With a few days to tip-off of the 75th season of the NBA, E2GSports continues its attempt to break down and predict how teams in each of the six divisions would fare over the regular season. Our focus today is on the Central Division in the Eastern Conference.
You can catch our Atlantic Division and Southwest Division previews as well
The Central Division is headlined by the reigning champions, Milwaukee Bucks. The others are Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons.
Now, let’s dive in:
The defending champions bring back the core of the players that won the NBA Championship for the first in 50 years. Led by the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who rides the momentum of one of the best performances in NBA Finals history, earning Finals MVP honors with averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in Milwaukee’s six-game series win over the Phoenix Suns, there appears to be no pose for a serious contest for the Central Division crown.
Provided Giannis stays healthy, alongside Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, coupled with off-the-bench input by Bobby Portis, the Bucks are always going to have a chance to go the distance, not just in the division, but also for a go at doing a repeat of last season’s heroics.
Their defense is quite permeable and one would have thought a prolific defender of the perimeter and rim in the mold of PJ Tucker, who was instrumental in their championship feat would have been retained. Another is the team’s over-reliance on Giannis who makes the team look and feel elitist. While having him around is a huge positive, if he is out or injured, they are usually vulnerable and exposed, which could be their Achilles heel in the 2021-22 NBA season.
HIDDEN GEM: A piece of rotation that could light things up from the bench for Coach Mike Budhenholzer is Jordan Nwora. The 45th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft has had the opportunity to showcase his skills in pre-season games with team-high points and facilitating plays, making a case as a forward option. With Rodney Hood sidelined due to injury, Nwora’s chance to carve a role for himself in the new season might come sooner than anticipated.
Derrick Jones Jr
STRENGTH: The Bulls front office got busy in the off-season and secured the services of Demar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball to complement the efforts of Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic in the quest to return the windy city team to postseason basketball. As a result, the team has shown a glimpse of improvement with preseason games and look like they can hit the ground running, especially on the offensive end, when hostilities resume from next week.
WEAKNESS: What will the defense look like? Vucevic and DeRozan are offense-first guys, and so was LaVine for most of his career until focusing on the other end with Team USA last summer. That’s a big burden falling on Ball’s and Williams’ shoulders. Chicago ranked 23rd in opponents’ field goal percentage, 28th in steals and were the league’s 10th most foul-prone team. Outscoring the other guys is no reliable formula for success, except your defense improves.
HIDDEN GEM: With the strength and length to play either the point or shooting guard, Ayo Dosunmu is comfortable running an offense and generating looks for others, or can make instant offense for himself. Already earning accolades for his exploits in exhibition games, the 21-year old is fast proving to be an asset for the Bulls. While he is not the best individual defender, he communicates really well on defense and engages well on the defensive side of the court.
Departure: Doug McDermott
STRENGTH: The Indiana Pacers are consistent with their consistencies, but they stack a pool of talented players that are difficult to tame whenever they are in their elements. TJ Warren, who missed out most of last season due to injury is back, coupled with the return of Coach Rick Carlisle, whose coaching philosophy plays right into Warren’s strengths, particularly those that were showcased throughout the jaw-dropping bubble run in 2020.
WEAKNESS: The front office failed to significantly boost the team during the off-season save for Coach Rick Carlisle. The lacuna occasioned by the sharpshooting Doug McDermott’s departure has proven hard to replace, and for a team aiming to better last season’s 34-38 record to make the playoffs berth, the lack of depth on their roster may pose aTau hindrance.
HIDDEN GEM: Chris Duarte, at 24 years of age, was one of the oldest at the 2021 NBA draft. Scouts affirm that his experience makes him an NBA material. He has the ability to run an offense and showed his clutch shooting capabilities with multiple buzzer-beaters at the Summer League in Las Vegas. If the hype on Duarte is real, he could eventually fill the void left by McDermott in the rotation.
Larry Nance Jr
STRENGTH: The duo of Colin Sexton and Darius Garland answered quite a number of back court questions last season. Jarrett Allen was an exciting in-season pickup and Isaac Okoro learned plenty with a heavy diet of rookie minutes. Adding No. 3 pick Evan Mobley is another piece and there is some bench depth too. So the tools to dig out of the doldrums are in place this time.
WEAKNESS: The Cavs are not out of the woods yet, as the core of the team, mostly lads, are still in the making, added with the task of meshing with and developing with Mobley. Kevin Love has seen better days in career, but his wealth of experience counts for something, a quality the team can benefit from.
HIDDEN GEM: Lauri Markannen is a diamond in the rough. The 7-foot guard was played out of position, which was a misuse of his talents. He is more than a deep shooter and the Cavs especially need that to boost their poor 3-point showing.
STRENGTH: Stability and continuity will likely be hallmarks of this Pistons team as they look to build upon their young core. They are probably another season or two from major competitive expectations, thus, overachieving this season and challenging for a play-in berth would be a welcome surprise, but not an expectation.
WEAKNESS: The Pistons were 29th in field goals attempted last season, basically because they turned the ball over one too many times. With Cade Cunningham in the saddle as the point guard, there may not be much improvement. He averaged 4 turnovers per game in college and needs to work on tightening his handles as quick decision-making is the key to limiting turnovers in the NBA.
HIDDEN GEM: Kelly Olynyk does all the things that keeps him in hoop conversation. Good shooter. Instinctive rebounder. High motor. Intuitive passer. He is just a good basketball player. If he is going to play over 20 minutes per game, then Coach Dwayne Casey had better include him on the roster.
What’s your take on the subject matter? Comments are most welcome. You can also hit me up on Twitter @kayodemed.