3 Sleepers with Potential to Win the Eastern Conference

The Bucks and the 76ers are favored, but don't sleep on these three teams

Keith Allison, Flickr
  • Last season, the NBA champion Toronto Raptors broke a trend that the previous eight Eastern Conference champs shared as a common denominator: LeBron James. It helped that he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers and wasn’t able to continue that run. 

  • The Raptors will have a slightly different look for the 2019-20 season though, as Kawhi Leonard shipped out of “The North” and headed West, specifically, to the Los Angeles Clippers.

There is a long way to go before the Eastern Conference champion is decided, so let’s take a gander at some sleepers that could conquer the East and fatten your wallet.

Indiana Pacers (+1800

The Pacers have produced a record above .500 for four-straight seasons, but have also been bounced out of the playoffs in the first round for four-straight seasons. Despite the lack of playoff success, the Pacers have put a quality team on the court year after year, and that will not change for the 2019-20 season.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s two-time All Star at shooting guard, will be out with a ruptured right quadriceps tendon and is not expected to return until December or January. In the meantime, the Pacers brought in the more-than-capable Jeremy Lamb to hold down his place. Joining Lamb in the backcourt, at point guard, is another new acquisition in Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon, the 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year, ranked fifth amongst qualified guards in offensive rating and 15th in defensive rating last season. With a starting role on a new team, Brogdon could have a breakout in the Hoosier State. Upon the return of Oladipo, Indiana could have one of the most underrated backcourts in the NBA.

The Pacers frontcourt is nothing to sneeze at, either. Center Myles Turner finished last year with the fourth-best defensive rating among centers and power forward Domantas Sabonis will play a larger role with the departure of Thaddeus Young. Sabonis should be good for a double-double on a nightly basis, and small forward T.J. Warren enters his first season as Bojan Bogdanovic’s replacement.

Quick comparison of Warren and Bogdanovic in 2018-19:

Bogdanovic: 31.8 min per game, 18.0 pts, 4.1 reb, 2 ast, .425 3P%, .807 FT%

Warren: 31.6 min per game, 18.0 pts, 4 reb, 1.5 ast, .428 3P%, .815 FT%

Like a glove!

Indiana finished last season as the NBA’s best defensive club, allowing just 104.4 points per game and should be near the top again this season. When placing your bets on who could win the Eastern Conference, you could do a lot worse than the NBA’s reigning defensive outfit. 

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Orlando Magic (+4200)

The Magic finished last season with the best record in the Southeast division and were eventually booted from the playoffs in the first round by the soon-to-be NBA champion Raptors. What is worth noting, Orlando jumped from 25 wins to 42 in 2018-19. The Magic are trending upward.

The four and five spots for Orlando has the potential to be the envy of many. The big-man combo of power forward Aaron Gordon and center Nikola Vucevic could be one of the best in the league. Both are threats to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds every night and have also began developing their shots behind the 3-point line. Vucevic’s player efficiency rating of 25.45 (which is a player’s contributions calculated into one number) was the ninth-best in the league, just behind the eighth-best: LeBron James. The four and five for the Magic also has intriguing depth in the seven-foot-tall youngster Mo Bamba at center and former Portland Trail Blazers’ contributor Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward.

The backcourt of point guard D.J. Augustin and shooting guard Evan Fournier may be as bland as uncooked tofu, but when bringing the ball up the court, the two have kept the team turnover totals in check as Orlando finished third-best in the East in turnovers per game. The backcourt for the Magic is also awaiting the return of Markelle Fultz. The first overall pick in the 2017 draft, Fultz has been heavily scrutinized, and for good reason. His shooting numbers have been subpar and his ability to stay on the court has been a major issue. It’s fair to say Fultz has struggled, but he has played just 33 games in the NBA; too small a sample to make a fair assessment.

Orlando had an upgrade of 17 wins last season, and could push for 50 wins in the upcoming campaign. The Eastern Conference has gotten weaker, so placing a wager on a potential 50-win club could be a lucrative decision.

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Cleveland Cavaliers (+20000)

The Cavaliers, who were 19-63 a year ago, are sleepers to win the Eastern Conference. Cleveland are such deep sleepers for 2019-20 that they may have to be slapped just to be woken up. 

Just don’t be surprised when they slap back.

The Larry Drew experiment is now over after the Cavs brought in new head coach John Beilein. Beilein likes to open up space on the floor for his players to cut towards the basket and produce a high volume of three-point shots, and this current Cleveland roster may be a perfect fit.

Starting point guard Collin Sexton has always had a knack for finding open space and slashing towards the basket. As the year went on, Sexton began to develop his three-point shot as well, sinking threes at a solid .402 clip. Shooting guard Jordan Clarkson has always been a quality scorer, whether in the starting five or coming off the bench, and could see a lot of looks from beyond the arc in Beilein’s offense. The Cavs bolstered their depth at guard for 2019-20 by drafting Darius Garland and Dylan Windler as well. 

Cleveland will look for their frontcourt to take a step forward. Cedi Osman has been inconsistent, but could make progress in a new coaching system, but the Cavs have a deep rotation in their two frontcourt spots: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic, and John Henson. Nance could collect double-doubles with more usage and Zizic is a dependable big off the bench. Thompson finished with the highest player efficiency rating of his career last year despite only appearing in 43 games; and as the lead star in “The Land”, Love only appeared in 22 games. That’s a combined 99 missed games from the stalwarts of the Cavs frontcourt.

The Cavaliers, a team that won just 19 games a year ago, certainly have a lot of talent. With some new coaching and a return of fully healthy starters, Cleveland could make some noise in the weakened Eastern Conference.

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For Your Consideration

The Raptors are the defending Eastern Conference Champions and last season, they had an average player efficiency rating of 16.04 for all players that appeared in 41 or more team games. When applied to the current Eastern Conference rosters, this is how the rankings came out:

Average Player Efficiency Rankings

  1. Pacers (16.46)
  2. 76ers (16.31)
  3. Celtics (15.85)
  4. Magic (15.30)
  5. Heat (14.68)

The Pacers are the top team in average player efficiency rating in the East and this number is produced without considering Oladipo’s rating as he only appeared in 36 games. The Cavaliers are ranked ninth (14.25) without Love’s rating. When Love’s rating is applied, the Cavs surpass the Heat with the fifth-best average efficiency rating of 14.83. 

The Bucks and the 76ers may be the safer bets, but safe bets can still break your heart. The East is weaker in 2019-20 and there for the taking. So, why not take a chance on a sleeper that could be crawling out of bed?

Note: The advice above is the writer’s opinion only and does not represent the stance or interest of BetQL in any way.