When thinking about the Central Division in the NBA, most people probably have one team that comes to mind before any other. The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, but there are a lot of other interesting storylines to keep an eye on besides the obvious in this division. The Central Division had a combined record of 214-196 last season with three of the teams qualifying for the playoffs. What will they do this year?
It seems like a long time ago that the Pacers were going head-to-head with the Miami Heat in two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals from 2012-2014. The majority of those players are now gone, although they do still have Paul George, who has recovered from the leg injury he suffered during a Team USA scrimmage last summer. George is set to have a great season, proven by his averages of 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds a game in the preseason.
The Pacers traded away Roy Hibbert and lost Chris Copeland, David West and Luis Scola in free agency. Forced to fill some big voids in the frontcourt, the Pacers signed guard/forward Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. They also landed free agent Monta Ellis, who will likely start at shooting guard and help the team put some points on the board when they struggle offensively.
It appears, however, that too much has changed on their roster for the Pacers to revert back to the level they were on two years ago. A big part of their success in years past was their defense, and with Hibbert and West gone, this area may take a hit.
What to watch for: Watch for George to take the league by storm once again. George will have a lot of pressure on a nightly basis to score, even with the addition of Ellis, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle the expectations after coming back from such a horrific injury.
The Bucks are extremely talented and extremely young. Whether or not these two things will amount to a lot of postseason success is up for debate, however. The biggest move for the Bucks this summer was the signing of free agent Greg Monroe, who averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds as a member of the Detroit Pistons in 2014-15. Monroe will add to the front court that already consists of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Miles Plumlee.
The backcourt also appears to be in good hands, with Michael Carter–Williams leading the way. It’s rare to find a point guard that is equally capable in rebounding as in assisting, and that’s what the Bucks seem to have found in Carter-Williams. It will be interesting to see his production with a full season on a team much better than his old squad, the Philadelphia 76ers.
What to watch for: Will the talent of the team be enough to take a step forward in the goal of eventually contending for a championship? Who is going to be the leader of a team with so much youth? Also, will Parker bounce back from the disappointment of a rookie season that was cut short due to an ACL tear?
The Pistons had a lot of potential the last few years with a frontcourt trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. We all know it wasn’t meant to be with Smith, as he was waived by the Pistons last year, but Monroe is now gone as well after signing with the Bucks in free agency.
The additions of Ersan Illyasova and Marcus Morris, both acquired in trades, should help to replace the production of Monroe. It’s disappointing, though, to think that Monroe and Drummond will not get the chance to reach the potential everybody thought they had as two young, talented bigs on the same team.
Despite the fact that Drummond will probably have another outstanding season, as his numbers have gotten better each year of his career, this team will still likely not finish in the top eight of its conference.
What to watch for: Stanley Johnson was picked seventh overall by the Pistons in the draft, and many think he will contend for the Rookie of the Year award. It’s not a guarantee he will jump right into the starting lineup, but regardless, he will probably see a lot of minutes this season. He has a potential to be a great defender, which the Pistons could always use. Make sure to track his progress.
There’s no better way to sum up expectations for the Cavaliers this season than to say they are many people’s favorites to win the championship. The Cavs suffered a lot of unfortunate injuries in 2014-15 that played a part in their defeat to the Golden State Warriors. Although they are still dealing with some health issues to start the season, if they can stay healthy through the playoffs when it really counts, nobody doubts their ability to beat any team they face in the Finals.
The Cavs’ starting lineup is just scary, with the Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, assisted by defensive specialist Iman Shumpert and rising star Timofey Mozgov. Love suffered a dislocated shoulder last season but is expected to be ready for opening night, while Irving and Shumpert will miss at least a month of action.
The Cavs lost Kendrick Perkins and Shawn Marion in free agency, but they were at least (finally) able to retain Tristan Thompson in one of the most bizarre stories of the summer. It appeared as though Thompson was holding out for just the right contract, and he and the Cavs eventually agreed on one for five years, $82 million.
What to watch for: Thompson holding out on a contract big enough to satisfy all of his financial needs is cool and all, but he will have a lot of eyes on him this season that will be ready to make quick judgements on whether or not he is worth every one of those dollars. This will be an interesting storyline to follow all season long.
Amazingly, the Chicago Bulls were able to stay pretty much the exact same team as they were last season, undergoing minimal changes during the summer. The biggest news for the Bulls came during training camp when Derrick Rose suffered a left orbital fracture. He is expected to be available for the Bulls’ first game, however.
Like the Cavaliers, if the Bulls can stay healthy they will be as scary as any other team in the NBA. With Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Rose, they will beat teams with defense first, offense second.
What to watch for: Watch for the impact of a (hopefully) healthy Derrick Rose on a team that has found ways to win without him in the past. Will Rose return to being the player he was when he won the MVP award in 2011? Bulls fans are hoping he can.
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Milwaukee Bucks
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Detroit Pistons