The Most Crucial Player for Every Eastern Conference team

With the trade deadline, All-Star weekend and NBA Playoffs rapidly approaching, it really is the most beautiful time of the year for NBA fans. So, let’s take a look at each team’s most important player, for the teams future in the case of some lottery teams or that one piece that will be instrumental in the fight through the playoffs.

As a Cavaliers fan, the Cavs have been unwatchable this season. With nine wins, yes, nine, the Cavaliers hold the worst record in the NBA, with thirty-nine losses to pair with them. The Cavaliers are tanking. I know this; you know this, and I’m not even mad. However, one thing that comes with having a bad team is having *mostly* not-good players. One bright spot in a dark season has been Colin Sexton. Taken with the eighth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Sexton has had a relatively good season thus far, averaging 14.5PPG, 3RPG and 2.8APG. These are not bad numbers for a rookie point guard on a poor team, but he will need to really pick up those assist numbers if he wants to be a serious player in the league. A top-three pick in the 2019 draft is all but in the bag for Cleveland, and that means that they have a huge chance at reeling in Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett. Both could be a good combo with Sexton as the Robin to their Batman. Let’s hope it goes this smoothly for Cavalier fans because you never know; the Cavs might trade the pick for Paul Millsap or something. I really wouldn’t be surprised.

Picking one player for the Knicks wasn’t easy. I mean, they’re just so star-studded that I struggled to pick just one. In spite of this, I managed to do so. In the off-season, after this season, the New York Knicks have the hope of signing a Superstar level player. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are names that keep popping up. However, they also have to resign their constantly injured, Superstar potential Unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. This means that they have to get some money off their books. Courtney Lee is someone that fits the bill. At thirty-three years of age, on twelve million dollars this season and the next and averaging 5.3/2.4/1.4 in fifteen minutes per game in the ten games he’s played this is just a terrible contract. The Knicks have to trade him for an expiring contract or just a far less expensive one to fulfil their hopes of a very busy free agency at the end of this season.

With what is already a good young core with Lavine, Dunn, Markkanen and Carter Jr. the Bulls are in good stead for the future. Lavine, supremely athletic with a shot that is improving and a want to be the man, seems to be ready to hit that next level next season. Already averaging 23/4/4 if he does take that next step, with another year’s maturation for the team’s other young players, we could be seeing the classic red and white of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Playoffs again.

The Hawks, like the rest of the teams below them, unlike the bottom of the Western Conference, are really just hoping to get a good pick in next seasons draft, because this season is over for them already. Despite this, the Hawks have uncovered what seems to be an excellent player in their 19th Pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Collins has put up 18.8 PPG and 10.4RPG this season which are pretty great numbers and a huge improvement from his rookie season where he averaged 13PPG and 8RPG. If Collins continues to improve and averages around 21 points and 11 rebounds it’s likely that he could be an all-star next season. Combining with Trae Young, the Hawks future seems to be bright, and Collins should be at the core of it.

Averaging 20.5/12/3.8 this season, Nikola Vucevic has been outstanding, and his play has landed Orlando *on the outside of* the playoff race. This has left Orlando in a pickle and has the NBA rumour mill spinning. To trade or not to trade is the question and despite reports of various teams being interested in the twenty-eight-year-old Center, Magic General Manager John Hammond has made it clear he wants to make the playoffs this season, ending Orlando’s playoff drought. If this is the case, at the end of the season Vucevic is a free agent, and it wouldn’t be in Orlando’s best interest to resign him (given his projected asking price). Whether Vucevic is traded at the deadline or the centrepiece of the playoff run, he is the Magics most crucial player this season.

In previous year’s John Wall may have been mentioned in a similar list because he was the Wizards best player; this is not the case for this one. There is no doubt that with John Wall in the lineup versus out of the lineup, the Wizards are a better team. However, John Wall begun this season out of shape, he has performed below his standards this season, and he has just had a fairly significant surgery. Not to mention that Wall is set to begin a four-year $170 Million contract next season. Meaning that he will be paid $46.8 Million in the last year of that contract and $37 Million in the first. There are no signs that John Wall will be better when he is 32 than he is now and so this is why John Wall is the player of choice for this piece. Either The Wizards will trade him, Beal (they should not trade Beal, but Wall’s contract is almost untradeable) or Otto Porter. One way or another, the Wizards are a mess, and John Wall is the most significant piece of the blow it up and see what we can do in the playoffs pies.

There is no doubt about it, Blake Griffin has been fantastic this season, putting up all-around numbers of 26PPG, 8RPG and 5APG, Griffin is really doing it all for Detroit, and he is going to have to keep doing it and more. The possibility of Detroit making a smart trade at the deadline for some shooting and perimeter defending is not out of the question, but it is unlikely. The chances are that not much is going to change between now and the playoffs regarding the Pistons roster pieces and their mentality. Reggie Jackson is going to do what Reggie Jackson does, and in a less negative light, Drummond will do what Drummond does. The fact is that Blake Griffin is the superstar of the team and he is going to have to keep playing at this MVP level and hope that his teammates give more than they have been giving because it really is playoffs or bust for Detroit.

Sneaking into the eighth spot in the east, as of 23rd of January, the Charlotte Hornets have been riding a very hot Kemba walker as hard as they possibly can in the hopes of making the playoffs. Though ‘Cardiac Kemba’ has cooled down slightly after his insane start to the season, he is keeping the Hornets afloat and in the playoff race, averaging 25/4/6. A dangerous team against anyone they play against if they make the eight, Kemba has to play great every night if they want to make it into the eighth spot.

Winslow has not had an outstanding 2018–19 season thus far, averaging 12/5.3/4.2 However, Winslow has shown signs of being the heats best player. One of the only players who can legitimately guard 1–4, Winslow is a long 6–7 guard who is still young and can make a huge impact on Miami now and in the future. Recently, with the injury to point guard Goran Dragic, the Heat experimented with ‘Point Justice’, with promising results. Since the Heats game against the Raptors on Dec 26, Winslow has averaged 15/5.6/5.4 through thirteen games, at 30MPG. If the Heat can figure out how to magnify Winslow once Dragic returns, the Heat could be a formidable opponent come playoff time, if they make it.

While both of the men pictured are candidates for this position, the reason I have chosen Russell over Dinwiddie is his lack of consistency. You know, more or less, what you’re going to get from Dinwiddie night in night out, whereas with Russell, what he gives you from night to night fluctuates. For example, Russell has been on fire of late, averaging 24PPG in his last ten games. However, in 2 of those games, Russell had only 10 and 5 points. While you can excuse this because of the run he has been on, this inconsistency is what separates stars from superstars, and the Nets will need D’Angelo to be at his best, night in, night out to make it into the playoffs and make some noise once they are there.

The marquee signing coming off the 2016–17 season, the ankle injury that occurred in the first game of last season is still an issue for the Celtics today. Gordon Hayward just hasn’t been the same player, and while yes it does take a while to get your legs back under you after such a scary injury and it only seems the season has been underway for a week, the Celtics are running out of time for their All-Star forward to emerge as that once again. In twenty-six minutes a game, Hayward is handing in 10.9PPG/4.6RPG/3.5APG which really aren’t numbers that are getting it done. While the Celtics have plenty of problems as to what roster is their best roster and Kyrie calling Lebron after games and blaming losses on their young players, Hayward is at the core of the former of those problems. If he can get back to the level we know he can play at, the Celtics are once again a legitimate title contender. If he can’t, they have a heavily priced sixth-man and a really good team that might win the East.

Ben Simmons is an outstanding player, he really is. Recently, however, questions have been raised as to whether he is the right fit for the 76ers, with some claiming that they should trade the young star now and get someone back that could better help them in a championship run. To me, such a claim is ridiculous, but not without warrant. Simmons doesn’t shoot. It’s that simple. Whether or not he can is irrelevant, the fact is he doesn’t, and it doesn’t matter. Averaging more points, rebounds and one decimal point fewer assists than his rookie season, Simmons is giving the 76ers 16.5PPG/9.5RPG/8.1APG and has been even better in the new year, putting up 18.4PPG/10.3RPG/9APG with one steal and a block to go along with it. A 6'10 guard with great vision, speed and a skill for scoring in transition unlike many other players who have played the game, Simmons is the key to Philadelphia’s success. Phili traded for Jimmy Butler because, against the Celtics last year, they focused on Simmons and shut him down. With a big three now, the 76ers might have just enough to get the job done, we’ll see.

I’ve been trying to comprise this list of players who are not necessarily the team’s star or best player. However, for the Pacers, Oladipo is undoubtedly their most important player coming into the race for a playoff spot and in the Eastern Conference Championship. After an excellent year last season, fans thought Oladipo had taken the next step into stardom. However, with his play this season it is beginning to look like the 2017–18 season when he averaged 23.1PPG/5.2RPG/4.3APG was the outlier, not a new rule. Though this season he is above his career averages of 17.5/4.6/4, Oladipo is averaging 19.2/5.7/5.3, which while his rebounds and assists are up, and his numbers in now way are bad, the Pacers will need more from him if they want to make some legitimate noise in the post-season.

Pascal Siakam has been a revelation for the Raptors this season and is a hot contender for the most improved player. In his third NBA season, after averaging 7.3/4.5/2/ in his sophomore year, Siakam is giving Toronto 15/7/3 with a steal. If these stats don’t wow you enough, what about him being ranked 5th in Real Plus-Minus among all Big-Men. More than these stats, it is the energy the Siakam plays with night in, night out, on both ends of the floor that boosts Toronto. Along with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, Siakam is the Crucial third wheel that pushes the Raptors from Eastern Conference Contenders to Championship contenders.

Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, Brogdon has been a good piece for the Bucks since they drafted him. However, he is pictured in the number one spot as the most crucial player on the team (apart from Giannis of course) because he has become more than a good piece this season. Closing in on a 50/40/90 season, which is 50%fg, 40%3fg, 90%ft, Brogdon has been knocking down all kinds of shots this season. Giving Milwaukee 4.5RPG and 3.4APG to go along with his 15PPG, Brogdon is the crucial perimeter shooter, along with Brook Lopez’ newfound three-point shooting prowess, to go along with Antetokounmpo. If Brogdon can keep this consistency going into the playoffs and not fall off in the postseason, Giannis and the Bucks can make a legitimate grab for the Eastern Conference.

From some team’s stars to role players that are solid in their role, there are all kinds of players in this list, yet all are crucial to what their team is trying to achieve. Some are the difference between victory and defeat, and some are holding them back from achieving their goals. Whatever the case is if you’re looking for players to watch coming into the NBA postseason, look no longer.

Uni student. Write mostly, but not always, about sports. — Twitter @maxbdelaney .