NBA Preview: Central Division

Posted on 01. Oct, 2009 by Ari Diamond in NBA

The NBA’s Central Division is no longer the most powerful division in the NBA Eastern Conference. While the Pistons used to be a model of consistency and thus the engine of the Central division, they’re entering a new era due to the departures of Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Meanwhile elsewhere in the Central, the Pacers and Bucks sport two of the worst rosters in the association. Chicago is respectable, and should be a playoff team come April, but if that is Cleveland’s biggest foe in the division, expect the Cavs to runaway with the crown. No other team in the division can come close to matching the depth, shooting, experience and size Cleveland possesses. More importantly, no one in the division can even remotely guard, reigning MVP LeBron James. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is the most heralded player outside of King James in the Central, and it will be interesting to see how he raises his game in his sophomore year. If he can make his teammates better in year 2, the Bulls should make another leap. Detroit has backcourt depth, maybe even too much. That could make the allocation of minutes the most important road block to overcome early in the season for the Pistons. The Pacers were a wounded bunch last season, but after losing Jarrett Jack, Marquis Daniels, and Rasho Nesterovic, a lot of their leadership and experience now resides elsewhere, which can’t help. Milwaukee may be the most frugal team in the NBA, as they used the off-season to dump salary and avoid re-signing any players. They didn’t even ink their own young talent, Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva.

The telling story in the Central in 2009-2010 will be just how good LeBron and Shaq can be. Without any competition within the division, the Cavs should be able to lock up the #1 seed in the East. This will pay real dividends come May and June when they face off against the Magic or Celtics for a chance at the ultimate prize.

Flagrant Fouls All-Central Division Team:

All-Central First Team:
PG: Derick Rose
SG: Michael Redd
SF: LeBron James
PF: Danny Granger
C: Shaquille O’Neal

All-Central Second Team:
PG: Mo Williams
SG: Rip Hamilton
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Troy Murphy
C: Andrew Bogut

All-Central Third Team:
PG: Ben Gordon
SG: John Salmons
SF: Tayshaun Price
PF: Charlie Villaneuva
C: Andersen Varejao

Best Front-Court: Cleveland Cavaliers

A rotation of Shaq, Big Z, Varejao, and JJ Hickson gives Cleveland a nice combination of size, defense, and inside/outside scoring. While it will be interesting to see how Head Coach Mike Brown deals with having Shaq and Big Z on the same roster, the two play very different offensively and should allow the Cavs to mix things up well with floor spacing.

Best Back-Court: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls only slightly edged Cleveland and Detroit. They did so for one reason: Derrick Rose. Rose is leaps and bounds the best all-around back court player in the Division and will be able to maximize his playmaking ability in Chicago. Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton are great, but they will be shuffled around and asked to play out of position to get them their minutes. John Salmons was a big boost for the Bulls last year and gives them a versatile wing option. His back-up and long-time starter Kirk Hinrich is versatile in the backcourt and is strong defensively.


1. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

The time is now for Cleveland. With so much speculation over the future of LeBron James as a Cav as well as Shaq turning 38 come playoff time, the Cavaliers realize this is their best opportunity to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. General Manager Danny Ferry realized this in the off-season, and went out and acquired O’Neal, Parker, Moon, and Leon Powe. This should help Cleveland with their mismatch problems with the Magic. With Shaq, the Cavs now have a big man who can make Dwight Howard work at both ends of the floor. Parker and Moon are two lengthy perimeter defenders, something the Cavs sorely lacked against the Magic’s array of long 3 point shooters. Leon Powe brings added front court depth and experience to an aging frontline of Shaq and Big Z.

With Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anthony Parker, and Daniel Gibson, the Cavs have a nice array of shooters and slashers in the back court that work well with LeBron in the open floor. They should provide Shaq with plenty of options in the half-court. All are capable 3 point shooters and can stretch the floor to open up their dribble-drive skills as well as make space for LeBron. Adding Jamario Moon behind LeBron James is nothing spectacular, but he should provide enough defense and hustle for 10-15 minutes a night.

Incorporating Shaquille O’Neal may be tough for Cleveland, considering the Cavs work best when the ball remains in LeBron’s hands. But if Shaq doesn’t work out, he is expiring next year at about 20 million a year. This gives them flexibility along with the Ilgauskas’ expiring contract. So even if things are not so bright in Cleveland into Decmber, they have the options to change things and still be as potent as ever come April. Notwithstanding, expect another MVP-like season from LeBron and a hardworking supporting cast to keep the Cavs as one of the NBA’s elite.

Arrivals: Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe, Danny Green

Departures: Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic, Joe Smith, Lorenzen Wright, Wally Sczerbiak

Depth Chart:
PG: Mo Williams/Daniel Gibson
SG: Anthony Parker/Delonte West/Danny Green
SF: LeBron James/Jamario Moon
PF: Andersen Varejao/JJ Hickson/Leon Powe
C: Shaquille O’Neal/ Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Strengths:

Inside Scoring: With Shaq and LeBron, the Cavs have two of the leagues best finishers around the rim. Enough said.

Depth: With Gibson, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Hickson, Powe, and Ilgauskas, the Cavs have a more then capable bench unit that has a nice combination of physicality, hustle, and offense.

Weaknesses:

Perimeter size: The Cavalier guards are small. Despite the acquisition of Anthony Parker, they have a tough time matching up with the great back court players in the NBA.

Big 3: LeBron/SHAQ/Mo Williams:

A very versatile group that possesses all facets of the NBA game: inside scoring, outside shooting, passing, defense, athleticism. It will be interesting to see how much Shaq takes away from guys like Mo Williams and Delonte West this year, who were both very significant contributors for the Cavs when the ball was not in #23’s hands. Expect another insane season from LeBron, who will probably be even better and well rested for the playoffs considering he has other guys now to help carry the load.

X-Factor: Anthony Parker/Jamario Moon

If these two can solve the mismatch issues on the perimeter for the Cavs, they should not have a problem going to the finals. While neither player is spectacular, both are defensive-minded smart players with the athleticism to make a difference for a Cavalier team that is not short on offense.

Best Case Scenario: LeBron’s first championship, Shaq’s 5th.

The Shaq experiment proves to be a huge success. LeBron elevates his game so he is unquestionably the NBA’s best player. Mike Brown finds a way to stop the Magic and Celtics using his plethora of new defensive acquisitions in Powe, Parker, and Moon. Cleveland takes home the NBA title, which makes the summer of 2010 even more intense for LeBron.

Worst Case Scenario: 2nd round exit.

Shaq experiment is well, an experiment; things do not work out, and a mid-season trade takes place that does not allow the Cavs to gel in time to beat the Celtics or Magic. LeBron realizes the window of opportunity in Cleveland is closed, and he decides to bounce in 2010.

2. Chicago Bulls

Chicago was rather inactive this offseason. They let Ben Gordon go as an unrestricted free agent which was probably the right move; Chicago has backcourt depth and Gordon walking increases their cap flexibility for this coming offseason. Bringing back Jannero Pargo should be their most underrated move this offseason, as he was a significant contributor for them before he went to Europe for a year. Add Pargo and a healthy Kirk Hinrich, and Chicago really is not losing anything by giving Gordon up (except some extremely low percentage shots in late game situations that somehow go in).

The Bulls are hoping that they develop from within, as last year they suffered injuries to key players like Luol Deng and Hinrich. With Derrick Rose, John Salmons, and Luol Deng, the Bulls have reliable scoring options. Their biggest issue remains in the frontcourt; Chicago still does not possess a scorer on the low block, which will make it extremely difficult for them to win games in the playoffs. Ty Thomas, Joakim Noah, and Brad Miller are all very versatile players at their positions, but none of the 3 have an innate inside scoring ability that the Bulls so desperately lack.

Arrivals: Jerome James, Taj Gibson, James Johnson, Jannero Pargo



Departures:
Ben Gordon, Tim Thomas

Depth Chart:

PG: Derrick Rose/Jannero Pargo/Lindsey Hunter
SG: John Salmons/Kirk Hinrich
SF: Luol Deng/James Johnson
PF: Tyrus Thomas/Joakim Noah/Taj Gibson
C: Brad Miler/Aaron Gray/Jerome James

Strengths:

Athleticism: Chicago has a fast, electric, and versatile team. A line up of Rose, Salmons, Deng, Thomas, and Noah would be among the most athletic in the association, which will allow the Bulls to run with the best of them.

Playmakers: While Chicago possesses no real scoring threat on the low block, they have a plethora of guys that can drive and dish. Derrick Rose, last year’s rookie sensation should have no problem getting to the rim and finding his teammates for open looks. But they also have Hinrich, Salmons, Pargo, and Deng, each of whom can create for themselves and their teammates.

Weaknesses:

Inside Scoring: Chicago knows it has lacked an interior presence for quite some time. Rumours about a deal for Carlos Boozer this offseason highlighted that issue, and expect it to remain a problem. It will not stop them from being competitive, but will prove to be their demise when they struggle to win a game in the 1st round.

Outside shooting: While most of the Bulls’ perimeter players have no problem putting the ball on the floor and creating, they do not have any reliable 3-point shooters. John Salmons has some range, as does Pargo, but neither are known as shooters; expect this to be where the one place they somewhat miss Ben Gordon.

Big 3: Derrick Rose/John Salmons/Luol Deng:

Versatile and athletic, these 3 can light it up in the open floor, and can get to the rim in the half-court at will. While shooting remains their biggest issue, they all possess good mid-range ability. Most importantly, they are unselfish, good-hearted players that should allow one another to reach their potential.

X-Factor: Tyrus Thomas

Last season he emerged and played consistent basketball for long stretches. He can score, rebound, and block shots. His potential to improve offensively and develop a half-court game would make life a lot easier for the Bulls once the game slows down in the final 6 minutes of games.

Best Case: 1st round

The Bulls will be an exciting team to watch throughout the regular season; they’re fast, athletic, have good finishers, and of course Derrick Rose. But without any inside scoring, and minimal 3-point shooting, offense will be hard to come by in a playoff series against defensive oriented teams like Cleveland, Orlando, and Boston.

Worst Case: Lottery bound

Chicago’s worst case scenario is not a whole lot worst then their best case. Play exciting ball throughout the year but slightly miss the playoffs only because the East is deeper with improved teams like Washington and Toronto.

3. DETROIT PISTONS

It is the end of an era in Detroit. With Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace elsewhere, and Charlie V and Ben Gordon in their place, Detroit is no longer the gritty, defensive team that brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2005. The new-look Pistons look like a run and gun squad, complete with offensive minded finesse players.

While Detroit has some good pieces and young talent, they are not nearly the team they once were. They have no low-post option, as Villaneuva is more of an outside, face-up power forward, and most of their scorers or volume shooters that need the ball in their hands to score. Couple that with the fact that the team’s two best offensive players, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon, play the same position, and you have some serious question marks in Detroit. There is definitely talent that remains on this Pistons roster, but relatively speaking, this team is only a fraction of what it once was. The Pistons will be a more exciting team to watch, but not more successful.

Arrivals: Charlie Villaneuva, Ben Gordon, Ben Wallace, Chris Wilcox

Departures: Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess, Allen Iverson, Amir Johnson, Aaron Aflalo

Depth Chart:
PG: Rodney Stuckey/Will Bynum
SG: Richard Hamilton/Ben Gordon
SF: Tayshaun Prince/Austin Daye/Dajuan Summers
PF: Charlie Villaneuva/Jason Maxiell/Jonas Jerebko
C: Ben Wallace/Kwame Brown

Strengths:

Speed/Finesse: Detroit’s roster is loaded with athletic finesse players that are offensively sound. Their big man rotation is stacked with guys that can get up and down the floor. Joe Dumars has the right kind of guys to play a new open-court style.

Scoring: With Gordon, Hamilton, Prince, and Villaneuva, Detroit has a lot of options offensively. Each of these guys are just as capable as the next creating for himself, and it should allow Detroit to mix things up a lot in their half-court offensive late in games.

Weaknesses:

Chemistry: It is tough to know what Joe Dumars was thinking when he signed Ben Gordon with Richard Hamilton already on the roster. Finding a way to maximize their most talented players on the floor will force guys to play out of position, and will hurt the team’s chemistry and ability to gel as a result.

Inside Scoring: Jason Maxiell can throw it down with the best of them, but there is still no pivot on this roster with any low-post game. Kwame Brown, Ben Wallace, and Chris Wilcow all work better in open-floor schemes offensively. Without a low-post option, expect Detroit to struggle to get high percentage shots late in games.

Big 3: Ben Gordon/Richard Hamilton/Tayshaun Prince:

Lots of scoring, athleticism, and versatility among the 3. Defense remains an issue, as does playing time between Hamilton and Gordon. While Gordon will slide over to point guard in order to keep both on the floor, it will be interesting to see how Ben Gordon adjusts, and if he can be a floor general rather than a shoot-first scorer. Hamilton could not work with Allen Iverson, and Gordon is a similar breed. This will be the telling story of Detroit’s season. Tayshaun Prince remains one of the leagues most underrated players; he is the biggest asset on their roster.

X-Factor: Rodney Stuckey

The young point guard has shown glimpses of greatness, but also some serious setbacks. While at times it looks as though he has future all-star written all over him, other times he is losing out minutes to back-up Will Bynum. The Pistons need Stuckey to continue to develop and grow into their floor general of the future. Any serious set-back and the Pistons will have a gaping hole at point guard which will inhibit their offensive potency.

Best Case Scenario: 8th seed

Gordon and Hamilton both put together near 20 point averages, and Charlie Villaneuva lives up to his contract. Rodney Stuckey cements himself as Detroit’s point guard of the future and helps lead Detroit to the playoffs (only to be swept by Cleveland of course).

Worst Case Scenario: Meltdown in Detroit, more rebuilding.

Detroit struggles with their chemistry issues and Joe Dumars continues to tweak his roster, getting rid of potentially Hamilton or Prince, officially ending their era of success.

4. Indiana Pacers

Last year the Indiana Pacers were ravaged by injury to most of their key players. Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Troy Murphy, and TJ Ford all missed significant time, which made it hard for this young team to gel. While they lost rotation players in Jarett Jack, Marquis Daniels, and Rasho Nesterovic, they were replaced with hard-nosed Jim O’Brien style players in Earl Watson, Tyler Hansborough, Solomon Jones, and AJ Price; this is now a team loaded with toughness. Roy Hibbert, Troy Murphy, Jeff Foster, and Hansborough is not the most talented front court rotation, but is loaded with toughness and grit.

Danny Granger should continue to emerge into one of the league’s most prolific scorers. Each year he seems to improve his game, and if he can stay healthy, expect him to rise into the upper echelon of NBA stars. Mike Dunleavy remains a question mark due to his health, but Brandon Rush has proved to be serviceable, and will take some pressure off of Dunleavy. The Pacers have depth at point guard; while they lost Jarrett Jack to Toronto, they replaced him with Earl Watson, who should play a similar role as Jack did last season behind the volatile TJ Ford.

While Indiana is not a very talented team, they have a nice group of young, tough-minded players that should play hard every night, and will allow them to win a few more ball games then last season. This of course, is assuming they do not get hit with the injury bug two years in a row.

Arrivals: Earl Watson, Tyler Hansborough, AJ Price, Solomon Jones


Departures:
Jarett Jack, Marquis Daniels, Rasho Nesterovic

Depth Chart:

PG: TJ Ford/Earl Watson/Travis Diener
SG: Mike Dunleavy/Dahntay Jones/AJ Price
SF: Danny Granger/Brandon Rush/Solomon Jones
PF: Troy Murphy/Tyler Hansborough/Josh McRoberts
C: Roy HIbbert/Jeff Foster

Strengths:

Toughness: The Pacers are a Jim O’Brien style team: tough, gritty, hard-working. They are loaded with collegiate players that were all taught to play with discipline and a hard work ethic.

Shooting: Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, Brandon Rush, and Troy Murphy give the Pacers a number of shooters at different positions on the floor. Granger and Dunleavy among the associations best from beyond the arc, while Murphy is among the best shooting pivots.

Weaknesses:

Experience: This is a young, young team. Jeff Foster, Troy Murphy, and Earl Watson are the team’s biggest veterans; as a group of veterans, they are relatively inexperienced to other NBA teams, which will make it tough for Indiana’s younger kids to integrate and find a place in the NBA.

Low-Post Scoring: Unless Roy Hibbert emerges into a 10 and 10 big man this year, Indiana possesses now low-post scoring option, or at least no reliable one. Troy Murphy is a finesse player, and is not much of a bruiser on the inside. Relying on shooters will make it tough for Indiana to win a lot of ball games.

Big 3: Danny Granger/Mike Dunleavy/Troy Murphy:

All prolific shooters, with good length at their positions. Dunleavy is a huge question mark, but Murphy and Granger should continue to evolve as players, which will help the Pacers improve. Should Dunleavy be the same contributor he once was, then Indiana will have a potent offensive attack. While these 3 do not form the best defensive bunch, the Pacers are loaded with defensive-minded role players that should mask the problem.

X-Factor: Roy Hibbert

If the second year center can establish himself as a reliable low-post option and shot blocker, it will certainly give the Pacers a huge boost. No one on the roster can fill Hibbert’s role, so it is vital he lives up to his potential if Indiana is going to be successful.

Best Case Scenario:
flirt the the playoffs but slightly miss out.

Danny Granger continues his ascendency towards NBA superstardom, Mike Dunleavy comes back and plays injury-free, Roy Hibbert continues to improve, and Indiana will look like a team with a decent future. The playoffs are a serious long shot though, as the Pacers lack the depth and talent of at least 10 or 11 other teams in the East.

Worst Case: finish dead last in the Eastern Conference.

The injury bug bites again. Mike Dunleavy struggles to bounce back from injury, TJ Ford struggles to assert himself as a starting point guard, and the Pacers find themselves in a situation to win the lottery.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks saved a lot of money this summer. They traded Richard Jefferson to give them some cap flexibility, allowed Charlie V and Ramon Sessions to walk, and did not make any significant signings to replace them (unless you think that Hakim Warrick and Carlos Delfino can fill their shoes). They are now a team in transition, but still possess some good assets. Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd give them a capable 1-2 punch, and they did bring in Hakim Warrick and Carlos Delfino, two young, improving rotation players that will have every opportunity to grow in Milwaukee. Brandon Jennings was a good pick at #10 in the draft; if he can contribute in year 1, Milwaukee will be a much better team then they currently are on paper.

The 2009-2010 season will be one to forget for the Milwaukee fans, but it will be a great opportunity for some players on this roster to get an opportunity to become significant contributors on an NBA team such as: Carlos Delfino, Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. It will be interesting to see how the Bucks adjust their roster if they can’t win games.

Arrivals: Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks, Carlos Delfino, Hakim Warrick, Ersan Ilyasova, Kurt Thomas, Walter Sharpe, Roko Ukic

Departures: Ramon Sessions, Charlie Villaneuva, Richard Jefferson

Depth Chart:
PG: Brandon Jennings/Luke Ridnour/Roko Ukic
SG: Michael Redd/Carlos Delfino/Charlie Bell
SF: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute/Joe Alexander/Ersan Ilyasova
PF: Hakim Warrick/Kurt Thomas/Walter Sharpe
C: Andrew Bogut/Dan Gadzuric/Francisco Elson

Strengths:

Front-Court Depth: With Bogut, Warrick. Gadzuric, Kurt Thomas, and Francisco Elson, the Bucks have a lot of serviceable bigs they can put on the floor. Add in the fact that both Luc Richard Mbah Moute and Joe Alexander can both slight to the 4-spot in certain situations, and the Bucks have a lot of options in their front court.

Weaknesses:

Experience: Outside of Michael Redd and Kurt Thomas, there is not much experience on this basketball team. Redd is an all-star on a re-building team; his experience may actually weaken the team ego if he is unhappy. Kurt Thomas is a seasoned veteran that is used to playing for a contender. If these guys cannot provide leadership and experience, the Bucks will struggle.

Scoring: While Redd, Delfino, and Bogut can all put the ball in the hole, the Bucks do not have an all-around offensively talented team. If Brandon Jennings can prove to be a capable floor general in his rookie season, it would really open things up for other players to contribute.

Big 3: Michael Redd/Andrew Bogut/Brandon Jennings:

The fact that Brandon Jennings is in the Big 3 reveals Milwaukee’s lack of talent overall on their roster. While Jennings may very well become a prolific NBA player, to put a mid-lottery pick in the Big 3 before the season starts is never a good thing. Redd and Bogut are both good assets, and were the right players for the Bucks to retain long term, but even with a supporting cast of Villaneuva, Sessions, and Richard Jefferson, the Bucks couldn’t hack it. Expect even worse this season.

X-Factor: Luc Richard Mbah Moute/Joe Alexander

Neither is a legitimate starting small forward on a competitive NBA team, but if one or both of these guys can prove that assumption wrong, it will give the Bucks a big boost. Both are versatile players that can slide over the power forward spot in certain situations, and could make the Bucks a much more versatile team if they are able to contribute.

Best Case Scenario:
30 wins!!!! Milwaukee is going to have a poor season. Their best case scenario is a bleak outcome.

Worst Case Scenario: Finish dead last in the entire NBA

What could be worse is if Milwaukee is so awful that they show no hope of improving for next season, and Michael Redd demands a trade. While moving Redd may be the smart move, if he demands it, they will not get proper value for him.

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3 Responses to “NBA Preview: Central Division”

  1. DETROIT Basketball

    02. Oct, 2009

    Ben Gordon and Rip City are going to make sure DETROIT basketball is fine. Another year, another conference championship game.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Andrew

    02. Oct, 2009

    Awesome picture of Derrick Rose. CHICAGO’S FINEST. How can you call the bulls outside shooting a weakness. Heinrich and salmons can both make the three ball with the best of them.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Tynn

    02. Oct, 2009

    The fact that Anderson Varejao is on any of your all-central teams is a joke. couldn’t even read past that

    Reply to this comment

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