NBA Preview: Central Division
The Central Division is expected to be one of the best in the league this season. All the teams are either built to win now or have star potential on their roster. This division could possibly have four of their five teams in the playoffs.
(Projected record: 57-25)
Strengths: Strong frontline, tough defensively, experience from last season
Weakness: Inconsistent backcourt, clutch closer
Projected starting lineup: PG: George Hill SG: Lance Stephenson SF: Paul George PF: David West C: Roy Hibbert
The Pacers put together their best season in almost a decade last year. Reaching the conference finals for the first time since 2004 was big step forward and a great statement made by this up and coming team. Keeping David West was probably the Pacers biggest move this offseason. The combination of him and Roy Hibbert is what gave the Heat so much trouble in the conference finals.
Also let’s not forget the emergence of Paul George, who has established himself as one of the best two-way players in the league. George turned himself into an all-around player last year and was awarded the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. George will look to have an even better season this year.
The Pacers biggest issue last season was contribution off the bench. The Pacers were the second worst bench team last season scoring just 24.1 ppg. They’ve addressed that issue by adding Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, and C.J. Watson. Scola in particular should be able to give them some offense off the bench and help the frontcourt substantially. Now the Pacers do have a little bit of a question mark entering this season: do they start Danny Granger or not?
He only played in five games last year, but the Pacers didn’t seem to miss him that much with Lance Stephenson as the starter. Just a few seasons ago Granger was this team’s go-to player offensively. He’s averaged 20 plus points four times in his eight-year career. However it’s clear that George has assumed Granger’s old role.
If Granger does start this season, he’ll have to take a backseat to George in order to maximize George’s potential. Whether or not Granger starts he’ll be a vital part of this team success. Now can the Pacers really be a threat to Miami this season? Well they tested this team last year as well as anyone else in the league and have only gotten better. This team is built to win now, and thought it won’t be easy Frank Vogel and company are capable of taking the Pacers to the next level.
(Projected record: 55-27)
Strengths: Elite defensively, well coached,
Weaknesses: Inconsistent offensively, not much depth, injury prone Projected starting lineup: PG: Derrick Rose SG: Jimmy Butler SF: Luol Deng PF: Carlos Boozer C: Joakim Noah
After a restless season for Bulls fans, Derrick Rose is coming back. The Bulls are definitely a team to watch this year. They were surprisingly very formidable last season without their former MVP, and managed to put together 45 wins.
Now the Bulls have their core intact and are ready to make a run. They need to stay healthy though. Injuries have plagued this team the past few seasons and they are hoping that their core can be healthy by the time playoffs come around. The Bulls have been one of the best defensive teams in the league since Tom Thibodeau took over as head coach.
There’s no question about this team’s defensive prowess, but they’ve had their issues offensively, even with Derrick Rose in the lineup. This has been due to their lack of depth. Chicago didn’t have a very busy offseason, but Mike Dunleavy is a nice replacement for Marco Belinelli.
Still, depth issues exist. Kirk Hinrich, TaJ Gibson and Dunleavy will need to lead the second unit for this team. The Bulls are depending heavily on Rose to come back to full form and make this team a championship contender.
If Rose can find his stride sooner rather than later, then the Bulls will be in good shape. The Pacers and the Bulls could meet in the second round of the playoffs and Rose would without a doubt be the difference maker in that series. Then it would most likely be a rematch with the Heat, which the Bulls would be hungry for.
(Projected record: 44-38)
Strengths: Deep team, Potential
Weakness: Inexperienced, Inconsistent defensively
Projected starting lineup: PG: Kyrie Irving SG: Dion Waiters SF: Alonzo Gee PF: Tristan Thompson C: Anderson Varejao
Cleveland was very busy this offseason. From getting the first pick in the draft to signing Andrew Bynum, it was clear the Cavaliers are ready to find their way into the postseason this year for the first time since the departure of Lebron James.
Cleveland is pretty much young and promising at every position. They have a future superstar in Kyrie Irving running the show. Dion Waiters will look to improve on his stellar rookie year and Tristan Thompson is expected to breakout this year as well. Also, a healthy Anderson Varejao could be very formidable. Cleveland also added some depth this offseason with players like Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, and of course Andrew Bynum.
If Bynum can get healthy at some point this season he can be a big help to Cleveland. Again, this is a young squad but they may have as much potential as any team in the league. Bringing back Mike Brown was a good move as well, after he was let go unfairly with the Lakers. Brown is a very good coach and is more than capable of moving this team forward.
It may not be this year or next year for Cleveland to make a run, but there is a run coming for them in the near future.
(Projected record: 43-39)
Strengths: High Potential, strong frontcourt, good coaching staff
Weaknesses: Inexperience, no depth
Projected starting lineup: PG: Brandon Jennings SG: Chauncey Billups SF: Kyle Singler PF: Josh Smith C: Greg Monroe
The Pistons were one of busiest teams this offseason adding new coaches and impact players. Josh Smith was signed, and Brandon Jennings was acquired in a trade. Chauncey Billups was added as well. Maurice Cheeks was also hired as the new head coach, with former Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace hired as an assistant.
With a brand new look, the Pistons are looking to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The one single thing this team has is potential, especially in the frontcourt. Greg Monroe hasn’t gotten much attention but he’s one of the top post players in the East, after he averaged 16.0 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, and 1.3 spg last season. Let’s not forget about the 7-footer Andre Drummond. Not only is he just 20 years old, he played a little better than expected last season. Drummond has a chance to be a great center on both ends of the floor. He may not start right away, but if he makes his way into the starting lineup the Pistons could possibly have one of the best frontline in the east.
Jennings hasn’t been very efficient so far in his career, but he’s very talented. With some lessons from Chauncey Billups, Jennings should only get better. If nothing else the Pistons are headed in the right direction. The Pistons should be suited for a playoff spot but even if they don’t make it, they should be excited for the years to come in Detroit.
(Projected record: 35- 47)
Strengths: Tough defensively in the paint, Young talent
Weaknesses: No go to player, no chemistry, weak depth
Projected starting lineup: PG: Brandon Knight SG: O.J. Mayo SF: Caron Butler PF: Ersan Ilyasova C: Larry Sanders
After four seasons, the Bucks decided to part ways with Brandon Jennings. The Bucks appear to be ready to head in a different direction. They’ve added Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler on the wings. All three players can score, but these guys are too similar to coexist together effectively.
Inside is where the Bucks have the biggest advantage with Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova. The Bucks aren’t exactly primed to be a playoff team, but they do have talent and youth on this roster. Brandon Knight was drafted seventh overall back in 2010 and was expected to turn into a great pro. He could have a breakout year this season in a new environment.
John Henson is another highly touted youngster on this team. This team is expected to do much but if they stay in the lottery range and get a top pick then their future is bright.