NBA Roundtable: Eastern Conference Edition
NBA Roundtable: Eastern Conference Edition

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the latest edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. All season long, our staff of experts will convene once a week to answer a set of questions about what's happening around the league, both in fantasy and reality.

This week, we focus in on the Eastern Conference: Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and more

1. With Kawhi Leonard looking fully healthy, are you willing to pencil him in for roughly the same level of elite statistics he produced in 2016-17?


James Anderson: Yes.

Nick Whalen: I think there will be an adjustment process, but if Leonard is healthy it's certainly well within reason to think he can return to being a 25-point, six-rebound, three-assist, two-steal player. More so than anything, it'll depend on how quickly he becomes comfortable asserting himself as the clear No. 1 option.

Alex Barutha: I could see a slow start due to rust and being on a new team, but I think after a month or two he'll settle into what we've come to expect from him. If Toronto wants him to stay, they'll have to feed him the ball. If Leonard wants a max contract next year, he'll have to play like we've seen him play before. Those two factors may create a perfect storm.

Ken Crites: I expect a slow start. It will take time for Kyle Lowry and Leonard to work well together. Lowry is not a pass-first point guard. Toronto has a new coach, a new star and possibly a new starting wing in Danny Green. Things could be awkward until mid-December.

Alex Rikleen: Not quite. There is usually some adjustment period for super-duper-stars in a new surrounding. But I'm almost ready to add him into my otherwise-lonely Nikola Jokic tier of first round but not first overall picks. I currently have six players in the tightly packed possible No. 1s tier, then Jokic, then a whole mess of guys (including a rising Leonard) from 8-14.

Mike Barner: I do think he approaches those numbers. The Raptors have a huge scoring void without DeMar DeRozan, who has finished with a usage rate of at least 29.6 percent in three straight seasons. Leonard may not be completely happy with the Raptors, but he'll be extremely productive.

Jeff Stotts: I'd be hesitant to just assume a guy that has played just nine games since the 2016-17 season will automatically return to an MVP level. However, Toronto's medical team has had success managing muscle-related injuries and should put him a position to succeed.

Ben Miller: When you play just nine games the previous year, there's definitely going to be some rust early on. I think it'll be tough for him to match his averages from the 2016-17 campaign, but I don't think it's a stretch for him to come somewhat close once he gets in a rhythm. He'll be working with a four-time All-Star in point guard Kyle Lowry and the two should play well off of each other, so that should keep Leonard in the discussion for a pick in the back end of Round 1 in drafts.

Jeff Edgerton: Without DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors desperately need a playmaker like Kawhi if they want to stay competitive. With every opportunity to succeed in Toronto, I think he'll actually outdo his numbers from two years ago alongside an arguably more talented supporting cast.

2. Coming off of a disappointing and flat-out bizarre rookie season, what are your expectations for Markelle Fultz in Year 2?


Anderson: I think Fultz will be a scorer and playmaker off the bench. He may see around 24 minutes per game in the first half of the season and could gradually work up to around 28 minutes per game by season's end. I doubt he will be particularly efficient, but he could average something like 12 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and one steal.

Whalen: A couple months ago I decided to throw caution to the wind and go all-in on a Fultz resurgence. I don't think he'll come back and suddenly be a 40 percent three-point shooter, but he does enough to affect the game in other ways that he'll still be a really valuable rotation piece for the Sixers. If Fultz is even 80 percent the player we thought he'd be coming out of Washington, the Sixers' trajectory over the next few seasons changes rather dramatically.

Barutha: I have no expectations about his jumper, but I think chalking him in for a sixth-man role is safe. Fultz proved late last season that he's a quality player even if he can't shoot outside of the paint. He should be a plus rebounder, distributor and defender at his position.

Crites: In general, I let others draft rookies and stick with boring veterans. At only 20 years of age and with only 13 NBA games under his belt, Fultz is essentially a rookie. I'd rather have Dennis Schroder in OKC.

Rikleen: Fultz is effectively a rookie, since we have no meaningful NBA game tape on him. That means his ceiling is roughly top-80 fantasy production, and he's much more likely to bounce on and off of waivers. The 76ers will definitely work him in, and I think he'll show a lot of the potential we expected when he was drafted – just in limited minutes.

Barner: I expect him to have a limited role off the bench to start the year and to continue to be a work in progress. The Sixers have a capable backup in T.J. McConnell already, so there is no need to rush Fultz into significant minutes if they don't feel like he's ready.

Miller: It's probably safe to assume that Fultz will be stuck in a bench role, and while the addition of Wilson Chandler adds some depth, the Sixers still don't have a ton of overly talented bodies in the second unit. As a result, Fultz will likely be tasked with plenty of play-making duties and will be an intriguing late-round flier in fantasy.

Edgerton: It's been reported that Fultz has finally refined what looks to be a much better jumpshot this summer. With Marco Belinelli off to San Antonio, the opportunity – and perhaps the necessity – will be there for Fultz to see more time.

3. Rank the top five players (in real life) in the Eastern Conference heading into this season:


Anderson: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Victor Oladipo, Ben Simmons

Whalen: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, Victor Oladipo

Barutha: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, ...Ben Simmons?

Crites: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, Victor Oladipo, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum

Rikleen: Giannis, Giannis, Giannis, Giannis, and Giannis. OK, the next four are actually Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving, and... Victor Oladipo over John Wall. But those last two really haven't earned their spot among that first four.

Barner: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons.

Stotts: Giannis, Kyrie, Embiid, Oladipo, Kawhi

Miller: Giannis, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Joel Embiid

Edgerton: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Victor Oladipo

4. Which mid-tier Eastern Conference team has the best chance to make the Conference Finals?


Anderson: Milwaukee – I can at least envision how the Bucks would maybe get there with an actual coach and another year of improvement from Giannis. I'd still bet pretty heavily on two of the top three (Celtics, Raptors, 76ers) to end up in the Conference Finals, so this is a big long shot.

Whalen: Indiana might have a higher floor, but Milwaukee has the highest ceiling. The Bucks have the best player in the conference, added a big man who can shoot, and should be able to count on getting more than a half-season out of Malcolm Brogdon. If Thon Maker looks anything close to the player he was for much of the playoff series against Boston, that's an added bonus.

Barutha: Milwaukee. It has the best player of the group and maybe the best coach, depending on how you feel about Erik Spoelstra.

Crites: I think Miami is going to win the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, so I'll with the Heat. When in doubt, go with the smartest coach.

Rikleen: The Bucks. They say it's a star-driven league, and, well, it is. Not only do the Bucks have Antetokounmpo, but the surrounding core of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez is pretty solid, too

Barner: The Bucks. They have the best player in the East in Giannis and a great duo of Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe to provide him with support. The additions of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova are also significant and should really help with their floor spacing.

Miller: I'll go with Indiana considering how well the Pacers played last year and the fact that they took LeBron James and the Cavaliers to seven games in the first round of playoffs. With no more LeBron, Victor Oladipo could help the Pacers make some noise. That said, if a team like Miami or Milwaukee can jump into the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, that could change things.

Edgerton: Giannis can't get Milwaukee there all by himself, but I think there's a decent chance they can put the pieces together and sneak in. Wall and Beal will almost certainly keep the Wizards in the conversation, as well.

5. Joel Embiid played 63 games last season and avoided any significant issues with his foot or lower body: At this point, to what degree do you consider Embiid an injury liability for fantasy purposes?


Anderson: I don't think you can really afford to discount him anymore because he has a chance to be a top-five fantasy player if he plays 75 games – and any player can get hurt. That said, a 7-foot-2, ~290-pound center (I don't care about his listed height/weight) with significant injury history is obviously a bit more risky than a 6-foot-5 player with almost no injury history.

Whalen: Embiid would have to play 82 games for the next three years for me to watch a Sixers game without holding my breath every time he stampedes through a crowded lane. With that said, had it not been for that freak, late-season collision with Markelle Fultz, Embiid probably would have played 70 or 71 games. Even the 63 games he did play felt like a victory – the Vegas prop was 55.5 – and the fact that he showed no signs of any foot-related complications was a massive sigh of relief. I'm (cautiously) optimistic.

Barutha: I'll chalk him up for 10 missed games, but he shouldn't slip past the second round in fantasy leagues. His upside is way too high.

Crites: I prefer to play in leagues that count free throw percentage and turnovers. Because of that, I rank Embiid fourth among centers – just behind Nikola Jokic, but ahead of Andre Drummond. So I guess I consider him healthy. That said, Embiid's 3.8 turnovers per game last season were by far the most among elite centers not named DeMarcus Cousins.

Rikleen: Humans didn't evolve to be 7'0" tall and 260 (plus) pounds, and their joints definitely didn't evolve to be able to withstand 7'0"-260-pounds worth of fast twirling and redirecting that Embiid is able to make look so fluid on a regular basis. Foot problems can always come back, especially in giants. I feel incalculably better about his injury risk now than I did last year, but it'll take a long time for me to perceive him as having the same injury risk as any "normal" big man – if I ever get there.

Barner: I think he's more of an injury liability than the average player because of the cautious approach the Sixers have taken with him over the years. If he gets any sort of injury, they are going to err on the side of caution and give him extra rest.

Miller: You're injury prone until you aren't. When I'm evaluating Embiid, I'm going to expect him to miss a handful of games, but nothing significant enough to where I'm going to downgrade him too much for fantasy purposes. He should still push to be a top-five center in most leagues and I'm more worried about the Sixers being cautious and resting him, at times, more than anything.

Edgerton: As long as they continue to rest him in back-to-backs like they did for parts of last season, I don't think injury will be a huge concern. But the occasional late scratch will cause some frustration for owners.

6. How do you envision Jabari Parker fitting in with the Bulls this season? Can he be a top-100 player?


Anderson: He can be a top 100 player, sure. I'm hoping Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are the first and second options for the Bulls, but I fear Jabari may just force his way into the go-to role, as he's the most selfish of those three. He's basically a more efficient Andrew Wiggins with a couple more rebounds per game.

Whalen: It'll be a much-needed fresh start, but I think the same issues that plagued Parker in Milwaukee will follow him to Chicago. Parker was a catastrophe on defense with the Bucks, and unless he can become less of a glaring liability on that end, it'll be tough to shake his reputation as a volume shooter who doesn't necessarily help win basketball games.

Barutha: I think Parker is talented enough offensively to fit onto every team, at least in a sixth-man role. My guess is that he'll see around 30 minutes per game, which could easily put him in the top-100 considering his ability as an efficient scorer.

Crites: If Parker can continue hitting threes, he'll fit in fine. Every team needs more outside shooting. Because of his poor rookie shooting, people outside of Wisconsin forget he's drained at least one three per game over the past two years. The big question, as usual, is: will Parker stay healthy?

Rikleen: Parker's big problem is health, not fit. Averaging 33.9 minutes in 2016-17, he was a top-60 per-game producer. Aided by bad-team stat inflation, he can absolutely recreate the 20 points, six rebounds, three assists, one three and one steal he averaged that season. There's no one on the depth chart outside of Bobby Portis to truly threaten his minutes, neither starting big man is much of a rebound-vacuum, and he'll be asked to carry as much of the scoring load as he can on a roster with three good scorers but no decent ones. If healthy, he can do a whole lot better than just top-100.

Barner: I don't think he's a good fit, but I still think he could be a top-100 player. The Bulls are going to be a bad defensive team and will likely play at a fast pace, which should give Parker plenty of opportunities to produce. They also don't have quality depth at small forward, which is part of the reason why they are playing him there even though he'd be better suited to play power forward.

Stotts: I'm intrigued by Parker and his move to Chicago. If he stays healthy I could see him finishing as a top-50 option.

Miller: If Parker can stay healthy, I expect him to be a key offensive piece, who could push for something much closer to the 20.1 points per game that he averaged two seasons ago, rather than the 12.6 he averaged in 31 games last year. The Bulls have a lot of young talent in Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter, but I still think Parker should get plenty of looks, whether he starts at small forward or leads the second unit.

Edgerton: Parker certainly has the potential, but a lot will depend on the development of the players around him. How will Lauri Markkanen figure into the offense with Parker there? Will we see the Zach LaVine from 2016?

7. Which team will represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals?


Anderson: The Celtics, but I think it's a coin flip between them and the Raptors. The Celtics' offense should be insane and the Raptors' defense should be insane, and I give the coaching edge to Boston, which is what I'm using as the tie-breaker.

Whalen: Smart money says Boston. Down Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics were about three ill-advised Terry Rozier pull-ups from being there last year. Philadelphia, Toronto or Milwaukee could give the Celtics a run, but Boston showed last season that it's capable of exploiting weaknesses over the course of a seven-game series.

Barutha: Boston. The Celtics won 55 games without their second-best player in Gordon Hayward. He'll be back, plus development from the younger players.

Crites: Boston, of course. They have the best coach in the East, the best starting five and the best GM. I'm sure Toronto will put up a fight, but they will need time to gel and Lowry will need to continue to improve his post-season play. Unless Boston is again devastated by injuries, the East is all theirs.

Rikleen: The Celtics. The Bucks have the best player and the 76ers have a team that would be good enough to make the finals in some seasons, but this Celtics team reminds me of the 2014-15 Warriors. Except, unlike that Warriors team, all five of these Celtics starters could be All-Stars. The depth is incredible. They have a young, great coach. Remember, this Celtics team was tied in the 4th quarter of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without their two best players. Boston has the pieces to be one of the best teams of the past two decades. Unfortunately, it will inevitably lose to the best team of the ever in the Finals. At least they (probably) won't get swept.

Barner: The Celtics. They have the best starting five and the best depth. With some good fortune in the health department, they could have been their last year, too. It only gets easier this season with LeBron James now in the Western Conference.

Stotts: Boston. The Celtics were close last year and are getting a boost in the returns of Hayward and Irving. Their injuries were unfortunate but allowed guys like Tatum and Rozier to gain valuable experience. Boston's coaching, talent, and depth is impressive.

Miller: It's pretty safe to roll with the Celtics as the Eastern Conference representative in the Finals. The Sixers certainly have a case with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but Boston simply has too much depth for Philadelphia to keep up with. Toronto is the bigger concern and could pose some trouble if the Kawhi Leonard experiment is fruitful. Still, as long as Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward stay healthy, I think the Celtics have too much talent and depth, which will allow them to take out the Raptors in six or seven games in the East Finals.

Edgerton: The Sixers ran out of gas at an inopportune moment in the postseason, but I don't see that happening again. I think we'll see a Sixers-Celtics final with Philly moving on to face you-know-who.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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