Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t turn 23 until early December, but that hasn’t stopped some from mentioning him as a fringe MVP candidate. Guest Sekou Smith thinks it could happen (Erik Drost/Creative Commons).

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A number of stars, including Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap, no longer play in the East, potentially leaving the conference with ample playoff spots available for the taking. In addition, the reigning Eastern Conference finalists recently swapped star point guards, adding a special flavor to their existing rivalry. Meanwhile, teams like the Raptors, Bucks and Wizards hope their various brands of continuity can vault them to an elite class. To help us sort through it all, Sekou Smith, NBA.com writer and host of the Hang Time podcast, appears for a can’t-miss episode. By all means…sample some Sekou snippets:

4:59-5:35: “[Dwyane Wade]’s been a starter basically his entire career. I think in his career, he’s maybe come off the bench 10, 11 times. To ask him to come in and play a role as a bench guy right now, [considering] the fact that he’s not a great 3-point shooter, that would have been asking a lot for him to come in cold and be effective and make an impact on that team.  I think, as a starter, you give him a chance to not only do what he’s always done as a scorer… but you give him an opportunity to get in a rhythm… and to play off of LeBron at a high level, which you know he can do.”

10:00-10:14: “The team that I like, that’s kind of my wild-card team in the East, is Milwaukee. I think they do have a depth of talent that could put them in a position to challenge for one of those top two or three spots if a bunch of things go right for them.”

12:48-14:18: “The biggest challenge for any young guy who’s trying to knock on the door and play at that next level is being consistent. I talked with Tracy McGrady about that this summer before he went into the Hall of Fame…I asked him, ‘How hard is it to perform at that level night after night?’ because I think people assume a guy just becomes a 20-point scorer and it kind of comes easily. He said that was the most difficult thing he had to do in his career, to try to find a way to be the alpha on the floor, no matter the circumstance…Giannis has to be that if he wants to be in the conversation of being MVP. You can’t have two or three off-nights. You’ve got to be a guy who’s accountable for superstar-type production every single night.”

18:38-19:40: “As far as Philadelphia, I don’t think they’re going to be capable of being evaluated reasonably. I just don’t. Given the hype surrounding Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, [Markelle] Fultz and all those young guys that they have, it’s going to be impossible for anybody to give them a real baseline, reasonable expectation for what they can do as a group…I’ve seen young teams that are piled up with lottery picks and people expect them to get there overnight. It’s just not realistic. There’s so much learning that has to go on, so much starting and stopping, failures and successes that you have to weather as a group to become a playoff team.”

34:21-35:29: “If the ship has sailed for Dwight [Howard], if he’s no longer going to be the impact player he believes he can be, then it’s going to be a sad finish to his career in this league in terms of him never really getting back to anything close to that level of stardom he achieved in Orlando. I would just like to see if Dwight can even get back to All-Star caliber play in Charlotte. I think he’s got an opportunity sitting in front of him to really reestablish himself and change some opinions about who he is, but it has to happen immediately…It has to happen from opening night and be something he does on a regular basis in order to change those perceptions about who he is as a player.”

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Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod