The New King of the East?
One week into the NBA season, Giannis Antetokounmpo is showing signs he’s ready to take the next step with the Milwaukee Bucks but is the Eastern Conference throne his for the taking? AGONAsport’s Peter Katsiris takes a deeper look...
The 2018/2019 season has started brightly for the Milwaukee Bucks despite several changes, including the appointment of a new head coach and a new place to call home. In spite of all of that, the Bucks are 3-0 to start the season and their star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is already showing major growth in his game and in his leadership skills.
Perhaps all the change in Milwaukee, like the appointment of an offensive-minded coach like Mike Budenholzer and the inaugural season at the brand-new Fiserv Forum, has come at just the right time following a major offseason change in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
LeBron James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers seemingly opened the door for a new player to be crowned the ‘King of the East’ after James dominated the conference for the better part of the last decade. In fact, it’s unlikely that the next in line will enjoy the same success as James, who reached the NBA Finals in each of the last eight seasons out of the Eastern Conference as a member of either the Cavaliers or the Miami Heat.
While the new ‘King of the East’ likely won’t be recognized for quite some time, there is already a small contingent of players that have emerged as frontrunners to take over the reins from James. Among those frontrunners is Antetokounmpo, who on potential and talent alone would most likely sit atop the player rankings in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, basketball is a team game and James wasn’t just the best player in the Eastern Conference; he was the best player in the Eastern Conference on the best team in the Eastern Conference. That’s perhaps the same measuring stick that will be applied to the so-called next ‘King of the East’ and that’s perhaps where Antetokounmpo has the short end of the stick, so to speak.
In fairness, the Bucks’ front office hasn’t done a great job surrounding Antetokounmpo with many quality players. In fact, no player on the Bucks roster aside from Antetokounmpo has an All-Star nod heading into the 2018/2019 season. For as good as Antetokounmpo is on his own, even James had a great supporting cast while in Miami and Cleveland – players that both James made better and others who returned the favor.
That hinderance on Antetokounmpo’s game likely takes away from the Bucks’ chances at seriously contending for the Eastern Conference, particularly with other contenders for ‘The King of the East’ title starring on more complete teams.
Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and his 76ers teammate Joel Embiid, could all stake a claim for being the best player in the Eastern Conference in James’ absence. The reality for all of these players is that they also play on more complete teams; at least on paper.
Kawhi Leonard probably holds the most valid claim on the throne even if he missed the majority of last season before being traded to Toronto in the offseason. For starters, Leonard was regarded among the top players in the league before a long-term injury limited his 2017/2018 campaign to just nine appearances. Add Leonard’s effectiveness at both ends of the court to a Raptors team that finished with the best regular season record in the conference last season, and perhaps the ‘King of the East’ is the ‘King of the North.’ too.
In Boston, the Celtics are on paper the favourites to emerge from the Eastern Conference and reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade. Interestingly enough the man who could replace James as the ‘King of the East’ is the same player who reportedly asked for a trade from Cleveland to escape James’ shadow. Kyrie Irving, who is more of a playmaker is also surrounded by a great supporting cast in Boston as the Celtics boast plenty of depth which helped them reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
That same Boston depth shutdown the likes of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, two Philadelphia-based stars who might also have a say in the next ‘King of the East’ dilemma. The pair have taken the league by storm since their arrivals, and yet again the duo have a deeper supporting cast than the one Antetokounmpo has at his disposal in Milwaukee.
Despite all the speculation, nothing has been decided as of yet and the current season will play a huge role in just who emerges as the next ‘King of the East.’ From Antetokounmpo’s perspective, if he is able to achieve his goal as the league’s Most Valuable Player, then there is no question he is the best player in the Eastern Conference. That said, it wouldn’t hurt if the Bucks finally make use of Antetokounmpo’s talent and begin to build a championship-caliber roster around him.