Does any team in the Central Division have enough to overtake the Chicago Bulls? Let’s find out.
1. Chicago Bulls
2. Indiana Pacers
3. Milwaukee Bulls
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
5. Detroit Pistons
Chicago Bulls – The Bulls surprised a lot of people last season, finishing 62-20. After getting bounced in the Eastern Conference Finals, just how much better can MVP Derrick Rose and the rest of the Bulls get? So far, the Bulls haven’t done much to improve their roster. They added long-time Detroit Piston Rip Hamilton today and drafted small forward Jimmy Butler. Their bench was among the league’s best last season. Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, and Taj Gibson are solid coming off the bench. Backup center Omer Asik emerged as a defensive force as they got further into the playoffs last season. The Bulls need Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah to stay healthy this season to take some of the pressure off Derrick Rose. Luol Deng emerged last season as a viable second option, but can he be a viable second option on a championship team? He is there best perimeter defender, so he will draw a tough defensive assignment just about every night. That begin said, someone will have to step up and be “second option 2b”, so to speak. The Bulls played great team defense, allowing only 91.3 ppg last season (2nd best in the league). I have a feeling they will rely on that same defense this season. One thing that helps a team like Chicago is the fact that they didn’t lose anyone. They are bringing their same core group of players back so, team chemistry-wise, they should be just fine.
Player(s) to Watch – Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer – I am interested to see how Rose fairs after coming off his MVP season. Being 23 years old, and breaking out like he did last season, I don’t know how much better he can actually get. If anything, he can get more efficient. Rose took nearly 20 shots per game last season, making only 9 per game and good for 44.5%. He attempted nearly 5 three-pointers a game (4.8), converting on 1.6 per game and good for 33%. His scoring efficiency averaged 1.2 points per shot, when you include free-throws. Now if you compare his numbers to Chris Paul’s numbers, Paul ends up blowing him out of the water. Paul shot 46%, 39%, and 88%, had a scoring efficiency of 1.36 and a shooting efficiency of 50%. I know that they are two different players but, if there is anyway way for Rose to improve this season, it would have to be his efficiency. On the other hand, Boozer needs to stay healthy. He played in 59 games last season and for his career he has missed a total of 170 games in his 9-year career. I know some of those games were not because of injury, but close to 95% of them were. When he did return from injury, he turned out to be a pretty solid player for Chicago. He averaged 17.5 ppg and nearly 10 rpg (9.6). But when you pay a man $13.5 million a year and he shoots 43% from the field and averages 12.6 ppg and 9.7 rpg in the playoffs, that’s just flat-out unacceptable. I know a lot of guys in the league are over-paid. That’s just how it is these days, but I want to see Boozer prove he is worth that much money this season. Stay healthy and be effective come playoff time.
Why they will finish 1st in the Central Division – The Bulls are clearly the best team, top to bottom, in the division. They play tough defense, have a deep bench, and the MVP (Rose). They might not have as good of a year as they did last year, but nonetheless I expect them to do well this season.
Indiana Pacers – Most people are not thrilled to see a team, which finished below .500, make the playoffs. The Pacers finished 37-45 last season and still made the playoffs. But once they got to the playoffs, they played lights-out. Even though they were dismissed by the Chicago Bulls in the first round, the Pacers didn’t go quietly. They had a lead in the 4th quarter, in most of the games, before Derrick Rose took over. They were clearly under-manned. They didn’t have the play-makers or defensive stoppers that Chicago has. I see things changing around for the Pacers this season. They made a key acquisition, David West, who should help solidify their power forward position. West is a great mid-range shooting forward that can excel in the pick-and-pop game. Roy Hibbert made great strides last season. Danny Granger is still a great scorer and second year forward Paul George will have a bigger role this season. The man I was most impressed with in the playoffs last season was Darren Collison. He didn’t care that he was going up against the bigger, quicker, faster, stronger Rose. In Game 1, Collison finished with 17 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. However, in Games 2, 3, 4, and 5 he didn’t show up. I think he poised for a big season though. Even with the loss of both Mike Dunleavy and Josh McRoberts, I still think the Pacers can make it back to the playoffs. Head coach Frank Vogel did an excellent job after the firing of Jim O’Brien.
Player(s) to Watch – Roy Hibbert and David West – Hibbert had, by far, his best season in ’10-’11. He averaged 12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 1.8 bpg. He needs to improve his field goal percentage (46%) and could probably get to line a little bit more, too (3.4 fta per game). If he stays healthy, I think he is poised to have a break-out season. I think he can average 15, 9, and 2 and shoot 50% or better from the field. West is use to being the “second option”. He played with Chris Paul the last six seasons in New Orleans. I don’t think he minds being the second option. I do know this though: if he is your first option, you are not winning a championship. With Granger being the main guy, I want to see how West fits into Indiana’s offense. He has mastered the mid-range jump shot and I expect that Vogel will implement a few plays into the offense for West. There are some interesting transformations going on in the “State of Basketball.”
Why they will finish 2nd in the Central Division – I don’t think the Pacers are ready to take the reins from the Chicago Bulls. They are not as deep as the Bulls, nor as talented. That being said, Indiana has a lot of young talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team let me down this year and not make it back to the playoffs. I am an optimistic-thinker, though.
Milwaukee Bucks – Coming off a playoff run, in which they almost knocked off the Atlanta Hawks in 2010, the Bucks were expecting to improve on what they had done that season. But 2011 didn’t turn out the way the Bucks had wanted. Their win total went from 46 down to 35. They finished 30th in the league in points per game (91.9). Their defense was solid, allowing only 92.7 ppg (3rd in the NBA), but inconsistency on offense will hamper any teams ability to make it to the postseason. Brandon Jennings had a down year in his sophomore season compared to his rookie season. His assist totals dropped from 5.7 to 4.8, and three-point percentage from 37.4% to 32.3%. He shot only 39% from the field and missed 19 games due to injury. Andrew Bogut is their only low-post threat and he ended up missing 17 games due to injury. When healthy, Bogut is one of the best centers in the league. Stephen Jackson will help on the offensive end, giving them another scorer on the wing. Other than those three players, Milwaukee doesn’t have much else.
Player(s) to Watch – Stephen Jackson – He figures to be a stabling force on the offensive end for Milwaukee. Jackson has averaged 16.3 ppg for his career, despite playing for six other teams with Milwaukee being his 7th. He is a veteran presence that should help the Bucks compete for a playoff spot. He will take pressure off of Jennings and Bogut because Jackson is able to score. Jackson can also run the point, pass the ball well, and rebounds the ball. He is an under-rated defender, too.
Why they will finish 3rd in the Central Division – They are not as talented as the Bulls and don’t have enough offense like the Pacers do. The Buck play better defense than the Pacers, but the Pacers have a more talented roster and the addition of David West will give the Pacers the upper-hand against the Bucks.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Cavalier fans are still getting over the loss of LeBron James. In case you haven’t heard, James “took his talents to South Beach” in the summer of ’10, leaving the fan base distraught and saddened. The ’10 season was a season for everyone in Cleveland to forget. They finished 19-63 (second worst in the NBA), but won the lottery, somehow. They took Duke point guard, Kyrie Irving with the #1 pick in the June draft. They also drafted Texas forward Tristan Thompson in the first round as well. They have started the re-building process, so to speak. But when you look at this roster, the Cavs still have a long way to go. They have their point guard (Irving) and, hopefully, power forward (Thompson) of the future. Now all they need is a solid shooting guard, small forward, and a center. Don’t forget about having three players that can come off the bench to score and defend. The roster is a mess and this season will be just as painful as the last. Your record doesn’t matter, only making the playoffs matter. Whether you miss the playoffs by one game or by twenty, it hurts all the same.
Player(s) to Watch – Kyrie Irving – I didn’t get to see too much of Irving last season when he was at Duke. He played in only 11 games the entire season. He missed time due to a foot injury. When he was healthy, Irving didn’t disappoint. I am not going to talk about his numbers in college, because they simply don’t matter. I think head coach Byron Scott needs to give this kid a lot of minutes and a lot of encouragement this season. It’s going to be an arduous season for every team in the NBA, due to the schedule, but especially for teams that were not good last season. It’s going to be interesting to see how Irving’s adjusts to the NBA game. I think he can make a difference for the Cavs though.
Why they will finish 4th in the Central Division – The roster is a mess, but they have some young building-blocks for the future. Don’t expect a quick turnaround though. The next few years will be rough, but if they can surround Irving and Thompson with some guys that can play, then I think it’s only a matter of time before the Cavs become relevant again.
Detroit Pistons – Those days of making the Eastern Conference Finals are long gone. Only one player has stayed with the Pistons through thick-n-thin: Tayshaun Prince. The roster has gone from experienced-veterans to unproven, inconsistent rookies and co. Lawrence Frank has become the Pistons 4th coach since their NBA title in 2004. The roster is a mess thanks to some bad acquisitions such as Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. They have not produced like Detroit management had expected. The Pistons have some nice pieces in Greg Monroe and rookie Brandon Knight, but other than that they don’t have much. This is what happens when you have a really good team back in the day, but don’t focus on the future. You end up with a clouted roster full of unproductive players.
Player(s) to Watch – Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe – I feel that Knight could become a real player at the NBA-level. He needs work on his jumper, but I feel that he can make plays and be a cornerstone of this Pistons franchise. It will be interesting to see how Knight adjusts to the NBA game and how rugged this season will be with the way the games are scheduled. Monroe, on the other hand, should get more of an opportunity this season to become a force in the post. He has great passing ability for a player his size and can finish around the basket (55.1% field goal last season). I expect him to start more than 48 games this season (he started 48 games all of last season).
Why they will finish 5th in the Central Division – Their roster is a mess. They have no real play-makers. They don’t have a superstar. Head coach Lawrence Frank will make this team a solid defensive group, but I don’t expect him to produce a major turnaround this season. They will be in the lottery for the third season in a row next June.