By Jarrod Castillo Staff Writer
Coming into the 2018 NBA season with their recently acquired guard Isaiah Thomas, the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavs) were slated to waltz to the NBA Finals. Though the Cavs are still the team to beat in the East, this year’s iteration seems to be more vulnerable as they rank 30th in defensive rating, with age being a primary culprit, according to Basketball-Reference.
With the oldest roster in the NBA at 31 years old, the Cavs aren’t going to blow away the competition with scoring and athleticism and especially not with their defense. LeBron James can only do so much. It appears that the Cavs’ days at the top of the East are at an end.
Two younger teams have since seized the opportunity to climb to the top: the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors.
Following a trade to the Celtics from the aforementioned Cavs and the loss of all-star forward Gordon Hayward to injury in the first game, guard Kyrie Irving has put the Celtics on his back. To start the season, the Celtics went on an improbable 16-game winning streak, catapulting them to the top of the East standings with a current record of 34-14.
Second-year forward Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum also helped propel the Celtics to the top with their combined average double-figures in scoring. The Celtics lengthy and disruptive defense has also accounted for there being first in the league in defensive rating.
The triumvirate of Irving, Brown and Tatum look to become a feature on top of the East; they are only 25, 21 and 19 years old, respectively. The Celtics as a whole are an average 24 years old, seven years younger than the Cavs.
Although they are currently mired in a four-game losing streak, it’s clear that the Celtics have filled the hole that the Cavs left behind. Nevertheless, the Celtics can’t afford to relax with the Beasts from the Six, the Toronto Raptors, creeping up on them.
Following their second round exodus at the hands of the Cavaliers in June, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey appeared on the NBATV show, “The Starters,” and outlined his plan to improve the team.
Notably, he said that the team’s younger players needed to get better shots from three and that the team as a whole needed to make more threes.
This emphasis on shooting the 3-pointer has paid dividends for the Raptors. They rank seventh in the league in 3-pointers attempted, up from 22nd the year prior. Though they may not be hitting the three’s extremely well, this has not deterred them from having the fourth best offensive rating in the NBA.
Coupled with the fact that they are also fourth in defensive rating, the Raptors have supplanted the Cavs in standings, with a record of 31-14. Further still, apart from point guard Kyle Lowry being 31, the rest of the Raptors are an average age of 26 years old, five years younger than the Cavs.
Having a young roster has allowed coach Casey to evenly spread minutes. There are seven players averaging more than 20 minutes, with forward Pascal Siakam close behind with 19.9.
The utilitarian approach that the team has bought into this season has allowed All-Star guard DeMar Derozan to take less of the load on offense and has led him to average a career-high 35 percent from three-point land. It seems that coach Casey has been able to get his players to buy in for the betterment of the team.
Ultimately, with the way the Cavaliers are playing compared to the Celtics and the Raptors, it appears that this year might be the year that King James relinquishes his throne atop the Eastern Conference.