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Central Division Preview

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We continue our league preview updates with the Central Division.  These are authored by reader Grey Home, who does a fantastic job.

See preview after the jump.  Make sure and chime in with your own analysis and predictions too.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

  

Central Division

 

Playoff Seeds

Cleveland Cavaliers

60-22

1

Chicago Bulls

44-38

6

Detroit Pistons

35-47

 

Indiana Pacers

25-57

 

Milwaukee Bucks

15-67

 

 

Milwaukee Bucks

Prediction: 15-67 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

 

Point Guard

Luke Ridnour

Brandon Jennings

MVP: Michael Redd

Biggest Surprise: Brandon Jennings

Biggest Letdown: Luke Ridnour

Key to success: Bogut scoring

Grab bag: This is a very bad team that will only get worst with the inevitable injury.

Shooting Guard

Michael Redd

Charlie Bell

Small Forward

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Ersan Ilyasova

Power Forward

Hakim Warrick

Joe Alexander

Center

Andrew Bogut

Kurt Thomas

The Bucks might be the worse team in the league.  They were bad last year and lost two important pieces in Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva, not to mention arguably their best player, Richard Jefferson.  Granted, Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut were hurt most of the year, but they weren't exactly lighting it up before the injuries.  Scott Skiles did manage to get the most out of his team, but Brandon Jennings won't be ready at least for a year or two, if ever, Mbah a Moute is an athletic defender but is no Richard Jefferson, and how confident can one be that Bogut and Redd will stay healthy for most of the year.  It is hard to find a winning equation here.

Somehow, Luke Ridnour returns as the starting point guard.  No matter how well Sessions played in his stead last year, Ridnour, for the most part, kept his starting job.  He isn't awful, but he never played like a lottery player either. He would be a good back up here, and maybe Jennings can overcome him at some point in the season.  Jennings is a very exciting player and is better than I give him credit for.  He gets into the lane and while he is still trying to find the space to pass to once he's there, that would seem to come naturally with more time on the court.  He is lucky to have Redd out there as a spot up shooter.

Redd is very important to this team.  He is the only outside shooter in the starting lineup (don't count Ridnour) and the best scorer on the team.  Redd's deep threat is enough to open space for guard penetration and the posts to have time to make a move before a double team.  It is even better when Redd goes on one of his Reggie Miller-esque hot streaks and just starts pulling from deep with is left handed sling-shot.

Luc Mbah a Moute will start at small forward as kind of a do it all defensive specialist but I doubt he'll play heavy minutes because, hopefully Joe Alexander is ready to play some small forward as he backs up both the three and four positions.

Hakim Warrick and Andrew Bogut are the posts.  Warrick will get some nice hustle points and a few pick and roll baskets.  He is a bit slight, but has great athleticism.  I still don't think he is a full time starter, but he is all the bucks have at this point.  Bogut is another big piece.  He is a good rebounder, has developed a mid-range game and has a very nice touch inside.  When healthy he is a top five legitimate center.  A lot hinges on the health of Bogut and Redd and the development of Alexander and Jennings.  One more year in the lottery could get them a power forward and in two years we could have a playoff team.

Indiana Pacers

Prediction: 25-57 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

 

Point Guard

TJ Ford

Earl Watson

MVP: Danny Granger

Biggest Surprise: Roy Hibbert

Biggest Letdown: Point Guard play

Key to success: Mike Dunleavy's return

Grab bag: Psycho T is the next Mark Madsen, without the smarts.

Shooting Guard

Danny Granger

Dahntay Jones

Small Forward

Mike Dunleavy

Brandon Rush

Power Forward

Troy Murphy

Tyler Hansbrough

Center

Roy Hibbert

Jeff Foster

I think the Pacers played a lot better then they should have.  Especially considering that Mike Dunleavy was out most of the year.  Outside of Dunleavy the Pacers haven't added any legitimate pieces.  Dahntay Jones?  He started but didn't play heavy minutes for the Denver Nuggets who used him as a starter so that JR Smith could come of the bench for more shots.  Added to the Pacers, where he won't be used in the same capacity seems counterproductive.  Tyler Hansbrough is a nice player off the bench.  He won't take Troy Murphy nor Roy Hibbert out of the starting lineup this year, or maybe ever, however he can be a high energy guy who gets hustle points off the bench.

Roy Hibbert improved quite a bit as the season went on.  He is so big he only needs to be near the basket on either end to be effective.  He is surprising quick for his size as well.  He isn't fast, but his shoulders are quick enough to through off defenders with a couple fakes.  Paired with Troy Murphy, who is a good jumper shooter, he should have a lost of space to post down low. Murphy meanwhile has become a fantasy basketball player's wet dream; a big man who shoots and makes threes and is a great rebounder.  The good news for the Pacers is that it helps their team too, not just the dude on yahoo fantasy sports.  He gets his far share of inside hoops as well.  And as with all left post players, they usually catch the defense off balance going with the left before they adjust, a la Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Granger is a great scorer who has focused on defense this off season.  If he indeed does improve on defense he could move near the elite players in all-around game.  He can shoot anywhere, a Steve Smith like big shooter, but can also slash, much better than Smith.  He needs to add a post-up game to his repertoire.  With that he could become a 30 ppg game scorer.  Dunleavy will play on the opposite wing of Granger, and has a similar game except he is more of a playmaker and less of a scorer.   I'm not really sure how well he'll come back from injury, but I am assuming he should be alright.  He wasn't a player who relied on his athleticism.  Dunleavy and Granger are both taller players that can handle and shoot the ball which causes match up problems. TJ Ford is the man getting these guys the ball, and his penetration and speed is great for kicking out to the shooters on the outside. Ford looks to score a little bit too often sometimes so it's important he gets the ball to his shooters and feeds Hibbert on the post to keep the defense honest. 

Jarrett Jack is actually a very significant lost as the combo guard because he would do a lot of little things and get some offense off the bench and play some stingy defense on opposing points when needed.  There isn't much coming off the bench for these guys except Brandon Rush who has the skills to be both a stopper and a scoring threat down the road.

I don't have these  guys getting many wins, but if I had to pick a dark horse to make the playoffs it would have to be the Pacers.  It's only that little matter of everything going right.

Detroit Pistons

Prediction: 35-47 do not make the playoffs

Depth Chart

 

Point Guard

Rodney Stuckey

Will Bynum

MVP: Rodney Stuckey

Biggest Surprise: Ben Wallace

Biggest Letdown: Charlie Villanueva

Key to success: Cohesion, Ben Gordon ‘playing nice' off the bench

Grab bag: Two scoring PGs, two jackers at SG and Villaneuva and Kwame in the post...awesome!

Shooting Guard

Rip Hamilton

Ben Gordon

Small Forward

Tayshaun Prince

Dajuan Summers

Power Forward

Charlie Villanueva

Jason Maxiell

Center

Kwame Brown

Ben Wallace

 

Based on talent alone, the Pistons would be a playoff team.  Unfortunately this isn't 2k or Live (I prefer 2K) where player ratings is the main determinate of doing well. Sadly, they can probably win quite a few games based on their real life skill.

The grab bag says it all, how is this supposed to work?  Rodney Stuckey is a nice player and could very well end up have a nice year stats-wise, but is he really the playmaker all these scorers need.  Will Bynum is the same way.  Denver's Chauncey Billups could get away with not being a great passing point guard (not to say he's bad) because he set up the offense so well and did a great job of spacing.  Stuckey is more of a penetrate and dish guy which is a good thing except his first option is to try and finish and the pass is only once he gets in trouble.  Stuckey doesn't have a shot from distance, he's not a spot up guy like Billups so when he receives the kick out he drives right back inside.  This brand of play hurts Rip Hamilton's game of running off and around picks to find open space.  There is entirely too much one on one play at the four guard spots.  I am also sure that Ben Gordon is happy to be a sixth man again (facetious), playing behind an even better shooting guard than he has in the past.   The good news is that, because Stuckey is a big PG he can slide over to defend the SG when Gordon and him are in together. 

I like the addition of Ben Wallace and I think he will be somewhat revitalized and eventually return to the starting center position.  Kwame Brown is a good stiff off the bench.  I do like Dajuan Summers and Jason Maxiell, they should both get a lot of hustle chances with the amount shots getting jacked up.

It has also been talked about of having Gordon, Hamilton, Tayshuan Prince, with Charlie Villaneuva and Kwame Brown or Ben Wallace on the court together..  Prince acts as the point guard as he unsuccessfully did for about a week last year after the Iverson trade. With Gordon wanting the ball in his hands, Hamilton running around popping out for spot ups.  Villanueva sitting on the three-point line and Kwame Brown pretending he wants the ball down low.  Championship team? No. Playoff team? No. Lottery? Yes.

Chicago Bulls

Prediction: 44-38 6th seed playoffs

Depth Chart

 

Point Guard

Derrick Rose

Jannero Pargo

MVP: Derrick Rose

Biggest Surprise: James Johnson

Biggest Letdown: Tyrus Thomas

Key to success:  Loul Deng's reintegration

Grab bag:  Someone needs to pull a Larry Johnson on Troy Polamalu to Noah on a fast break.

Shooting Guard

John Salmons

Kirk Hinrich

Small Forward

Luol Deng

James Johnson

Power Forward

Tyrus Thomas

Taj Gibson

Center

Joakim Noah

Brad Miller

John Salmons and Brad Miller were both huge boosts to the Bulls last year.  Boston may not have had Kevin Garnett last year, but they were still a great team, and the Bulls, in a very thrilling series, took them to seven games.  One of the big heroes of that series was Ben Gordon who left for Detroit.  The Bulls are betting on the return of Luol Deng at small forward, and then pushing John Salmons to the two.  It works in theory, and I like John Salmons, especially when he went to Chicago and helped make them better.  Early in the season is when Salmons and Deng will need to prove they can play together, otherwise the Bulls may not return to the playoffs.

The wings are important but the immediate future relies on Derrick Rose.  The kid can play.  Most impressive was that his relative lack of a jump shot didn't hinder him too much in the early going.  Derrick Rose is on course to become very Dwayne Wade-like, except with more of a pass first mentality.  You'll remember that Wade began as a point guard.  It was only after it was realized he is better suited as a scorer, for a  team that needed scoring once Shaquille O'Neal was acquired for the scoring depth of Lamar Odom and Caron Butler.  Rose still has other scoring pieces so if scores when he needs to, 17-18 ppg, and creates enough shots, 7-8 apg, this team will be just fine.

Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah will start as the four and five, but Noah will play a lot of power forward when Brad Miller is in during crunch time.  Thomas is getting better, especially as a jump shooter, but he will never be the ball handler to play small forward, and he'll literally never have the size to be the prototypical power forward that the Bulls have coveted since they traded Elton Brand.  I don't see the Shawn Marion comparisons.  Taj Gibson has showed something in preseason, he'll get some run behind Noah and Thomas.  Another viable forward, mostly as the small forward, is James Johnson out of Wake Forest.  He is a leaper and bounder with a "getting there" midrange game.  He is more of a small forward than Thomas and it will be interesting to see how much time he gets.

Kirk Hinrich can play point, but with Rose, those minutes are limited.  He'll play some two because of his defense he can help spread the floor better than Salmons with his three point shot.  He'll get 22+ minutes a game between the two.  This allows Chicago to play with their roster a little bit to figure out the best combinations and match-ups when it comes playoff time.  I don't see them getting out the of first round...yet.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Prediction: 60-22 1st seed playoffs

Depth Chart

 

Point Guard

Maurice Williams

Daniel Gibson

MVP: Lebron James

Biggest Surprise: JJ Hickson

Biggest Letdown: Delonte West

Key to success:  Feeding Shaq...the ball that is.

Grab bag:  Shaq ads one skin crease to the back of his neck for every team he's been on, or he is just getting old.

Shooting Guard

Anthony Parker

Delonte West

Small Forward

Lebron James

Jamario Moon

Power Forward

Andersen Varajao

JJ Hickson

Center

Shaquille O'Neal

Zydrunas Illgauskas

 

Best regular season record last year.  MVP last year.  It will be the same this year, can O'Neal help win a championship.  Shaquille O.Neal has played with some of the best guards of the last 20 years.  First it was Penny Hardaway in Orlando with one finals trips.  Then Kobe Bryant in L.A. with 3 championships in four finals appearances.  Next to Miami with Dwayne Wade in his coming of age finals, a short stop in Phoenix, the first team he didn't take to the finals and now Cleveland, with the reigning MVP Lebron James.  The odds, it would appear, are good that Cleveland should at least get to the finals this season.

O'Neal should help the Cavs' biggest problem, interior defense.  This was caused mainly by Dwight Howard in the conference finals.  I think the best additions to the team are two smaller signings, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon.  Both are tough, Moon is now the best perimeter defender on the team and Parker is a good outside shooter who isn't afraid to get in the paint.  Before the season starter, Delonte West had the starter's job, but with his distractions and the inspired play of Parker, Parker should get the nod.

Maurice Williams is the best "help" James has gotten in Cleveland and Shaquille O'Neal should add to that, giving Williams more open threes.  Andersen Varajao is down low too and as a hustle and defensive guy he should do well.  Zydrunas Illgauskas moves to the bench as the best offensive big man to be a back up.  He and Shaq will be close to splitting time.  The Cavs should be exited about JJ Hickson.  He has developed enough to the point where he can be a legitimate backup at power forward.

Of course the championship rides on Lebron James.  He will keep doing what he is doing, and as long as his help does what they've been doing, the Cavs should get back to the finals.  James has no excuse if they can't get there this year. The Cavs have done everything to get him help, now he has good players around him, its up to James to make it come together.