2017 NBA Preview – Central Division

THE NBA season is fast approaching! So there is no better time than the present to analyse each of the 30 teams with tipoff etching closer every day. Read each of the division by division primers to know what to expect from the 2017-18 NBA season!

Atlantic Divison
Pacific Division

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Chicago Bulls

Roster Changes
A mass exodus in Chicago leaves them with one of the least talented rosters in the league. Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are no longer on the team, leaving the Bulls trending in the wrong direction. The draft night trade with Minnesota netted them Zach LaVine who shapes as the best player on this team. Oh, but he’s currently injured and probably won’t see the court until 2018.

Three Questions That Matter

1.Will The Real Point Guard Please Stand Up?
LAST season Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant averaged 14.9 points a night…COMBINED! In fairness, none of the trio were logging heavy minutes, but with plenty of court time and touches to go around in Chicago now, one of these three will take the main playmaking duties. They are all still young and could emerge as viable floor generals, but I won’t be holding my breath.

2. Was Markkanen The Right Choice?
THE Knicks have been copping it for not drafting Malik Monk or Dennis Smith with the 8th pick in last years draft, but just one selection before them the Bulls took Arizona fresher Lauri Markkanen, who some have dubbed as Dirk Nowitzki-lite. If the Finnish big man can produce to anywhere near the same level Bulls fans will be stoked. Early signs don’t look so promising though and if Monk/Smith put on a show in their rookie campaigns we could see riots in the Windy City.

2017 NBA Preview - Central DivisionImage from nba.com

3. Is LaVine Extension Worthy?
TAKING the ACL injury aside for a minute, LaVine might be one of the most underrated young stars of the game. In the month of December last season the third year pro averaged 22 PPG and canned over 46% of his shots from downtown. In the final year of his contract the Bulls may be wary of extending the injured LaVine, but if he can produce at a similar level there is no doubt he will get paid and help fast-track Chicago’s rebuild.

Record: 21-61
BAD news Bulls fans, you’re in for a long season. Just know that under the current lottery rules you will likely stand the highest chance of drafting first overall next June. It’s hard to see Chicago pulling off a miracle and avoiding their first season below .500 since 2008. Then again, that season led to Derrick Rose becoming a Bull, so maybe there is hope for the future.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Roster Changes
EVERYONE is trying to retool their rosters in an effort to take down Golden State and a vastly different Cavaliers team seems destined to earn their fourth straight trip to the Finals. They granted Kyrie Irving his trade request and netted assets that not only help them contend but give them options for their future too. The addition of Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose also helps Cleveland’s quest to recreate the 2010 All-Star team seven years later.

Three Questions That Matter

1. How Will Isaiah Thomas’ Hip Impact Their Success?
THE ceiling for the 2017-18 Cavs will be dictated by the health of Isaiah Thomas. It’s pretty simple. If he can be the crafty, offensively dynamic guard that captured the hearts of the nation last year then this team can take down Golden State and claim the city’s second franchise. Should Thomas struggle upon his return and his hip continue to be an issue, then it could cost them a title and cost Isaiah a shit load of money too.

2. Can They Avoid The Obvious Elephant In The Room That Is LeBron’s Future?
IN seasons past Cleveland has been subject to a TON of media attention and negative headlines. They seem poised to once again be a talking point with James’ pending free agency looming as a massive distraction. While he gets to reunite with his buddy D-Wade and potentially play on the deepest team of his career, his free agency will dominate storylines out of Ohio.

3. Does Derrick Rose Have Anything Left In The Tank?
IT seems like a lifetime ago that Rose was executing viral YouTube worthy dunks and dominating the NBA. On his third team in three years, Rose needs to adapt his game to play a role for the Cavs that he could either relish or struggle in. If he fails in Cleveland there is a very real possibility that Derrick Rose could be the first MVP winner who fails to make it into the Hall of Fame.

Record: 54-28
LOSING 28 games seems like a stretch for a team that has LeBron James on it, but as we have seen in the past this franchise is focused on one thing only. A January five-game losing streak won’t concern them. A 10-20 start won’t concern them. Hell, even an 8th seeded finish won’t concern them. As long as they are healthy and ready once the playoffs start nothing else matters.

Detroit Pistons

Roster Changes
THERE were some small personnel changes to Detroit this past offseason, with the majority of the squad remaining the same. Avery Bradley was acquired via trade, while they drafted Luke Kennard to give them another outside shooting threat. Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope aren’t Pistons anymore leaving via free agency or trade.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Is This It For Andre Drummond?
FUN fact, if Andre Drummond retired today he would have the 13th highest career average for rebounds per game (12.8), higher than the likes of Moses Malone, Kareem-Abdul Jabaar and Hakeem Olajuwon. Thanks to his offensive shortcomings though Drummond can’t be compared to those legends in any other capacity with his inability to score handicapping the Pistons for years. The big man in Stan Van Gundy’s 1-in 4-out scheme needs to expand his offensive skill set or Detroit may opt to rid themselves of his services.

2017 NBA Preview - Central Division 2Image from washingtonpost.com

2. Are The Playoffs Within Reach?
AFTER all the talent that has left the Eastern Conference the lower half of the playoff standings are somewhat open. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario were Detroit wins enough game to sneak into the lower seedings with a well balanced, albeit mediocre roster. Once again the Pistons find themselves stuck in no man’s land, not good, but not bad either. It will be interesting to monitor their start and find out if they are a winning team or lottery bound.

3. Will Avery Bradley Thrive In A Bigger Role?
IN sevens seasons with Boston, Avery Bradley was never the focal point of any offensive schemes. After improving his repertoire annually though Bradley looms as a viable scoring presence and there is no doubt that Detroit will rely on him to get buckets for them on a nightly basis. With the added responsibility on his shoulders, things will go one of two ways for the established wingman

Record: 37-45
I don’t think this team is very good, in fact, I know this team isn’t very good. They have some solid players, yet for the 378th season in a row they can be defined as ‘meh’. With another 35-40 win season on the cards don’t rule out the front office deciding to clean house and hit the reset button.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Detroit PistonsImage from grantland.com

Indiana Pacers

Roster Changes
TALKS about the changes to Indiana begin and end with Paul George. The former franchise player had voiced his displeasure in playing for the Pacers for years and the team decided enough was enough trading him to Oklahoma in the offseason. They welcomed Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in exchange for George along with Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Will A Committee Point Guard Set-Up Work?
BOTH Cory Joseph and Darren Collison will feature as the Pacers primary ball handler at times this season. The league is putting an emphasis on small-ball and there will be times that the two guards are used simultaneously as well, for better or worse. With both dudes prefering to have the rock in their hands it will be interesting to see if the ‘tag-team’ approaches works for the squad or if they abandon it and use a clear cut starter and reserve mentality.

2. Is This Too Much Too Soon For Myles Turner?
WITH Paul George gone, Myles Turner is now the best player on Indiana’s roster and everyone is expecting him to make another leap into stardom. The weight of the world will be on Turner’s shoulders and he could very well crumble under the intensified scrutiny. Or, he could develop into an All-Star talent with more touches and emerge as a bonafide stud for the Pacers. Your move Myles.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Indiana Pacers - Game ThreeImage from slamonline.com

3. Just What Can Oladipo Produce?
TIME is running out for Victor Oladipo to shed the ‘promising’ label. With four years of NBA experience under his belt and a big contract behind him, Oladipo can focus on a future in Indiana and emerge as a star in their backcourt. I have voiced my approval of the former No. 2 pick in the past, but he MUST take another step forward and put together something like an 18/4/4 line in 2017-18.

Record: 30-52
I may be underestimating this roster. Sure, they lost Paul George, but they still have some pretty good vets and a ‘chip on your shoulder’ dudes hungry for a bigger opportunity. Much like the Pistons though they are somewhat stuck in the middle and will be left hoping that they can land a steal in the draft or Myles Turner becomes the next ‘big thing’.

Milwaukee Bucks

Roster Changes
A very similar team returns for Jason Kidd this year with Michael Beasley and Spencer Hawes the only players departing from the team. Their production will likely be replaced by a few rooks, Brandon Rush and Gerald Green. The usual faces remain with Antetokounmpo, Parker, Middleton and Brogdon the core pieces of this Bucks team.

2017 NBA Preview - Central Division 5Image from brewhoop.com

Three Questions That Matter

1. Is There Any Way To Fix Their Cap Issues?
PART of the reason Milwaukee returned with a very similar roster is because they couldn’t sign anyone. After forking out money to Khris Middleton (5yrs/$70mil), Matthew Dellavedova (4yrs/$38mil), Mirza Teletovic (3yrs/$30mil) and Tony Snell (4yrs/$46mil) in the past few offseasons they find themselves with the 6th highest payroll in the league. Throw in the fact that Greg Monroe will make $17 million this year and there is a lot of dead weight on this team that the Bucks would LOVE to move.

2. Will They Finally Get Good Luck With Injuries?
YOU can only be an exciting young team for so long and Milwaukee is close to being unable to use that claim. Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton have missed extensive amounts of time in the past, hindering the potential success the Bucks could have. We are yet to see what those two plus Antetokounmpo can do if they are all fit in the postseason and if they avoid the injury bug they could be a very very scary opponent in the playoffs.

3. Can Giannis Make ‘The’ Leap?
NO longer is ‘The Greek Freak’ a future superstar. That day has arrived. After leading his team in every major statistical category last year, fans are salivating at the thought of Giannis taking another step in 2017-18 and potentially becoming an MVP. In the past, though we have seen players who fail to vault into super-stardom and instead peak as a second-tier talent. If Antetokounmpo can become one of the 10 best players in the league though, there’s no ceiling to what he can achieve.

Record: 45-37
INJURIES loom as a massive factor in determining how well the Bucks do this year. They have the on-paper talent to be good if it all comes together, but I don’t know if they can be great. They are still a piece or two away from being true contenders and if they can shed some of the dead weight contracts they have and add that piece, then I’ll start bumping up the wins.

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