Being a Pacers fan, I get the joy of previewing the Central Division for the NBA 2017/18 season. It looks about as one-sided as it gets, with the Cavs just having to show up to claim the division title. Although Milwaukee should be on the improve (would be much better without J.Kidd at the helm, but I digress…). Here’s my thoughts…
PG: Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant
SG: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine
SF: Paul Zipser, Quincy Pondexter
PF: Nikola Mirotic, Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez, Christiano Felicio
This looks about as far from the 1990’s MJ-led Bulls dynasty as we’ll ever get. Infact I suspect even in their 50’s (or approaching for some), MJ, Pippen, Rodman, Harper, Longley, Kukoc and Co. would go close to taking a game off these guys over a 7 game series. With LaVine injured to begin the year, the Bulls look in serious trouble to win many games at all. The silver lining is someone will have to do something on this team, and I expect Kris Dunn or Jerian Grant to hit the ground running – whoever wins the job share battle.
For some reason, I just feel like Lauri Markkanen should be driving Formula 1 rather than playing basketball with that name!! I suspect at 7’0″ though, he’d struggle to fit into the open wheeler unfortunately. Let’s see how he goes on the NBA court after all as he will certainly have a great chance to show what he can do with only the pathetic Nikola Mirotic ahead of him. (Now if that doesn’t generate a Pittman-esque response, nothing will!!)
Clearly in rebuilding mode, I just can’t mount a case for this Bulls squad to reach 20 wins. I suspect the overall weakness of the East gives them a chance to prove me wrong. But a very long season awaits those brave enough to visit the United Centre this season.
Prediction: 18-62, last in the Central.
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose
SG: Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver
SF: LeBron James, Jeff Green
PF: Kevin Love, Jae Crowder
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye
All 11 names above would be the primary option on the Bulls this season – that is how vast the gap is between top and bottom. Offseason moves to essentially break the 2016/17 model apart have yielded a squad which still looks very capable of going all the way.
Led by the best NBA player since MJ (yes, Kobe was a hack … ok maybe not, but he’s not in the conversation with MJ, Magic, Bird, Kareem, Russell and now LBJ in my opinion), these Cavs will be a nightly challenge for whoever they play. The obvious downside is the age and kilometers on the clock for many of these guys. Expect some DNP-Rest down the stretch, although hopefully the NBA’s new scheduling helps to reduce this for the sake of fans.
Thomas is a downgrade on Kyrie at the point, but with D.Rose as backup the overall position looks extremely healthy from a depth perspective. LBJ has 2/3 of the Miami crew back with Wade joining the fold. At 35, he won’t be as explosive anymore but the veteran leadership he brings can help take some of that responsibility off the large shoulders of the bloke from Akron. And speaking of LeBron, you can mount a strong case for the fact his 2016/17 campaign was his best ever in a Cavs uniform based on numbers alone. At age 32, he’s still in the window of his prime and set to dominate the Central division again this season. Big man depth is solid if unspectacular with Love, Thompson, the newly added Crowder, and Frye all more than capable of playing their role. And a larger role from Love may be expected depending on the health of Thomas.
Although many will look to Boston to again lead the East this season, I still say all roads must travel through Cleveland for anyone to take that mantle from the King. Over a 7-game series in April and May the Cavs still look the mob to beat for me, even if they don’t end as #1 seed after 82 regular contests.
Prediction: 55-27, first in the Central.
PG: Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith
SG: Avery Bradley, Luke Kennard
SF: Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson
PF: Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver
C: Andre Drummond, Boban Marjanovic
I’m still not sure what to make of the Pistons. I pumped them up big time last season then watched as Ish Smith outplayed Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson didn’t show up, Drummond looked disinterested at times, and it all fell apart as the Pistons dropped to last in the Central.
I like the addition of Avery Bradley at SG, and hopefully the success he’s had at Boston can help rub off on R-Jax and get him playing some of his best ball again. If the Pistons need to rely on Smith again this season, then clearly it will have gone way off the rails again.
As mentioned above, another disappointment so far has been Stanley Johnson. The guy clearly has talent, but hasn’t been able to consistently put together a strong run of outings. I feel like this is his final chance or the Pistons will need to give up and look elsewhere for their SF of the future to become a playoff lock.
Andre Drummond is a beast in the middle…when he wants to be. I feel as though too often last season he just looked like he didn’t want to be out there, perhaps something to show the locker room chemistry just didn’t go right. Once again, I look for Bradley to help iron this out and be the positive force the Pistons have missed in recent times.
There is no doubt the talent is here, although the depth looks too thin to seriously challenge in the weak East. But with SVG at the helm, if the team stays focused and out of the medical room they can challenge a .500 mark. My mail is they just fall short and will 38 W’s be enough to land a playoff berth???
Prediction: 38-42, third in the Central.
PG: (no he’s gone…oh sorry, this is Point Guards. 🙂 ) Darren Collison, Cory Joseph
SG: Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson
SF: Bojan Bogdanovic, Glenn Robinson III
PF: Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis
C: Myles Turner, Al Jefferson
So here we are, officially the start of the Myles Turner era in Indy. The keys to the kingdom are his now but with this comes responsibility and the need to grab more than 7.3rpg! At 6’11” and with the talent he has, he’s got to grab over (or at least very near) double figure boards or this Pacers franchise will be watching the playoffs. Even if he does, maybe they still can’t make it. But there is enough support there with Dipo, Thad Young, Collison and Bogdanovic to sneak into the playoffs in the weak East.
Speaking of Oladipo next, although he had a front row seat to watch the most amazing single season effort from a player in history last season, it was clearly a backwards step for him. With the chance to start fresh here in Indiana, I’m expecting a second break out campaign from Victor in 2017/18. He should lead the Pacers scoring and can hopefully nudge the 20ppg mark.
Thad Young will be interesting to watch. Will he buy into the rebuild, or will he be playing to seek a trade or waive to move closer to a championship?? I suspect we’ll know through the first quarter of the season by his approach to the game. Usually always the professional, stops in an uncompetitive Philly, rebuilding Brooklyn and now a Pacer rebuild will have to play on his mind if the squad isn’t competitive early. He’d be a great fit for one of the title challengers and I just have a feeling he won’t be a Pacer through all 82 – I hope I am wrong!
Speaking of being wrong, I just have my doubt this Pacer lineup can click from day 1 and challenge for a playoff seeding. They might make a late run and fall just short, but I suspect the season together for Turner, Oladipo, Sabonis and Bogdanovic will help them into the following season. Fellow Pacer fans, I hope I am wrong!
Prediction: 34-48, fourth in the Central
PG: Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova
SG: Tony Snell, Rashad Vaughn
SF: Khris Middleton, Mirza Teletovic
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker
C: Thon Maker, Greg Monroe
The Bucks have remained fairly stable this offseason. No one of note really added to the roster, and just the locker room experience of Jason Terry and Michael Beasley departing. With the expected continued improvement of Giannis, Middleton, reigning ROY Malcolm Brodgon, and Thon Maker, there’s reason to justify staying ‘as is’.
If the trend of play from Antetokounmpo continues on the up and up, there’s no reason to think come April we’re not talking about him in the MVP chatter. They guy is that good. As we saw last season, he can play all 5 positions (even though Yahoo! only recognised 4 in their fantasy leagues – hopefully they’ve solved that bug this offseason!) and he only turns 23 in December.
Middleton lost most of last season to injury, but played 82, 79 and 79 games in the three previous seasons so hopefully that is a one and done type of injury and the Bucks have him about all season. Former #2 overall pick Jabari Parker is out until February though rehabbing his ACL, so much will depend on how this squad manages through the first 4-5 months. If they are in contention, bringing Parker back for the run to the playoffs could be key.
For mine, the key is Jason Kidd. We’ve become accustomed to his rotations being all over the place and with so many young guys at the core of this squad, I feel the best they can have is some knowledge of stability. If the fluctuations in minutes continue this season, the Bucks continue to be a middle of the road team. If there is consistency plus continued improvement from the guys above, top 4 in the East isn’t beyond them. Over to you Mr. Kidd…
Prediction: 44-38, second in the Central.
That’s me done with the Central. Keep an eye out for the other divisions soon…