2012 Central Division Preview

October 29, 2012

By Eriel Parra

 

One of the biggest stories this off-season was the rehab of Derrick Rose and his return off a torn ACL. With the Rose injury, it has opened up the Central Division and all of a sudden it is up for grabs. The Pistons and Cavaliers look to be on the same path, in that both teams will be focused on developing their young core. The Bucks will be competing for the playoffs but how competitive they can be is the question. This leaves the door open for the Indiana Pacers to take over the division and continue their ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference. Can they pull it off? Will the Bulls be alright without Derrick Rose? How will the development of the young players go? Find out the answers to these questions and much more in PBD's Central Division preview.

 

 

Last Year: 1.Bulls (50-16)/ 2.Pacers (42-24)/ 3.Bucks (31-35)/ 4. Detroit (25-41)/ 5.Cleveland (21-45)

Projected Standing: 1.Pacers/ 2.Bulls/ 3.Bucks/ 4.Cleveland/ 5.Detroit

 

 

 

Chicago Bulls

 

Owner: Jerry Reinsdorf/GM: Gar Forman/Head Coach: Tom Thibodeau

 

PROJECTED ROSTER (PG) Kirk Hinrich-(SG) Richard Hamilton-(SF) Loul Deng-(PF) Carlos Boozer-(C) Joakim Noah (6)Taj Gibson--(7)Nate Robinson--(8)Marco Bellineli--(9)Jimmy Butler--(10)Marquis Teague (11) Nazr Muhammed--(12) Vladimir Rodmanovic-- (13) Andre Emmett-- (14) Kyrylo Fesenko (15) Derrick Rose*

ADDITIONS Andre Emmett, Kyrylo Fesenko, Marco Bellineli, Marquis Teague, Nate Robinson, Nazr Muhammed, Vladimir Rodmanovic

LOSSES Brian Scalabrine, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III, Kyle Korver, Mike James, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer

 

WHERE THEY WERE

Last year, the Chicago Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA (50-16). Lead by 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose and a coaching philosophy that helped them become one of the best defensive teams in the NBA (allowing only 88.2ppg to their opponents), Chicago started the season winning 12 of their first 15 games. During the season, the Bulls kept playing at a high level and were consistently on top of the standings throughout the season. They became the top rebounding team in the league and the addition of Richard Hamilton added depth to the wing positions as they had two talented shooting guards in Hamilton and Ronnie Brewer to share the backcourt with Rose. Carlos Boozer and Loul Deng both kept benefiting from Rose’s playmaking ability; and a very consistent season for Deng resulted in his first All-Star selection. As the season went by, the second unit of the team helped out offensively, and always brought an energetic style to the game. C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver, and Taj Gibson were all very productive for the team, and their play was definitely a very important contribution for the team’s success. The Bulls carried a lot of momentum to the 2012 Playoffs as they were the best team in the Eastern Conference according to their record, but a devastating and playoff-ending injury to 2011 MVP Derrick Rose in Game 1 of their first series against the Sixers ruined the chance of a trip back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the Chicago Bulls.

 

WHERE THEY’RE AT

During the offseason, Chicago was in desperate need of a point guard that could fill the hole left by Derrick Rose’s injury. Also, they had four of their five productive bench players become free agents and due to their high value, the Bulls had to sign other players to fill the roster. So the bulls dismantled last year’s efficient second unit and brought in some free-agent additions including point guard Kirk Hinrich; who will be starting at the point guard position until Rose recovers from his injury. Another significant pick-up by the Bulls is shooting guard Marco Belinelli who will take Kyle Korver’s role of coming off-the-bench and scoring from beyond the arc at a high percentage. Also, the Bulls decided to sign Nazr Muhammad after failed attempts to retain Omir Asik, who contribute a lot to the rebounding effectiveness of the team and will be missed as a back-up Center. Draft pick Marquis Teague will have a chance to gain experience by playing the back-up point guard spot for a while until Derrick Rose comes back, which will sure bring energy to an average second unit. Even with the talent assessed in this team, this off-season has been one of more hope than joy in the Bulls locker room. Chicago comes in to the season as the second favorite team to win the Central Division and even when working to make the chemistry between the starting players work, the Bulls are anxiously waiting for the rapid rehabilitation of Rose.

 

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

The absence of Derrick Rose for more than a half season will definitely hurt the Bulls in their hunt to win the Central Division. Therefore, the team will deeply rely on the commitment and effort of the other starters in order to be at a good position in the playoff picture by the time Rose comes back. Due to the migration of key bench players like C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver, it is very likely that Chicago won’t have the same bench production as last year. This is why players like Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah must do more than what they’re use to do when Rose is running the offense. Chicago’s defense, however, is not likely to decrease with the absence of Derrick Rose. The Bulls will keep being a defensive-oriented team, with the addition of a great ball defender on Kirk Hinrich. So, if the Bulls keep doing a good job defensively, they will still be a contender to win the division. However, the Bulls second unit still needs some changes, especially a young back-up Center that can affect the game in both sides of the court. Also, the fact that their bench went through such a drastic change will not be very positive for the success of the team, and if the Bulls don’t make moves to improve their depth this year, they will have a difficult time winning before and during the playoffs.

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers

 

Owner: Dan Gilbert/GM: Chris Grant /Head Coach: Byron Scott

 

PROJECTED ROSTER (PG)Kyrie Irving-(SG) Dion Waiters-(SF) Alonzo Gee-(PF) Tristan Thompson-(C)Anderson Varejão (6) C.J. Miles--(7) Daniel Gibson--(8) Omri Casspi-- (9) Tyler Zeller -- (10) Samardo Samuels (11) Jon Leuer--(12) Jeremy Pargo-- (13) Donald Sloan--(14) Luke Harangody (15)Luke Walton

ADDITIONS C.J. Miles, Dion Waiters, Jeremy Pargo, Jon Leuer, Tyler Zeller

LOSSES Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, D.J. Kennedy, Manny Harris, Semih Erden

 

WHERE THEY WERE

Cleveland started last year as a young team in the re-building process that was coming off one of their worst seasons ever. With the need of a franchise player to build the team around, the Cavaliers selected Kyrie Irving in the 2011 NBA Draft. Not only did they find a star caliber player in Irving, but the Cavs also drafted Tristan Thompson in an effort to improve their record and keep building the future of the franchise. Kyrie Irving became the primary source of offense for the Cavaliers, led the team in points and assists per game, and earned the 2012 Rookie of the Year award. After a good start and a great first half of the season, the Cavaliers were doing better than expected. A dramatic improvement in Alonzo Gee’s game combined with the addition of Omri Casspi brought depth to the small forward position which was a position in need of help after the departure of LeBron James. Also, an unexpected good season by 14 year veteran Antwan Jaminson for a relatively young team helped the Cavaliers improve their winning percentage from 2010’s (19-63) season. Unfortunately, the constant improvement of the Cavaliers throughout the season was damaged by injuries which led to them losing 11 of their last 15 games. Upon finishing with a record of 3-12 against teams in the division, Cleveland finished last in the Central Division and the third team in the East with a record of 21-45.

 

WHERE THEY’RE AT

The need of a natural scorer and another rebounder led the Cavaliers to draft shooting guard Dion Waiters with the fourth pick of the 2012 NBA draft and center Tyler Zeller with the 17th pick. The only significant losses to the team (Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker) will not be missed as Thompson and Waiters demonstrate a promising future for the Cavs. However, the need of a pure shooter is evident since other than Parker, there were no shooters on last year’s squad. The addition of Tyler Zeller will increase the team’s rebounding and frontcourt production. He will gain a lot of experience by backing-up Anderson Varejao at the center position. The resigning of Alonzo Gee was also a positive for the Cavaliers since he is can be an underpaid player when on top of his game. Also, the desperate need of a back-up point guard for Kyrie Irving led to the acquisition of Jeremy Pargo through trade. It seems like the only debate in a roster filled with talented young players and an experienced coach in Byron Scott, is who will be the starting shooting guard. CJ Miles has been having a great training camp this year, scoring 12 points per game and shooting 43% from the field. On the other hand, Dion Waiters was the fourth pick of last year’s NBA Draft, and has shown improvement in training camp. Byron scott has been experiencing with the roster and has even started both of them at the shooting guard and small forward positions respectively. So the debate in Cleveland is whether to start Waiters, Miles, or both.

 

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

This year, Kyrie Irving will keep leading the Cavaliers offense and with the help of the newly acquired players, he is likely to average more assists per game due to the increasing talent of the team. As a young and athletic team, the Cavaliers will be transitioning into a defensive and fast-paced team. Weather he’s coming off the bench or starting, Dion Waiters performance will be vital for the success of the Cavaliers. If Waiters plays up to expectations, then Cleveland will have a lethal frontcourt combination. Also, an improved year for Tristan Thompson will make the Cavs relevant in the hunt for a playoff seed. Even though Cleveland still needs a good back-up power forward, the youth of this team combined with Kyrie Irving’s superstar talent will lead to an improvement in Cleveland’s record and maybe a third spot in the divisional standings.

 

 

 

Detroit Pistons


Owner: Tom Gores/GM: Joe Dumars/Head Coach: Lawrence Frank

 

PROJECTED ROSTER (PG)Brandon Knight-(SG) Rodney Stuckey-(SF) Tayshaun Prince-(PF) Jonas Jerebko-(C)Greg Monroe (6) Jason Maxiell--(7) Corey Maggette--(8) Kim English-- (9) Will Bynum--(10) Andre Drummond (11) Austin Daye--(12) Charlie Villanueva-- (13) Viacheslav Kravtsov-- (14) Kyle Singler (15)Khris Middleton

ADDITIONS Andre Drummond, Corey Maggette, Khris Middleton, Kim English, Kyle Singler, Viacheslav Kravtsov

LOSSES Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Damien Wilkins, Vernon Macklin, Walker Russell

 

WHERE THEY WERE

The Pistons came back from a disappointing season in 2011 with the hopes of improving their records and becoming a relevant team in the playoff picture. After drafting point guard Brandon Knight and combining him with sophomore big man Greg Monroe, the Pistons were hoping for solid play from the rest of their experienced roster (Gordon, Prince, and Villanueva) in order to turn it around. However, the Pistons missed the playoffs for the third straight season and failed to have a .500 winning percentage for the fourth year in a row. Detroit’s experienced veterans played at a poor level, starting by the underperformance of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, and followed by one of Prince’s worst seasons ever. A 4-11 record against teams in the central division and a very slow start to the season (losing 12 of the first 15 games) resulted in a 25-41 finish that place the Pistons in the 4th position of the Central Division and 10th in the East. Greg Monroe showed dramatic improvement (15 pts-9.7rebounds) and has become the face of the franchise. However, rookie Brandon Knight was an effective scorer, but his poor passing numbers had a negative effect on the team’s success and worsened Detroit’s poor offense. Rodney Stuckey also had a promising season that was affected by injuries in March, but his leadership and scoring ways (14.8 ppg) were essential for Detroit’s improvement. The Pistons finished the season with a 37.9% win record, only a slight improvement over the 36.6% record earned in 2010-11.

 

WHERE THEY’RE AT

Drafting Andre Drummond with the 9th pick was very risky move by the pistons since he didn’t have the numbers of a top 10 pick for the draft. However, Drummond fills in a clear need for the Pistons (which is frontcourt depth) and he also possesses the potential to be a franchise-type player if developed correctly. In the second round of the draft, the Pistons added Kim English, a defensive shooting guard, and Khris Middleton, yet another candidate for the crowded small forward position. One of the problems with these draft acquisitions is that they will not make an immediate impact in Detroit, so it has been difficult to expect some sort of improvement from the Pistons this season. The trade for Corey Maggette who missed some of the games last year due to injury can be both good and bad for the team, depending on Maggette’s production. Detroit traded Ben Gordon and a first-round pick to Charlotte in exchange of Corey’s expiring contract; so if Maggette keeps getting injured throughout the year, the Pistons will be regretting how they got rid of that first-round pick. There’s also a need for a natural “pass-first” point guard to increase offensive efficiency.

 

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

The fact that the Pistons didn’t get any better on paper during the offseason makes it very difficult for Detroit to make a dramatic improvement from last year. Even thou Detroit’s success will depend on the production of Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey as the main sources of offensive production for the team, other players will have to step-up if the Pistons want to become a .500 team. Tayshaun Prince and Jason Maxiell must become the players they use to be in order to increase the team’s chances of winning. Brandon Knight must become a playmaker and take advantage of his quickness in the offensive side by creating opportunities for his teammates. Also, if the Pistons want to become a powerhouse in a near future they must develop Andre Drummond so that he can become a consistent center in the NBA. If Drummond shows quick improvement throughout the season, this will help the Pistons become a dominant team with two efficient big men. However, this will take some time, and it is likely that they will have a tough time winning games outside of the division. The lack of depth and decreased production from their bench last year complimented the underperformance of key players and resulted in yet another year of frustration for the Pistons. And given the fact that Detroit didn’t improve their bench depth during the offseason, it seems like they will have another long year at the bottom of the division. The Piston will need to make some moves if they’re trying to become relevant in the chase for the lead of the Central Division. Detroit will clear some cap space after the year is over with the possible departures of Will Bynum, Austin Daye, Corey Maggette, and Jason Maxiell next summer. Nonetheless, if they can get rid of Charlie Villanueva’s contract before the season ends, the Pistons will be in a better position after the year is over.

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers

 

Owner: Herb Simon/GM: Kevin Pritchard/Head Coach: Frank Vogel

 

PROJECTED ROSTER (PG)George Hill-(SG)Paul George-(SF)Danny Granger-(PF)David West-(C)Roy Hibbert (6) D.J. Augustin--(7) Tyler Hansbrough --(8) Gerald Green--(9) Ian Mahinmi--(10) Miles Plumlee (11) Jeff Pendegraph--(12) Orlando Johnson--(13) Sundiata Gaines--(14) Ben Hansbrough (15)Sam Young

ADDITIONS Ben Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, Miles Plumlee, Sundiata Gaines

LOSSES A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones, Darren Collison, Jeff Foster, Kyrylo Fesenko, Leandro Barbosa, Louis Amundson

 

WHERE THEY WERE
Last year, the Indiana Pacers surpassed many expectations. Not only did they finish 42-24, but out of all teams in the Central Division, the Indiana Pacers had the best playoff performance by far. Ranked 10th in points per game and 13th in points allowed, the Eastern Conference semifinalists played great team basketball throughout the whole year. The dramatic improvement of 7’2 center Roy Hibbert combined with the acquisitions of George Hill and David West marked the beginning of a new era for the Pacers. Playing a collective game where eight players averaged more than 9 points per game, Indiana had a consistent style of play where everyone in the team contributed in order to become a contender in the Eastern Conference. Led by scoring machine Danny Granger and speedy point guard Darren Collison, the Indiana Pacers were a complete team that kept winning games at a very consistent rate throughout the year. They combined half-court offense and a fast-paced game due to athletic guards like Collison, Hill, and George. Most times this style of play worked because of the talent possessed by this team in every position. Tyler Hansbrough and Leandro Barbosa were very important contributors off the bench during the season and in the playoffs. After beating the Orlando Magic in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, the Pacers played the Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals. Even with the talent assessed in Miami’s team, Indiana fought throughout the series and made it a very physically tough series for the Heat. After losing in 6 games, the Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs but their intentions of contending for the Eastern Championship was made clear.

 

WHERE THEY’RE AT

The Indiana Pacers have made some moves during the off-season that have improved how the team looks on paper. With the departure of starting point guard Darren Collison, the Pacers had the obligation to look for a point guard capable of doing as well or better than Collison. With George Hill as the top candidate to keep the starting job, the Pacers looked for a point guard that could play as a back-up at times and could set others for easy scores, and they were able to sign D.J. Augustin. As they also needed someone to score off the bench, they drafted Gerald Green who had a very good year last season in terms of scoring. Also, the need for a back-up center after the departure of Lou Amundson, led to the decision of drafting Miles Plumlee. Most of these moves made by the Pacers during the offseason were very effective according to the type of players needed by the organization. With these pick-ups the bench looks way better on paper since they now have a young back-up for Roy Hibbert, a point guard who’s capable of making others better in Augustin, and a pure scorer in Gerald Green. The only problem in terms of the depth chart will be to choose who the starting point guard will be between George Hill and DJ Augustin, as both of them are capable of running the show. However, Augustin’s playoff inexperience and Hill’s knowledge of the team can be indicators of George Hill taking over the point.

 

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

The absence of Derrick Rose for the Chicago Bulls will benefit the Pacers during the hunt for the Central Division title; and if healthy throughout the season there is no reason to believe the Pacers will not be the top team in the division this year. With an experienced Danny Granger coming into his eight year in the league, Paul George improving dramatically every year, Roy Hibbert playing at a high level, and David West doing what he’s used to; the Pacers could turn out to be one of the top teams in the East. Indiana will need help from its second unit if trying to become a legit contender in the eastern conference. The effectiveness of addition Ian Mahinmi will also play a big role in the success of the team because his efficient play will result in more rest for Hibbert, who is the central piece of this Pacers team. However, the fact that this team is filled with experienced players who have been part of winning teams and playoff situations is an indication that they will have a good season. As long as they are healthy, the Pacers should have no difficulties when trying to become the best team in the Central Division and a contender for a top position in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

 

Milwaukee Bucks

 

Owner: Herb Kohl/GM: John Hammond/Head Coach: Scott Skiles

 

PROJECTED ROSTER (PG)Brandon Jennings-(SG)Monta Ellis-(SF)Mike Dunleavy-(PF)Drew Gooden-(C)Samuel Dalembert (6)Marquis Daniels--(7)Ersan Ilyasova--(8)Luc Mbah a Moute--(9)John Henson--(10)Doron Lamb (11)Beno Udrih--(12)Larry Sanders-- (13)Tobias Harris--(14)Ekpe Udoh--(15)Joel Przybilla

ADDITIONS Doron Lamb, Joel Pryzbilla, John Henson, Marquis Daniels, Samuel Dalembert

LOSSES Carlos Delfino, John Brockman, Kwame Brown, Shaun Livingston

 

WHERE THEY WERE

The Milwaukee Bucks experienced many up-and-downs throughout last year’s season which led them to miss the playoffs for a consecutive year. Upon starting the first half of the season with a mediocre 20-24 record, they traded Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors in exchange of Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh. This trade was a good one for the Milwaukee Bucks because the team now featured point guard Brandon Jennings and shooting guard Monta Ellis in the same backcourt. This was effective in the offensive side, but the need of a natural Center was the factor for the Bucks missing the Playoffs for a consecutive year. The increased offensive production of Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova was still not enough for the success of Milwaukee. Even though they finished the year as the 5th best offensive team in the league scoring 99 points per game, their defense was the 9th worst allowing 98.7 points per game. Their size disadvantage was evident throughout the year, finishing 3rd in the Central division and 9th in the Eastern Conference. Ultimately, the Milwaukee bucks were four games away from getting into the playoffs but their season was not a disappointment as they were expected to do much worse than how they finish.

 

WHERE THEY’RE AT

With a relatively small backcourt, the Bucks came in to the offseason with the need of acquiring good perimeter defenders that could improve the team’s defensive efficiency, a versatile shooting small forward who could be used to stretch the defense and a big man to fill the vacancy left after the team traded Andrew Bogut. This replacement for Bogut was acquired from a trade made by the Bucks during draft night. This trade brought Samuel Dalembert to Milwaukee in order to fill the need of a dominant presence in the defensive side. They also drafted North Carolina’s John Henson in an effort to solidify the Power Forward position. The Bucks also drafted a good player in Doron Lamb who is a good scorer with size and promising defensive skills, and signed free agent marquis Daniels. By resigning Ilyasova and Pryzbilla, the Bucks ended up filling the void left by Andrew Bogut and look like a more complete team this year. With an established starting line-up with a defensive minded center, the Milwaukee Bucks will have a great chance to keep playing after the regular season.

 

WHERE THEY’RE GOING

The addition of Samuel Dalembert to the team brings a lot of hope to the fans in Milwaukee. The fact that they have someone who will rebound the basketball and sacrifice playing aggressive defense in the low block will help the Bucks become a better defensive team as a whole. Also, the additions of Doron Lamb and John Henson to the team bring more youth to a team that is still trying to find its essence. The combination of Jennings and Ellis will be dangerous on the offensive side, and with better talent on the team they will also take more advantage and make more use of their teammates. If Samuel Dalembert stays healthy while Marquis Daniels, Ekpe Udoh, and Ersan Ilyasova bring energy to the game off the bench and the rookies improve quickly as the season goes along, the Bucks will have a better record than last year. The Bucks are talented enough to be a low seed in the playoffs, but their ability to play defense will determine their position in the Central division and the Eastern Conference. With Jennings running the point and Ellis as the main source of offense for the team, it is likely that the offense will take care of itself. In other words, an effective effort in the defensive side by all the players in the court will be the key to the Milwaukee Bucks success this year.