When weearlier in the offseason, we addressed just how tightly packed the standings were last season. Teams that missed the play-in could have home-court advantage if a few things broke their way. But the Eastern Conference? Nope. It was tiered pretty clearly. Boston and Milwaukee had a three-game cushion on the conference. Philadelphia had three games of separation in either direction. The top seven all won at least 44 games, and everyone below them won no more than 41. As a result, we have a pretty good idea of how good every Eastern Conference team actually was last season.
Of course, last season is in the past now. We have an entirely new set of rosters to dissect now, and it starts at the top. Last season's No. 1 seed made the biggest addition of the offseason with the Milwaukee Bucks landing Damian Lillard. The second-biggest addition(s) belongs to the No. 2 seeded Boston Celtics, who added both Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis. Unsurprisingly, they have the two highest projected win totals in the conference. So let's start with them and make win total picks for all 15 teams in the conference.
One quick note before we get going: We're going to be referencing Pythagorean records quite a bit below. A team's Pythagorean record is the record that its point-differential suggests it should have attained, before factoring in the inherent randomness of close games. Historically, this has been far more predictive of future performance than a team's actual record.
2022-23 Wins: 57
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 59
When I Derrick White. It has an elite rim protector in Kristaps Porzingis. Oh, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are still here too. Boston took the second-most 3-pointers in the NBA last season, and with the shooting they've accumulated, they're going to be nearly impossible to stop. Boston is also my pick for the best overall record in the NBA this season., Boston came in fourth. When I , Boston came in second. Obviously, those rankings are subjective, but Boston was the only team to even land in single digits in both categories. No team is better equipped to win regular-season games because no other team can reasonably expect to be elite on both ends of the floor. Boston has the best point-of-attack defensive combo in basketball in Jrue Holiday and
2022-23 Wins: 58
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 51
The 2022-23 Bucks vastly outperformed expectations. They were eight Pythagorean wins behind the Celtics, but still stole the top seed in the East. Damian Lillard will make an enormous difference in the postseason. There are probably going to be some growing pains early. There is no perimeter defense whatsoever on this roster. Brook Lopez is 35. Lillard is 33. Khris Middleton is 32 and dealt with injuries all of last season. This team is going to lose games to injuries. Mike Budenholzer is one of the best regular-season coaches in basketball, while Adrian Griffin is a rookie who . The system he's coming from in Toronto is diametrically opposed to the one Budenholzer ran in Milwaukee. The Bucks will figure it out by the postseason, but this is not a team positioned to win a ton of regular-season games.
2022-23 Wins: 51
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 57
Cleveland was Milwaukee's opposite last season. They were the better team by point-differential, but struggled in close games and suffered in the standings because of it. The Cavaliers are far younger than the Bucks (and most contenders), and are therefore due some internal improvement. The additions of Max Strus and Georges Niang should work wonders on the regular-season offense without affecting Cleveland's top-ranked defense too much. Cleveland will probably prioritize home-court advantage more than the older Bucks and Celtics. Milwaukee is the better title pick, but from October through April, they should be considered roughly Cleveland's equal.
2022-23 Wins: 54
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 54
James Harden is still on the roster. We don't know what lengths Harden will go to get off of the roster, but odds are, that process isn't going to help Philadelphia win games. There are major durability concerns across the roster, starting with Joel Embiid and extending down to the old supporting cast (P.J. Tucker is the second-oldest player in the league now!). Nick Nurse's creative defenses worked in Toronto because he had a roster full of switchy wings. Now he has a roster with far less defensive versatility. Daryl Morey is explicitly building for 2024 cap space, and if that means making moves at the deadline to help his summer at the expense of his present, he'll make them.
2022-23 Wins: 47
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 50
This one could go either way. The numbers say that the Knicks were even better than their surprising 47-35 record last season. Tom Thibodeau teams tend to be fairly consistent defensively, so the Knicks should at least be able to reliably protect the rim. But last year's team was unusually healthy. The only core player to miss more than 20 games was Mitchell Robinson, and even he played 23. There is a bit of shooting regression coming as well, and so many teams have improved so drastically on offense that the Knicks will probably decline considerably from their No. 4 ranking even if they don't noticeably regress on the court. This is a close one, but I lean under slightly.
2022-23 Wins: 44
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 40
Your argument for the over is that the Heat dropped from first in 3-point percentage in 2022 to 27th last season. Almost everyone on the roster is due to improve from deep. Of course, some of the biggest offenders (Max Strus and Gabe Vincent) are gone and were hardly replaced. Jimmy Butler is 34. Kevin Love is 35. Kyle Lowry is 37. Only time will tell how Tyler Herro and the other young players will handle the offseason of trade rumors. The Heat got outscored last season, and despite their postseason success, have hardly been a regular-season juggernaut during the Butler era. Expect another play-in appearance that could easily lead to more playoff success with the right matchups.
2022-23 Wins: 41
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 40
Quin Snyder won roughly 58.5% of his games in Utah, which correlates to a 48-win pace. The Jazz had talent, but it would be reasonable to say that Snyder never had a top-10 player in Utah. It didn't matter. His pick-and-roll system and conservative drop-coverage defense fit this Atlanta roster like a glove and should lead to plenty of regular-season winning. Dejounte Murray is arguably the best second option a Snyder offense has ever had. The perimeter defense is better than Snyder had in Utah, albeit with a Trae Young-sized hole at point guard. That's a flaw that will be exploited in the playoffs, but the offense will do enough in the regular season to keep this team comfortably above .500.
2022-23 Wins: 35
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 32
Indiana is going to have the best transition offense in the NBA, and that speed is going to be a nightmare in the regular season when opponents are tired. Tyrese Haliburton shined on Team USA's bench, and even though he is already a star, he still has plenty of room for another breakout. Bruce Brown will go a long way toward fixing the bad perimeter defense, and Myles Turner remains among the NBA's best rim-protectors. Obi Toppin averaged over 20 points per game as a starter in New York -- but he started just 15 games. Now he'll have a chance to prove himself in a permanent starting role. Expect plenty of points here, and that should be enough to get Indiana to .500.
2022-23 Wins: 40
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 45
Zach LaVine was in trade rumors all summer. DeMar DeRozan is on an expiring contract and it really wouldn't make sense to re-sign him. Your defensive identity can't be "having Alex Caruso," and whatever witchcraft made the Bulls a top-five defense last season is going to wear off. The transition offense is still a mess without Lonzo Ball. They never shoot 3's and allow more of them than any other team. This team should be broken up in February.
2022-23 Wins: 34
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 33
Orlando essentially played .500 basketball after starting 5-20, and with such a young roster, there is likely to be some internal development. The problem here is fit. There's barely any shooting on the roster right now. There are five recent first-round picks fighting for minutes in the backcourt, and figuring out who sticks around long-term is a greater priority than winning right away. Development isn't always linear. The Magic could be a better team this season without winning more games. Until Orlando decides which young players are worth committing to and what veterans they want to pursue, the Magic are probably a lottery team.
2022-23 Wins: 45
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 44
Quickly, jump aboard the Ben Simmons hype train before it's too late! Brooklyn might have the NBA's best defense, and its infinite supply of rangy wings is going to generate a bunch of turnovers that Simmons will turn into transition points. Mikal Bridges looked like an All-Star-caliber half-court shot-creator last season, and even if the offense is poor as a whole, he can at least supplement their transition success with a bit of half-court magic. Brooklyn has the assets to trade for almost any player it wants. If the defense is as good as it can be, they'll have plenty of reason to trade for offensive help.
2022-23 Wins: 41
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 45
The half-court offense is going to be a mess with Fred VanVleet gone and little shooting left to replace him. Fine. The defense should be even better with a full season of Jakob Poeltl. Scottie Barnes should benefit from more on-ball opportunities. They're still going to generate plenty of offense off the turnovers this defense creates. Last season's team was better than its record indicated, assuming you trust Pythagorean wins. Nick Nurse seemed to have a foot out the door all season, and a new coach could help mend this team's chemistry. They have no motivation to tank as the Spurs own their top-six protected first-round pick.
2022-23 Wins: 27
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 24
The Hornets won 43 games in 2022. Everybody got hurt last season. LaMelo Ball is back. Miles Bridges is too, even if he probably shouldn't be. Mark Williams was one of the best young rim protectors in the NBA last season, and Charlotte had an above-average defense after the All-Star break with him taking on a bigger role. Gordon Hayward should benefit from Charlotte's improved wing depth, as fewer minutes might make it easier for him to stay healthy. Steve Clifford teams always defend better than their talent suggests they should.
2022-23 Wins: 17
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 19
The perimeter is divided between young players that can't shoot (Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson, Killian Hayes) and veterans who can (Joe Harris, Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks). The young players are going to get more minutes purely from a developmental perspective, and that lack of shooting is going to be crippling with all of the two-big lineups Troy Weaver insists on Detroit playing. Cade Cunningham had a great showing for Team USA's select team, but this roster just doesn't make sense for him yet. He needs more shooting and, frankly, more proven talent around him. There are no proven defenders to be found on this roster.
2022-23 Wins: 35
2022-23 Pythagorean Wins: 37
Jordan Poole is going to take 25 shots every night, and his teammates are going to dread every one of them. Tyus Jones is just waiting for his inevitable midseason trade to a contender. So is Delon Wright. Washington has arguably the worst group of centers in the NBA. As promising as Bilal Coulibaly looks, he is still a rookie, and rookies are rarely positive-value propositions. The Wizards want to tank. They built a roster to tank. When they can strip that roster down even further at the deadline, they'll almost certainly do it. Don't overthink this one.