who want to see new blood come out of the East.

Last week, Joel Embiid put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks in a game against the Lakers. It’s a stat line that no one else has ever accomplished. Anyone who has ever been close to that in a single game is indisputably an all-time great. Since 1980, the most similar lines were put up by Shaq (40/17/8/5) and David Robinson, (42/14/5/5) per basketball reference’s game finder. In the same game, his teammate Ben Simmons had 18/9/10 to go along with 5 steals. These numbers are starting to look normal for him.

Obviously, Embiid has a long way to go before being considered an all-time great. Making an All-Star game would be a good start. His health will remain a huge question for the foreseeable future. But this game and his play throughout the first month of the regular season erases any lingering doubt about the type of player he is when healthy. His dominance, combined with the play of Simmons (who is a lock for Rookie of the Year), make the 76ers a force to be reckoned with almost immediately.

It’s possible that the emergence of two future superstars on the 76ers ends up having little impact on Lebron’s reign over the East. Lebron is rumored to be looking to sign with a team in the West after this year, and the Sixers remain one year away from truly putting a scare into the top teams in the conference. With Gordon Hayward’s leg injury, the Celtics probably lack the firepower to take out the Cavs this year. But with all of these factors combined, the East should finally – finally! – be represented by a non-Lebron team in the 2019 Finals.

Brad Stevens Make a Good Celtics Team Very Dangerous

Rewind to opening night in the NBA. Gordon Hayward had the latest gruesome leg injury and the Cleveland Cavaliers ruined Kyrie Irving’s Celtic debut. With Hayward out for the year, many immediately left the Celtics for dead and were ready to name the Cavs Eastern Conference champions yet again. After that, Boston lost to Milwaukee to drop to 0-2 and it looked like Hayward’s absence would indeed be missed this year.

All Brad Stevens and company did from there was rattle off 12 straight wins and now own the best record in the NBA. And while their opening night opponents are still struggling to find their identity, Boston seems to have theirs figured out. One large reason why is the man on their sidelines.

Say what you want about the top coaches in the NBA. Greg Popovich has been a mad genius for years. Steve Kerr and Golden State have lost just 24 games in two seasons. You can mention Thibodeau, D’Antoni, and Spoelstra. None of them have been as impressive as Brad Stevens has so far this season.

Imagine winning the Eastern Conference last season over the mighty Cavaliers. Then imagine trading your best player, who was the heart and soul of your club. Imagine trading away your defensive specialist on the perimeter. You replace them with two all-stars, but you lose one of them on opening night. You now have one all-star, who grant it is one of the best players in the league, and a back court of young, unproven players. Couple that with a thin front court. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for sbest record in the NBA.

Now I know that is exaggerated to an extent. The cupboard is not empty in Boston. They do have Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and two lottery picks in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. It’s not that they are winning that is the impressive part. It’s how they are winning. They come from behind (see their game against Oklahoma City). They win the close game (25% of their wins have been a one possession game). And they’ve even won at less than full strength (Irving and Horford have each missed games).

Brad Stevens has this team competing. He has them playing very balanced and serving their roles. Irving is the team’s leading scorer, but six other players are scoring 10 points plus a game, if you include Marcus Morris’s 12.2 in just five games. Horford leads the team in rebounding, but league sophomore Jaylen Brown chips in almost seven a game. Aron Baynes, the definition of a role player, adds six a game as well. Their assist leader? Marcus Smart. The guy everyone was worried would lose his place on this team. He also adds 1.67 steals per game, second to Kyrie’s 1.92.

Top to bottom Stevens is getting production from their guys on the floor. And the result is win after win. That’s the biggest thing a coach can do in the NBA; Get his team to buy into their roles and play as one, cohesive unit. Not bad for a guy that many thought would flame out after a couple seasons, as most college-to-NBA coaches do.

I’m not crowning the Celtics 2018 NBA Champions three weeks into the season. I’m not saying give Brad Stevens the Coach of the Year award yet either. There is far too much season. The Pistons are legit and the Cavs will be scary come playoff time when they get their point guard healthy. A lot can still happen. But right now it doesn’t seem to matter who Boston throws out on the court. Brad Stevens has them winning.