Welcome back, guys. We’re officially one article away from finishing my first series for Lineups. We’ve been comparing the four superpowers in the Eastern Conference: The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto Raptors. In previous articles, we compared the teams’ trade deadline acquisitions, starting lineups, and bench mobs. There was a lot to learn in comparing those aspects of the teams, but nothing that set one team truly ahead of the pact.
That’s what is so exciting about these teams possibly meeting in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it is anyone’s game. In this article, we are going to be comparing the superstar of each team. Every championship team has one, if not multiple, and that does not escape these teams we’re comparing. The four players we will be comparing are Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid. All four players were-Starr starters (with one captain). Let’s get into it!
NOTE: Stats have been adjusted slightly to clear up mistakes. Example: While Tahjere McCall may have the best +/- in the league, he has played in one game. So we will not be counting him in rankings. Get it? Got it? Good.
Kawhi Leonord is an anomaly. He demanded a trade from a team where he won a championship, essentially sat out a whole season while that demand was processed (shoutout Le’Veon Bell), and… didn’t miss a beat. He has been an absolute monster on both ends of the floor for Toronto, garnering calls for MVP and DPOY. I did toy with the idea of Kyle Lowry in this spot (his +/- is more than 2 points higher than Kawhi’s) but that would be getting to clever. This is the Klaw’s team.
Per game, he is averaging: 27.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.8 steals. Among all players, he is 8th in points per game, 7th in steals, and 19th in +/-. If a player’s standing in the league is lower than 20th, I won’t be mentioning it. Not really worth it. If we look at forwards specifically, Kawhi’s stats become a bit more impressive. He is 6th in scoring, 4th in steals, and 10th in +/-. Kawhi has also played the least amount of games among these four players (51) while averaging the greatest number of minutes out of them (34.4 a game). Kawhi has won a championship, has won Finals MVP, and a two-time DPOY winner. He also has several All-NBA and All-Defense selections to his name. At 27 years old. And this is his first year in the East. The Klaw is coming for us all.
Disclaimer: Regardless of whether Irving stays with the Celtics beyond this season or not, I fully believe Jayson Tatum will hold the title of best player on the team in two years, if not next year. This league is ruled by two-way forwards and Tatum is the next great one.
Kyrie Irving. He is best known for having arguably the best handles in the NBA, one of the clutchest shots in Finals history, and being the only player to demand a trade away from Lebron. But hey, look at him now. Running the show on his own team. There have been hiccups along the way and the media has constantly questioned his leadership (not me though, maybe when I get paid for this). These hiccups haven’t stopped his production though.
Per game, Uncle Drew is averaging: 23.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals while shooting a crisp 41.1% from three. To put that in league perspective: 17th overall in scoring, 15th in assists, 19th in steals, and he has the 15th best +/-. These numbers are going to seem underwhelming compared to the other stars we look at. However, when compared to other Eastern Conference guards, he is top 5 in every one of those mentioned categories except rebounds. He has played in 58 games this season, wrestling with nagging injuries here and there. He is also tied for the least number of minutes per game, at 33.0. At 26, Kyrie has won Rookie of the Year, an NBA championship, and All-NBA third team bid. Lastly, if these four are the last teams in the Easter playoffs come second round time? Kyrie will be the best point guard around.
The Greek Freak in Milwaukee
Here he is. Giannis Antetokounmpo (I can type that without checking Google, give me the MVP). He has been a one-man wrecking ball since the 2017-2018 season concluded, where he finished 6th in MVP voting. He is the clear top dog on his team, with another All-Star in Khris Middleton, but no teammates come close to his production. He is fully expected to be in the top three for MVP voting this year, if not win it. His season has been historic, let’s look at the numbers.
Per game, Giannis is averaging 27.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks. He is tied for 5th in overall points per game (with Lebron) and is 5th in the league in rebounds per game. He also owns the number one +/- in the league. He is a beast. Let’s compare him with the forwards in the league, shall we? He is (again) tied for second in scoring, 1st in rebounds (NBA.com puts him at second behind Embiid but he plays most of his minutes at Center and we will be comparing his statistics like that in his section), and 4th in rebounds. That puts him in the top 5 for each of those categories. No other player is in the top TEN for each of those categories. In addition to that, he ranks 5th in blocks among forwards. Another neat fact is that he leads the league in points in the paint per game. Giannis has played the most games out of these players (65) and is tied for the least minutes per game (33.0).
At 24, Giannis is the youngest of these four players. In his time in the league, he has won Most Improved player, and been named to both the All-NBA (2X) and All-Defense second teams. He is considered the best player in the Eastern Conference and his title as East All-Star Captain puts a bow on that.
UPDATE: Shortly after writing this article, Giannis dropped a career high 52 points on the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks did lose that game though, with Embiid dropping a monster line of his own. More on him next.
It is hard not to be in awe when watching Embiid play. The man crosses players like a guard and will go right into a Olajuwon dream shake. He is a freak of nature and I am glad he is (knocks on wood) over his early career injuries. I briefly considered Ben Simmons for this spot. He won Rookie of the Year and was an All Star this year. He also has a skill set comparable to Giannis’. Some would argue that he would be even better with a spacing center who didn’t post up as much. But that isn’t the case right now and Embiid’s stats are too shiny to ignore.
Per game, Embiid is putting up 27.3 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.1 blocks. League ranks are: 7th in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, and the 12th best +/-. Among centers though, as he is the only one, we are looking at, he is 1st in scoring, 2nd in rebounds, 7th in assists, 7th in blocks, and has the second best +/-. He is among three other centers in the top 10 for those stats. A fun thing about Embiid is that you can keep him on the floor against death lineups. He is much faster than other centers, shoots well enough beyond the arc to keep defenders honest, and will crush any undersized defender in the post. At 25, he is the second youngest players in our comparisons. He has made two all-star games so far in his career, becoming a starter in this year’s game. He has played 58 games this season and is averaging a healthy 33.7 minutes a game. This is important because constant resting and minutes restrictions were among the biggest arguments against Embiid’s game in his early years. They are not applicable anymore. He is the East’s best center and arguments that he is the league’s best center have validity.
We did it folks. The best player on the Eastern Conference superpowers compared. Giannis leads the packs in terms of stats but Embiid and Kyrie are arguably the best at their position in the East. Kawhi is too brutalizing a force in crunch time to forget as well. In the playoffs, it often comes down to which team has the best player on the roster (how do you think the Cavs team of Lebron, and team staff made it to the Finals last year) so it will be very interesting to see who shows up. Tune in next time when we look at each team’s potential death lineups.