Wednesday, November 7, 2018
NBALord.com Central Division Preview
Up next in my division preview series is the Central Division, home to the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks.
After years of rebuilding and putting the right pieces together, the Milwaukee Bucks finally appear to have a team capable of doing some serious damage. They're 8-2 at the moment and anything but a fluke. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.1 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game on 53.6% shooting from the field, making him one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. In addition to "The Greek Freak", Khris Middleton is averaging 19.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on 49.3% shooting from 3-point range while guards Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon give the Bucks some additional weapons in the back court.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the Bucks' 8-2 start is the fact that they're doing this without Jabari Parker, who signed a two-year, $40M contract with the Chicago Bulls last summer. Parker was viewed as an integral part of their future and for them to be playing such stellar basketball with him no longer a part of their plans is a testament to how good "The Greek Freak" is and also how smart their front office is. Most teams would have had a hard time parting ways with a guy of Parker's caliber, but the Bucks' recognized they could succeed without him and appear to have no reason to second guess their decision.
With the Eastern Conference wide open, the Bucks have to be viewed as serious contenders to reach the NBA Finals. Gianni Antetokounmpo is arguably the best player in the NBA and he seems ready to lead his team deep in the playoffs. This is undoubtedly shaking up to be the most exciting season in Milwaukee in a very long time.
Led by Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers have one of the more balanced and deep teams in the NBA. In addition to Oladipo, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, the Pacers have five players scoring in double figures per game (Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Tyreke Evans). This depth and balance allows them to compete with teams that have more talented players.
Where the Pacers really do damage is with their efficient shooting and ability to force turnovers. They are 4th in the NBA in field goal percentage (49.3%) and tied for 6th in steals (8.5 steals per game). They do a really good job of finding easy baskets for one another, making them tough to stop when they have the ball.
While the Pacers are not a team picked to reach the NBA Finals, they do have the pieces to win a series and make some noise in the playoffs. Especially if they are able to get home court advantage for the first round and stay healthy. Few teams have the depth and balance that they have, making them one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA.
The Detroit Pistons are led by Blake Griffin, who so far seems to be enjoying his time in the motor city. Griffin is averaging 28.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game this season while Andre Drummond is averaging 17.6 points and 15.4 rebounds. Together, Griffin and Drummond form a very formidable front court, making it hard for any team to get rebounds and find success in the paint.
The problem for the Pistons is their lack of depth. Reggie Jackson is a nice player as is Ish Smith, but after that it really starts to tail off. The Pistons need one more weapon in order to be really competitive. The hope for them has been that Stanley Johnson will be that additional weapon, but so far he doesn't appear to be up to the task.
With Griffin and Drummond at the helm, the Pistons should be in the mix to make a playoff appearance, but that's the extent to which I see them succeeding. Those guys simply need more help and right now they don't have it.
Zach LaVine is having a really nice season for the Chicago Bulls, averaging 26.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while Jabari Parker is averaging 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. The Bulls hope that with LaVine and Parker as their core for the future, they can start to move in the right direction.
While they do have some promising pieces like Justin Holiday and Wendell Carter, Jr. in addition to LaVine and Parker, this Bulls team is too young to make any noise this season. They have some growing pains to go through this season before they see the fruit of their labors.
For the Bulls, the main thing to see is if LaVine and Parker can both stay healthy. They've had injury issues in the past, casting doubt on their abilities to carry a franchise. If they are able to play the bulk of the games without incurring any serious injury, it should be a good season in the Windy City regardless of what the team's record is.
In the post-LeBron James era, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to struggle. They decided to fire Tyronn Lue early in the season and Kevin Love is out for an extended period of time due to a toe/foot problem. Such a combination is certain to yield a lot of losses. So long as Love is out, this team is going to struggle to find any sort of identity as he is the best player they have.
The main thing to look for this year in Cleveland is how well rookie point guard Collin Sexton performs and who else looks like a good piece to put around him. A combination of Kevin Love and Collin Sexton could be intriguing, but they aren't enough to make this team competitive. They need some pieces around them.
I personally see this as a year of cleaning house in Cleveland. Tyronn Lue won't be the last to go. They'll probably look to find trading partners for J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson and hope to get some assets back that they can use to build for the future. Whether or not they'll find any takers remains to be seen, but they should at least try.
What's frustrating for the Cavaliers is they are cellar dwellers again, but at least they won a championship in the LeBron James era. They've overall had a good run, but now it's time for them to start from scratch and build a team that can once again compete.
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