Eastern Conference Tiers
By Zulfi Sheikh and Mike Collins
The NBA season tips off in less than two weeks and that means it’s time to see how each team is shaping up heading into the year. Things look especially interesting in the Eastern Conference as blockbuster trades have shifted the landscape.
All-star players have made their way into the East, while other talented stars have departed.
In this preview, teams have been placed into one of four categories to break down where each roster is at and what fans can expect from each squad this season.
There’s your title threats who have the likeliest shot at making the NBA finals, play-off teams who are solidly in the mix at the top of the conference, play-in teams who are on the fringe of post-season contention, and lottery-bound teams at the bottom.
Milwaukee Bucks (58-24) Over/Under 54.5 via BetMGM
It should come as no surprise that the number-one seed in the conference from last season is seen as a title favourite yet again. Especially considering they pulled off the biggest trade of the summer to acquire seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard.
After dominating the regular season and winning a league-best 58 games, the Bucks ended their 2022-2023 season rather unceremoniously. The squad was bounced in the first round by the eventual Eastern Conference champions Miami Heat, in just five games. The post-season collapse was only the sixth time in NBA history that an eighth-seed beat a one-seed.
Milwaukee clearly took that early exit to heart as they swung for the fences and acquired Lillard, despite the guard being connected to the aforementioned Heat in trade rumours all summer.
The former Portland Trailblazer averaged 32.2 points (third in the NBA), 4.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists, and immediately forms one of the best duos in the league alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Lillard’s game perfectly compliments the two-time MVP as they’ll be a lethal pick-and-roll combination. The Blazers averaged 1.13 points per possession in pick-and-roll when Lillard was the primary ball-handler, and that was without a roll man as dominant as the Greek Freak.
The All-NBA third-team selection from last season also addresses one of Milwaukee’s biggest weaknesses from a season ago, their halfcourt offence. The Bucks averaged 99.6 points per 100 halfcourt plays last year, and adding a play-maker like Lillard who can open up the floor with his elite range, is a perfect way to create more opportunities to score.
However, as formidable as this team is expected to be, they’ll still have to address some things throughout the season.
Aside from a lack of depth, the biggest questions will surround first-time head coach Adrian Griffin. Former assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, it’s yet to be seen if replacing Mike Budenholzer with a new coach, a rookie bench boss no less, will pay off.
Griffin is going to have to manage a squad with two top-10 players while also trying to live up to the lofty expectations that come with it.
Boston Celtics (57-25) Over/Under 54.5
Like the Bucks, the Celtics felt like they needed to shake things up with their already competitive nucleus of talent. Despite being the second seed in the East and going all the way to the conference finals for the third time in four years, Boston made multiple moves in the off-season.
They started by committing to the tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum as they signed Brown to a supermax contract of $304 million over five years. Not long after that, they shipped out former Defensive Player of the Year and the longest-tenured player on the roster, Marcus Smart, in order to add Kristaps Porzingis. All of which led to the moment when the Celtics flipped Malcolm Brogdon to the Trailblazers in order to acquire Jrue Holiday.
With two immediate difference makers to go along with their star duo of JB and JT, Boston will have one of the strongest starting line-ups in the entire league, let alone their conference.
Porzingis especially will add an element to this team’s offence that wasn’t there last season. The Celtics averaged just 3.8 post-ups per game in 2022-2023, which was less than the four post-ups a night the Latvian put up on his own. Having a reliable option down low in Porzingis, who was the second-most efficient post player behind only Nikola Jokic, is going to create new opportunities for a Celtics team that’s used to playing a more perimeter-oriented game.
Meanwhile, Holiday, a five-time All-Defence selection (first-team All-Defence last season) is going to seamlessly fill in the void left by Smart. Boston had the third-best defensive rating (111.5) a year ago, and adding one of the best guard defenders in the league will only help.
The team’s main concern this season will be depth, especially in the frontcourt. After making so many moves to solidify the top third of their roster, Boston is left fairly shallow beyond that, as they lost contributing players like Grant Williams and Robert Williams.
Their starters at the four and five spots will likely be Porzingis, who has a history of injuries and 37-year-old Al Horford. If either of those two gets hurt, it’ll be a tough task for names like Luke Kornet, Wenyen Gabriel, or Neemias Queta who’ll be asked to step into much bigger roles than they’re used to.
Philadelphia 76ers (54-28) Over/Under 48.5
The Philadelphia 76ers were blown out 112-88 by the Boston Celtics in their Eastern Conference semifinals game seven to finish their season disappointed.
A bright spot for 76ers fans was the face of the franchise Joel Embiid secured his first MVP award, after having his full potential unlocked by fellow All-Star James Harden.
Unfortunately, fans may have to see just how lethal the Cameroon native can be without the beard on his team, as there are many reports including from James Harden that the shooting guard is unhappy with his situation and his relationship with President Daryl Morey.
“Daryl Morey is a liar,” Harden said at an event in China on August 14. “And I will never be a part of an organization he is a part of.”
Harden averaged 21 points, 6.1 rebounds, and led the league with 10.7 assists per game in 58 appearances last season.
The former Rocket has reported to training camp but has yet to make his pre-season debut as rumors of the Los Angeles Clippers pushing for a trade seem likely to be true.
Joel Embiid averaged 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game last season.
With a starting lineup of P.J. Tucker, Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and Embiid the 76ers seem poised to make their return to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, if Harden does force his way out of the situation and Embiid finds his team struggling in the regular season Philadelphia will have valuable pieces for the rest of the league.
Starting over with Tyrese Maxey and moving on from their superstar centre doesn’t sound as outlandish as it did last season. This team could be equally as close to blowing it up as they are to winning the title.
New additions to the squad include a head coach in championship winner Nick Nurse, the former Raptors coach who went 227-163 with Toronto in five seasons as their bench boss.
Centre Mo Bamba, an ankle injury kept him from playing more than nine games for the Lakers last season after their move to acquire him from Orlando where he was the sixth pick in the 2018 draft. Bamba will serve as a reserve to Joel Embiid.
Patrick Beverely, the 34-year-old defensive-minded guard is entering his 12th season and will bring playoff experience, and a veteran presence.
Beverley spent five seasons in Houston playing alongside James Harden.
Small forward/guard Kelly Oubre Jr, the 27-year-old had a career season with the Charlotte Hornets in 2022-23 where he averaged 20.3 points, and 5.5 rebounds in 48 games.
He’ll be a bench threat for other teams, and if he can find his shooting to become a true three-and-d player, he may be the X-factor for a team looking to get out of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) Over/Under 50.5
The Cavs fell short to the New York Knicks in round one of the playoffs, but their overall season was seen as a success after adding superstar Donovan Mitchell to their squad.
Cleveland finished last season with the best defensive rating in the league and despite winning only one game against the Knicks there is a lot to look forward to for them this year.
The team is young, which showed in their postseason flameout, notably, it was both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley’s first crack at the NBA playoffs.
There is a lot of room to grow for the young squad whose starting five consists of Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.
Their issues are on the offensive side of the ball. Despite having Garland who finished seventh in assists last year, the team ranked 19th in this category.
A lineup with two bigs like Allen and Mobley has its defensive perks, but unfortunately, it creates problems when it comes to spacing the floor, and with the additions of Strus and Georges Niang, that might be asking too much too soon for above-average shooters.
The team was also slow last year, they finished last in the league in pace and 24th in fast break points per game.
Donovan Mitchell despite these shortcomings is excited about the year to come and the additions to his squad.
“We have a high ceiling for us, and for us to come into this year our biggest goal is to find a way to win the championship,” Mitchell said at Cavaliers Media day. “It starts now, it starts tomorrow, and we can’t really focus on what’s going on around us, the only thing we can control is what we do.”
Notable new additions to the team include Strus (Heat) who should help with the team’s struggle to shoot threes and be an immediate starter at small forward. Strus is a career 37% three-point shooter and finished last year averaging 11.5 points per game.
Niang (76ers) will also be an addition to address the long-range issue as the former second-round pick shoots 40% on threes for his career.
New York Knicks (47-35) Over/Under 45.5
The Knicks trade last offseason in which they acquired Jaled Brunson paid off in a big way for New York.
He became the third Knick alongside Walt Fraizer, and Patrick Ewing to put up 30 points and 10 assists in a playoff game. He also scored 41 points in the team’s final game of the season as they fell to the Heat in six games.
Despite having a potential All-Star with the New Jersey native, the team will need to address its biggest issues, perimeter defence, and shooting.
Their move in adding Donte DiVincenzo will partly address those shortcomings as the former Warrior shot 39.7% from three last season for Golden State.
DiVincenzo will create more spacing on a second unit for an already deep team, and if Canadian R.J. Barrett can take the next step, New York might be able to challenge for a place higher than their previous fifth seed.
Miami Heat (44-38) Over/Under 46.5
Despite finishing only six games above .500, and being behind in their play-in game against the Bulls with only two and a half minutes remaining, the Heat managed to catch fire when it truly mattered, propelling themselves to the NBA Finals.
The team truly pulled off something magical in getting Gabe Vincent and Max Strus to shoot exceptionally well, unfortunately, they turned those two into Josh Richardson (Pelicans) and Thomas Bryant (Nuggets).
With two powerhouses like the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference, it will be hard to imagine a world where Jimmy Butler can perform the same magic again this year.
Kyle Lowry is well past his prime, while Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro prove time and time again to be liabilities on defence.
With a lack of guard depth, the team looks set for a season of regression. They will need to add another shooter as their miraculous effort from range in last year’s playoffs will most likely be unsustainable this year.
Their laziness in the regular season should not be enough for them to fall out of a play-off spot, but their big swing and miss for Damien Lilliard will be most of what’s talked about this season.
Fighting for the play-in:
Brooklyn Nets (45-37) Over/Under 37.5
The Nets record from last season is deceiving considering a majority of the campaign included players like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. With the two All-Star players, the team had a record of 33-22.
After the duo was shipped off the squad went 12-15 but managed to hold on to the sixth spot in the East before ultimately getting swept by Philadelphia in the first round.
Mikal Bridges showed flashes as the number one option for Brooklyn throughout his 27 games as he averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists during that span. His point production took the biggest leap in comparison to his time in Phoenix, a full nine points higher than what he averaged for the Suns last season.
However, his individual production didn’t translate to the rest of the team as they were ranked 17th in offensive rating (115) and dropped down to 23rd if you took out garbage time offence.
It won’t help that Brooklyn’s going to be an undersized team most of the time. Their likely starting line-up features four players under six-foot-eight, leaving a ton of pressure on centre Nic Claxton to hold down the fort. Not ideal for a team that already gave up nearly 15 second-chance points a night.
What can be expected to improve for this Nets team this season is their defence. They had the 13th best defence a season ago, but a full off-season together for stout individual defenders like Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Cam Johnson, should lead to more success on that end of the floor.
Atlanta Hawks (41-41) Over/Under 42.5
After making the conference finals back in the 2020-2021 season as a fifth seed, the Hawks have only regressed. Since then, the team has been in the play-in the last two seasons, only to make it into the playoffs and be bounced in the first round both times.
Atlanta is hoping their team can do a bit of addition by subtraction after their big off-season move was trading away former All-Rookie selection John Collins. The forward spent six seasons with the Hawks but was reportedly at odds with the front office and star guard Trae Young from time to time.
Despite their lack of flashy moves, the Hawks will still bolster one of the league’s best offences. The squad was the seventh-best in the NBA in terms of offensive rating (116.6) and looked even better once head coach Quin Snyder took over in February.
After Nate McMillan coached the team to a 29-30 record, Atlanta decided to fire him and hire Snyder. Even though the former Utah Jazz head coach’s record of 10-11 wasn’t much different, he helped unlock the team’s ability to score.
Their offensive rating of 114 was 14th in the NBA prior to the move, and during his tenure, Snyder brought the Hawks up to 119.5, fourth-highest during that span.
Having a full off-season to develop chemistry with players like Young and Dejounte Murray, the possibility of this Hawks offence being top-five is looking high.
Whether or not they take a leap out of the play-in and into a top-six spot in the East will rely heavily on whether they can become a respectable defensive team or not. Atlanta allowed the fifth-most points in the league last year (118.13), and ranked 22nd in defensive rating (116.3).
Murray was brought in to help hide some of the defensive woes in a backcourt that features Young, but to this point that has yet to be seen as he posted his worst defensive rating of his career last season.
Toronto Raptors (41-41) Over/Under 36.5
Toronto is a team that can fall into three different categories depending on how this roster comes together. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this squad can either be a playoff lock or come out so poorly they blow it up and tank. Which is why they make sense right in the middle, fighting for a play-in spot until the team steps onto the court.
By all accounts, their .500 record and play-in exit was a disappointment last season. It didn’t help that their off-season was filled with even more ups and downs as the team fired their championship-winning head coach Nick Nurse and lost their starting point guard Fred VanVleet for nothing in free agency. None of which compared to the trade rumours surrounding the team’s best players in Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes.
However, through all of that, this team might have come out better. Much of the team’s disappointment from a year ago was chalked up to negative vibes and selfish behaviour, as eluded to by team President Masai Ujiri in multiple interviews.
Things seem to have taken a complete turn however, as the squad seems invigorated with their rookie head coach Darko Rajaković (formerly assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies), and the energy he’s brought with him.
“Very positive,” said Jakob Poeltl on what it’s been like with his new head coach. “We have a serious practice environment, but he still finds a way to make it enjoyable…so it’s been good.”
It’ll be interesting to see how a full season with a true centre on this team works for the Raptors. After the Austrian joined Tronto at the trade deadline last season, the squad posted a 15-11 record. If they kept that pace all season, they would’ve had 47 wins and been tied for the fifth seed in the conference.
However, much of Poeltl’s production did come in pick-and-roll actions with VanVleet, who’s now with the Houston Rockets. The Raptors did their best to replace the point guard’s production with the addition of Dennis Schröder, who they signed in free agency.
His 12.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists may not match the statistical production of VanVleet but there is still much to be excited about with the German guard. He has a history with Rajaković, and said his experience with the coach during their time in Oklahoma City was a major reason why he chose to sign with Toronto.
More than that, Schröder is coming off a historic run with team Germany as they won the FIBA World Cup this past August. It’ll be interesting to see if the Raptors get the Schröder who spent most of last season as a fourth or fifth option for the Lakers or the tournament MVP from a couple of months ago.
Another player to watch will be Scottie Barnes. After his Rookie of the Year campaign two seasons ago, the forward didn’t exactly regress as a sophomore but didn’t progress either. His points per game stayed the same, his assists went up, and his rebounds went down. With a head coach who was brought in for his reputation for developing players, it’ll be interesting to see if he can unlock the third-year player.
A quick way to see if Barnes has taken a step forward this season is going to be through his shooting. Last year he was left open in the corners on a routine basis, rightfully so considering he shot 28 per cent from beyond the arch. If the former fourth-overall pick wants to develop as an offensive threat it’s going to have to start there.
Chicago Bulls (40-42) Over/Under 37.5
The Chicago Bulls are very similar to the Atlanta Hawks in that they seem to be sticking with status quo as far as this season goes. Their biggest off-season move was re-signing centre Nikola Vucevic who was part of a squad that won just 40 games last season and lost in the play-in tournament to the Miami Heat.
With the team still centred around the duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine, it’s hard to see much changing. Offensively the squad left much to be desired, despite having a star duo where both players averaged nearly 25 points per game.
Their main area of weakness was scoring from distance. The Bulls attempted and made the second-least number of threes per game in the NBA, and did so on a league-average 36 per cent clip. They’re hoping the additions of Torrey Craig, who shot 39.5 per cent from three last season, and Jevon Carter who made 42 per cent of his long-range shots, will be exactly what they need to improve in that category.
On the defensive end, the Bulls should still be one of the better teams in the league. Chicago was top-ten in defensive rating (112.2) and opponents points per game (111.6) last season. With little changing in terms of roster construction, the teams should be one of the top defences in the NBA yet again.
Indiana Pacers (35-47) Over/Under (38.5)
Considered one of the surprise teams of the early campaign last year, the Pacers come into this season filled with excitement. Despite finishing with less than 40 wins for the third season in a row, the trajectory for this Indiana squad is still up.
Indiana began their off-season by locking in point guard Tyrese Haliburton to a five-year, $260 million contract extension. Having a full season with him is going to be vital for the team’s success this year. The 20-point-per-game scorer from last year only played 56 games with Indiana as he dealt with injuries later in the year.
Despite being a bottom-half team in terms of offensive rating (114.6) in 2022-2023, Indiana was an elite transition team. They led the league in fastbreak points per night (18.1) and hope to do so again with Haliburton leading the way.
The first-time All-Star averaged 10.4 assists a night, which was second in the entire league last season. With rim-running additions like Obi Toppin and Jarace Walker, expect the transition game to be a strength for this squad once again.
Where this team is going to need to take the biggest leap is on the defensive side of the ball. The Pacers allowed the second most points per game (119.5) in the NBA last year and were bottom-five in defensive rating.
They signed Bruce Brown, fresh off a championship with the Denver Nuggets, to help in that regard but he’s not stout enough as a defender to turn around the entire defence on his own.
Washington Wizards (35-27) Over/Under 24.5
The post-Bradley Beal era is officially underway for the Wizards. After spending his first 11 years in the NBA with Washington, the team finally moved in a different direction as they traded the three-time All-Star to the Phoenix Suns.
Without the lead guard, it might make sense why this squad is projected to be one of the worst teams in the league this year. However, don’t be surprised if they actually remain competitive in the bottom half of this conference and sneak their way into a play-in spot. This roster is full of veteran players (13th oldest team in the NBA), many of whom probably won’t be into the idea of tanking.
The team won 35 games for the second consecutive season last year, and yes they’ll be without Beal and forward Kristaps Porzingis this time, but they did make some additions as well. They began by re-signing forward Kyle Kuzma to a four-year $90 million contract after he hit a career-high in scoring with his 21.2 points per game.
Washington also added the services of Jordan Poole via trade from the Golden State. The shooting guard averaged a career-high in points (20.4) and assists (4.5) in his fourth year in the NBA. However, after starting the 2022-2023 season in controversy after being involved in an altercation with forward Draymond Green, it seemed like Poole was on the outside looking in with the Warriors.
He’ll now be on a team where he and Kuzma are going to be the number one and two options, with no question about who will be leading the way. The two will likely be elite on the offensive end, the question for them will be whether or not they’ll commit defensively. Both are below-average defenders on a Washington team that ranked in the bottom half of the league on that end a season ago.
Poole specifically was criticized in Golden State for his lack of movement and awareness on that end of the court. With a roster relying heavily on him to lead the way, the lead guard is going to have to shape up defensively if they’re going to make any noise in the conference.
Orlando Magic (34-48) Over/Under 37.5
Much of Orlando’s mediocre record from a season ago can be attributed to their abysmal 5-20 start to the year. After that stretch, the team was a game over .500 and was a top-six defence in the NBA.
The Magic are going to try and replicate their success from the latter part of the season and see if they can win over 40 games for the first time in four years.
Orlando should remain a polished team on the defensive side of the ball with vets like Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr. continuing to anchor things.
The biggest area of improvement for this Magic squad is going to have to be on offence. They had the fifth-worst offensive rating and ranked 25th in points per game. Surprising, considering they have one of the best young duos in the league with Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero.
The forward out of Germany averaged 18.6 points last season and is coming off a FIBA gold medal with the national team. He has all the makings of a 20-point-per-game scorer in the NBA and he’ll be a player to keep an eye on for Orlando.
Meanwhile, Banchero looked phenomenal in his first NBA season. The Rookie of the Year averaged 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He’s also coming off an impressive individual run with Team USA this summer.
Both players are versatile scorers, willing passers, and serviceable defenders. If the two can continue to develop as a pairing and help this Orlando offence reach a respectable level, they’ll be a problem for the rest of the league for years to come.
Charlotte Hornets (27-55) Over/Under 30.5
To call the season the Hornets had last year a disaster would be an understatement. Multiple off-court issues and LaMelo Ball fracturing his right ankle put a pin in the idea of the Hornets improving on their success from the season prior to last.
This should be the year for Ball and second-overall pick Brandon Miller to officially take the reins from veterans Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier.
If Charlotte does decide to hold on to their two vets then the team isn’t exactly bad.
Miller, Ball, Hayward, Rozier and P.J. Washington set up an interesting starting five, and since this upcoming draft class doesn’t have a clear franchise changer, the Hornets don’t necessarily have a reason to tank.
This season will truly be the LaMelo Ball show if he can stay healthy, and with multiple pacey and athletic wingers, the passing prowess he’ll show should be a spectacle this year.
Regardless of finishing the season 20th in defensive rating, if you only look from after the All-Star break head coach Steve Clifford led the team to finish seventh in the same stat.
Add LaMelo Ball who only played three games post-All-Star and it’s possible the Hornets make a run for the play-in tournament, but this season will be more of a show for fans while new owners Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall get their bearings.
Detroit Pistons (17-65) Over/Under 28.5
Former first-overall pick Cade Cunningham only played 12 games last year after surgery on his left shin ended his season prematurely, which ultimately led the Pistons to the worst record in the NBA.
In Cade’s rookie season, he averaged 16.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, so the question is will he bounce back from his injury and continue his progression to superstardom?
Well, 20 per cent of the NBA general managers survey voted that the Arlington-born guard would be this year’s player most likely to have a breakout season.
The six-foot-seven third-year player can guard one through four, and can finish around the basket using his strength and smarts, so if he can figure out his pick-and-roll potential he’ll be deadly in new head coach Monty Williams’ offence.
2022 fifth-overall pick Jaden Ivey impressed last year in his rookie outing with his speed and fast break scoring while averaging 16.3 points, and 5.2 steals in 74 games.
34-year-old Bojan Bogdonavic will offer not much more than scoring, while Isaiah Stewart will hold down most of the defensive responsibility.
Jalen Duren will be a player to watch as the 19-year-old adds incredible strength to the team’s frontcourt, and has much more to grow and learn from his 67 games played last season as the league’s youngest player.
Fans should not expect much this year, but with a new proven head coach and many young talented players, Motor City should be positive for the future of their franchise.
Top 10 Pure Shooters in the East: Opinion
By Zeno Fu
In today’s NBA, the three-pointer is king.
Every team needs long-distance marksmen to either lead or fill out rosters around stars, no matter what position they play. What better way is there to learn about the NBA than studying the best at it in the league?
The most important thing for pure shooters in the game is doing it well, and doing it often. With all the offseason movement the Eastern Conference might just have enough fire power to go up against the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson in the West.
Based off of their total three-pointers made and their percentages, as well as taking into consideration each player’s situations with their teams, here are the predictions for the top 10 pure shooters in the Eastern Conference this year.
Note: James Harden will not be included in this list due to his pending status in Philadelphia.
10. Trae Young (Atanta Hawks)
When talking about range, it is hard to have a discussion without Trae Young. He has proven to be able to make shots from anywhere on the court, in any way possible. All the way out from the logo? Not a problem. Pulling up in the defender’s face? He can do that too. At times, it looks like the two-time all star is one of the most dangerous shooters out there.
Unfortunately, that was not the case last season. The Atlanta Hawks guard made only 154 three-pointers while shooting 33.5 per cent, much below his career-highs during the 2021-2022 season of 233 made shots on 38.2 per cent. Part of that can be attributed to the arrival of Dejounte Murray, and Young having to learn how to play with another ball-dominant guard. However, another year of development and improved chemistry with the Hawks’ roster should allow Young to have a bounce-back season and show just enough improvement to sneak into the top 10.
9. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)
Entering his fourth year and coming out of his first as a full-time lead guard for the Indiana Pacers, Haliburton was limited to only 56 games last season because of various injuries. That most definitely had an impact on his numbers.
However, he was still one of five players to make more than 160 three-pointers in under 60 games played. The other four? Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Desmond Bane and James Harden. That is some great company to be in when talking about shooting from deep. Haliburton finished the 2022-2023 season with 161 three-pointers made on 40 per cent shooting, on par with his averages in the past couple of seasons.
8. Darius Garland (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Sharing ball-handling duties with a four-time All Star who was fourth in total three-pointers made last season (more on that later) will never help your stats and opportunities, but Darius Garland made it work. Assuming more of a playmaking role for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Garland still found ways to put up some big shooting numbers.
Making 41 per cent of his threes last season for a total of 169, the one-time all star made big steps as a scorer and playmaker. He was very effective both pulling up off the dribble and catching and shooting, hitting 39.1 and 44 per cent, respectively. With four years of experience now and Cleveland pretty much running it back, save for even more spacing from the addition of Max Strus, Garland will show improvement and continue shooting at a high rate with great accuracy.
7. Corey Kispert (Washington Wizards)
One of the lesser-known names on this list, Corey Kispert has quietly been a flamethrower. The soon-to-be third-year guard for the Wizards made 163 three-pointers on a blistering 42.4 per cent from deep, good for 10th in the league in terms of percentages.
The only knock on Kispert is that he has yet to show he can consistently create for himself, as 150 of his three-pointers made were from catch-and-shoot looks. As the Wizards are entering their first complete rebuild in a long time the sharp-shooting guard is possibly looking at a huge jump in touches and minutes
6. Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia 76ers)
Tyrese Maxey was fifth in the league last season in three-point shooting percentage at 43.4, and of all the players in the top five, he made the most shots at 160 on the season. Entering his fourth year in the league, the 22-year-old guard has steadily improved his shooting every year, with significant increase in both percentage and shots made each season.
Asking the young player to make another jump in shooting accuracy this year will be quite a tall task, considering the number of shots that will be available to him with the uncertainty of James Harden yet to be resolved. Still, with more responsibility and more touches as potentially the lead guard for the Sixers, even if we see a slight drop in percentage, Maxey should still be able to hit a lot of shots.
5. Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls)
Getting into the star players with much more offensive responsibility and gravity now, Zach Lavine comes in at number five. The two-time all-star made 204 three pointers, which was a career high for him for shots made from deep in a season. The percentage suffered a little, at 37.5, but the volume was there.
With averages of 38, 41.9 and 38.9 per cent from long range the three seasons prior, there could very well be a bounce back in accuracy for the 28-year-old. If he could get the percentage back to at least 38, there will be absolutely no question that he deserves the fifth spot.
4. Tyler Herro (Miami Heat)
With very similar three-point shooting numbers to LaVine, Herro gets the edge here based on youth and his role with the team. Having missed all but one game of the postseason last year, the 23-year-old is well rested and ready to go.
Shooting 36.9 per cent on pull-up threes and 38.3 on catch-and-shoot looks, Herro still managed to hit 203 on the season, just a tick higher than LaVine at 37.8 per cent overall. The biggest factor for Herro getting into a groove and shooting even better this season is health. Having never played more than 67 games in a season, staying healthy all season long to help his shooting rhythm would really make him deserving of the number four spot.
3. Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers)
As mentioned above, Donovan Mitchell, a four-time all-star, was fourth in the league in three pointers made at 245, shooting 38.6 per cent. With another offseason to continue building chemistry with the Cavaliers, Mitchell only stands to get better as he enters his seventh year.
Tied with Steph Curry last season for third in pull-up three pointers made at 152 and shooting those at 39.2 per cent, Mitchell has proven that he can be a threat from anywhere on the floor. Ranking in the top 10 in total field goals made and points off of drives makes his pull up shooting even more dangerous, with defenders needing to guard off of him a little more to contain the drive. The ability to punish defenders who cheat on defence with an accurate pull-up three is what lands Mitchell at number three.
2: Buddy Hield (Indiana Pacers)
Statistically the best three-point shooter in the East last season, Hield shot 42.5 percent from deep. His main weapon was the catch-and-shoot, with 201 of his 288 triples made coming off the catch. The seven-year vet was also second in the league in both total threes made and catch-and-shoot threes made, behind only Klay Thompson.
Playing alongside Haliburton, who was also fourth in total assists, certainly helps with catching and shooting. The sharp-shooting Hield, however, showed that he could also pull up from deep whenever he wanted, with deadly accuracy to boot. Although he only had 194 attempts, compared to league-leading Luka Doncic at 459, Hield shot a scorching 43.8 per cent on those.
1: Damian Lillard (Milwaukee Bucks)
The king of the pull-up three last season, leading the league at 159 made, Damian Lillard takes the number one spot on this top 10 list. The fact that the seven-time all-star was able to lead the league in makes while shooting 37.2 per cent on those tries in just 58 games played speaks to just how great of a shooter he is.
The 11-year vet suffered a drop in shooting percentages the last two years, shooting 37.1 and 32.4 per cent, respectively, due to missing games and lackluster teams around him. He gets the benefit of the doubt, however, as he is playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. The number of easy shots and opportunities for Lillard thanks to the gravity of the “Greek Freak” will be like nothing he has ever seen before, making “Dame Time” number one on this list an undebatable choice.