The Central Division is our next pit stop, and thanks to a certain ‘Greek Freak’, is becoming a more relevant sector of the league since the departure of LeBron. T
he Bucks posted the best record in the league a season ago, while Nate McMillan had the Pacers playing a winning brand of basketball, even with their star, Oladipo, going down mid-season with a knee injury. For the Pistons, they will look to take a further step, while the Bulls have a young roster boasting potential talent, while for the Cavaliers, a new chapter starts under John Beilein.
Milwaukee Bucks (last season: 1st, 60-22)
The Bucks entered last season full of potential, without knowing just how far they could go. Enter, Giannis. The Greek Freak was able to lead this team into a deep playoff run, on his way to winning the Most Valuable Player award.
Yet, this team was unable to make it out of the East, falling in the conference finals to eventual champions, Toronto Raptors. So what can they do to improve, as they enter the season as the favourites in their conference.
Depth is key for any championship contending team, and with Giannis their main man on both ends of the floor, others will have to step up to the plate during the regular season, to ease some of the pressure on the MVP. Brook Lopez and Kris Middleton, fresh off signing a max contract extension, both spent time over the summer playing for USA in the FIBA World Cup, and should be fit and ready to go from game one.
On paper, they post a really deep roster, however, question marks still remain on production level. Bledsoe and Hill will be useful leading the offence, but need to be accountable on defence. Adding Kyle Korver was a great addition, especially from beyond the arc, and moving without the ball – giving Giannis and Bledsoe a target from deep. Wesley Matthews is a questionable addition, whilst in his prime was a sharpshooter, has been inconsistent in the past seasons. The Lopez brothers will add size inside the paint, while adding the ability to stretch the floor.
Prediction: Home Court Advantage
Indiana Pacers (5th, 48-34)
The Pacers were one of the feel good stories of last season, given the injury to Oladipo during the season. Myles Turner is starting to fulfil his potential in the centre position, finishing last season as the leading shot blocker, while being more consistent on the offensive end is still a challenge.
The Pacers had a busy off-season, with Bogdanovic heading to the West, they needed to address the need for shooting, and lots of it. They gained Brogdon who can lead the offence, and is strong on the defensive end, while also getting Jeremy Land and T.J. Warren who will be able to spread the load on the offensive end, especially from beyond the arc.
So how can the Pacers go further this season? A healthy Oladipo will go a long way, while their shooting is a definite necessity. ranking second last in 3PM, yet still top five in 3P%. The new acquisitions will definitely aid them in shooting more from deep, and if Turner can continue his emergence on the defensive end, then the Pacers should lock up a playoff spot.
Detroit Pistons (8th, 41-41)
The Pistons scraped through the East last season, clinching onto the last spot in the playoffs before getting swept by the Bucks. While they post a formidable front court, with Drummond and Griffin, their lack of talent in the backcourt is a real concern for Dwayne Casey.
Derrick Rose heads to Detroit to hopefully give their offence some much needed firepower, as long as he remains healthy. While the lack some real depth beyond the arc, with inconsistency the main problem. Tony Snell will be serviceable, but for his wage might even be moved on throughout the season, while Thon Maker will be looking to hold down his spot as the backup to Drummond.
How can the Pistons go further this time around, without improving the roster? It’s going to be hard for Casey, given the teams around the Pistons have benefited from a change in personnel, while the Pistons have stagnated. They do have some young talent, with Svi Mykhauiliuk and rookie, Sekou Doumbouya, who will provide some spark off the bench.
Cleveland Cavaliers (14th, 19-63)
It feels like only yesterday when this team made three straight Finals series, and claiming their first championship in that span. However, with the departure of LeBron beginning a massive rebuild for the Cavs. This year, a new head coach in Beilein will help restart the franchise.
Colin Sexton showed glimpses last season, and will be more consistent this time around, while young Darius Garland is an underrated shooter. The health of their big guys may be an issue however, with Kevin Love missing majority of last season, and Tristan Thompson having injury problems throughout his career.
Expectations are low, and this could be an asset for the Cavs, given their young talent and lack of experience. The key is the growth of both Sexton and Garland, as well as Kevin Porter Jnr. If they can remain healthy, there is a strong chance they could come out of the East in one of the low playoff spots.
Don’t be surprised if the front office make some moves either, with the likes of Love and Clarkson possible trade targets.
Chicago Bulls (13th, 22-60)
The Bulls were once a force to be reckoned with, and are now staring down the barrel of another failed season. Yet, they pack a serious punch of some young talent this season, arguably one of the best in the league. You look at Wendell Carter Jnr, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, rookie Coby White and Zach Lavine, there is some serious, and young, talent on this roster. They will also benefit from some veteran experience, acquiring Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter Jnr.
Jim Boylen has a coveted college resume, and will look to use the youth’s athleticism and speed to make his name in the big league.
A strong offence is the key for the Bulls, and White should be able to lead that offence for the next decade, as well as consistency with their shot. The Bulls were in the bottom ten in the league for FG%, and minorly better [19th] for 3P% and fourth last in scoring. Offensive was a real struggle, and with a healthy Lauri Markkanen, and Lavine, their offence should be vastly different, and better than a season ago.