Most NBA fans will say the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference, and it certainly would look that way if you look at the players.
In the West, there’s the MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden. There are also other top talents like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, Chris Paul and more. There is argument about who is the top player in the competitive West.
In the East, one man stands alone at the top, and that is LeBron James. James is the NBA’s best and has been untouchable in the East.
The bigger question is who is the East’s second best player? This could be debated between a few stars. Here is a breakdown of some of the top talent in the East.
A lot of Cavs fans might argue the next best behind James is his sidekick Kyrie Irving. Irving definitely has a nice resume. This season he averaged 25.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 40.1 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Irving has proven to be a clutch performer, evidenced in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last season and on Christmas day. He handles the ball better than anyone else in the league and is one of the best at playing iso.
However, Irving’s ability to lead the Cavs without James remains in question. Everyone knows how bad the Cavs’ record is when James sits. Irving may not be able to lead the Cavs, but he compliments James very nicely. The two of them make a great duo.
PG-13 just might be the biggest star James has blocked from the NBA Finals. James’ teams have been in the Finals in all seven of George’s NBA seasons and have beaten George all four times they’ve met in the postseason.
George has had some nice numbers. This season he averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range. George has been playing his best basketball since coming back from his leg injury two years ago. George is also known for his solid defensive play.
George does have a few weaknesses to him. Unlike Irving, George lacks the clutch gene. In the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter, George is 0-15 on go-ahead shot opportunities since he came into the league, which ranks worst in the NBA. George said during their series with the Cavs that he thinks he should be the guy taking those final shots. However, he still hasn’t proven he can make those shots.
George also has few assists. If he wants to be on James’ level, that is something he is going to have to improve on.
Kenny Smith and Colin Cowherd have already said they believe Thomas is the second-best player in the East. His breakout season has him averaging 28.9 points per game (highest in the East) and 5.9 assists. Thomas also rocked a 26.59 player efficiency rating, which was good for second-best in the East.
Thomas is also second in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring behind Westbrook. Thomas plays until the end of the game and has had many clutch moments throughout the season.
The biggest weakness for Thomas is his defense. It has been talked about all season long. The 5-foot-9 point guard has the lowest defensive real plus-minus in the NBA at -4.08.
Thomas can definitely score a lot, but so can a lot of other players. Thomas is going to have to prove he can be at least average on defense if he wants to challenge James.
John Wall had his best season yet this year. The Wizards point guard had career highs in points (23.1) and assists (10.7) per game. The assists, along with his two steals per game, were tops in the Eastern Conference.
He helped lead the Wizards to the fourth seed in the East after missing the playoffs last year. Wall is a playmaker and the most true point guard in the East.
One obvious issue Wall has in his game is the amount of turnovers he commits. Wall was third in the NBA and first in the East for total turnovers. Harden and Westbrook were first and second in this stat and each had over 100 more than Wall. A lot of the NBA’s stars also rank high in turnovers due to the amount they handle the ball, so it isn’t a huge concern that Wall ranks third on this list.
Wall has made several small improvements to his game. You couldn’t even tell he had surgery on both of his knees in the offseason because it slowed him down in no way. He can only continue to get better from here, especially if he can cut down on his turnovers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the biggest candidate for Most Improved Player. He also has a case for the East’s second best player.
The Greek Freak is similar to James in the way that he dominates almost all the major stat category on his team. He lead the Bucks in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.9) per game. His regular season totals in those five categories also ranked in the top 20 in the NBA, making him the first player in history to finish in the top 20 in all the five major categories.
He is definitely a freak of nature. He is listed at 6-foot-11 and 222 pounds. He can play every position on the court. Oh, and he is just 22 years old and just finished his fourth season, which was his best yet. The sky is the limit for Antetokounmpo.
In order for him to get to the next level, he is going to have to improve in some areas. One of those is shooting. The Greek Freak can definitely improve on his jump shot overall, including 3-point shooting and free throws. He improved in both 3-point and free-throw shooting this season, but it can get better.
He can also do a better job handling the ball as he finished ninth in turnovers. He joins Wall and a lot of other stars that finished high in this category.
The Final Verdict
Caron Butler and Charles Barkley both called Wall the second best in the East earlier this week. I’m going to join them.
The second best in the East has to be Wall. He’s fast and can score and pass at a high level. He shares the Wizards’ backcourt with Bradley Beal perfectly. They’ve seemed to put their past differences aside and are playing great basketball together. Wall has Washington back to where they have been in the past few years and has them on a rise to stardom.
ESPN’s First Take recently debated if Wall is now the best point guard in the NBA based on his performance this postseason. I’m not ready to give him that title, especially with guys like Westbrook, Harden and Curry still dominating. However, I’m willing to call him the best point guard in the East as well as the East’s second-best player.
It is going to be exciting to see Wall’s full potential as he enters the final prime years of his career. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Greek Freak tops Wall in the next few seasons to take this title away from him.
I’m not even going to attempt to guess at which point LeBron James will slow down. Analysts keep predicting it and he keeps proving them wrong.
(Featured Image by Huffington Post)
“From Our Haus to Yours”