The NBA season is around the corner. The preseason has already begun, while regular season action kicks-off on October 22.
The Game Haus will be doing division previews following an exciting offseason. Teams will be reviewed in order of where they are expected to finish in the division. Today, the Central Division will be previewed.
#5 Cleveland Cavaliers
Headed into their second season post-LeBron James, it’s no surprise that the Cavs are still a work in progress. The 2019-2020 season will be a test for the rebuilding team to see how their guards of the future play together.
Cleveland selected the best player on the board with the fifth pick in the 2019 Draft. Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland’s college career was cut short by injury, but in the five-game sample size, he proved to be a great scorer.
Garland will be paired with Collin Sexton in the backcourt, who was the eighth pick last season. In his rookie year, he averaged 16.7 points on 43 percent shooting. The two play the same position, so Cleveland will have to find the right way of pairing them.
The Cavs’ roster is a mish-mash of young prospects and role players left over from the LeBron days. The best thing the Cavs could do this season would be to trade star big man Kevin Love, as he could still contribute to a title-contender. A young piece and a draft pick in return would be a nice get for the veteran.
Even with solid players like Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman, Cleveland will be at the bottom of the East this season. Building their team identity around the young guards will be key for them.
#4 Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are one of the best young teams in the league. While they dealt with injuries last season, Chicago has a promising future ahead of them, with this season being another year of development under their new coach.
Chicago’s core of Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. all suffered injuries last season, leaving the team with only 22 wins at the end of the year. However, all players put up good numbers with LaVine leading the way with roughly 25-5-5.
The Bulls drafted big man Daniel Gafford along with Coby White, the latter will play backup behind Kris Dunn, who also suffered from injury last season.
Otto Porter will play a big role for the Bulls this season. Since traded from Washington, Porter played 15 games with Chicago and averaged 17.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. If he can continue to score well at the starting small forward spot, the Bulls can be better than expected.
Chicago’s biggest challenge will be staying healthy this season. While the team still has some growing to do, they could overachieve given enough time on the court together.
#3 Detroit Pistons
While they made the playoffs last season, the Pistons will be looking to make a leap this year and end the trend of mediocrity the team has been on since the early and mid 2000’s.
Blake Griffin quietly had a fantastic season last year, averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He along with center Andre Drummond will be playing the four and five spots for Detroit, making for one of the better frontcourts in the NBA.
In free agency, the Pistons signed Derrick Rose, who will likely play behind Reggie Jackson and provide a scoring boost off the bench. The team also brought in Joe Johnson and Markeiff Morris.
As currently constructed, Detroit is a solid team but lacks a true playmaker. Rose will make an impact offensively, but likely won’t fill that role for the Pistons. The team does however have contracts and assets to pull off a deal for a third star.
In Drummond’s contract year, Detroit needs to have a successful season. While he will likely be seeking max money, the Pistons shouldn’t let him get away. If role players like Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway and rookie Sekou Doumbouya can make leaps, Detroit could make the jump to the fifth or sixth seed.
#2 Indiana Pacers
The Pacers had a disappointing result in the playoffs last season without All-Star Victor Oladipo. While there isn’t an exact timetable for his return, he will be coming back to a re-tooled team that can be a sleeper in the East.
While they lost Bojan Bogdanovic in free agency, the Pacers stole Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks, their biggest challenge in the Central Division. Brogdon was one of the best sleeper-free agents on the market, coming off a 50-40-90 shooting percentage season. He and Oladipo make for an excellent guard combo.
In the frontcourt, the Pacers have the duo of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Both seven-footers are capable of averaging double-doubles, while Turner serves as the team’s defensive anchor.
While not the flashiest team, Indiana is deep and plays good defense. TJ Warren, Jeremy Lamb and TJ McConnell were all brought in to bolster depth this offseason, and could tip the scales against second units.
At their ceiling, the Pacers could be a team that surprises many and ends up the three seed. If Oladipo can return healthy, Indiana could give Milwaukee a real run at the Central Division crown.
#1 Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks come into the 2019-2020 season with a clear goal: an NBA title. The team was bounced by Toronto in the Conference Finals last season, and a repeat of that outcome or anything short of it will be a failure. En route, the Bucks should win the Central Division easily.
While the Bucks made some changes this offseason, Giannis Antetokounmpo remains as the team’s superstar force.
Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe both return on fresh contracts, and both will have to step up, especially Bledsoe, in the absence of Brogdon. Losing his efficient scoring to their division rival could prove to be a big loss for Milwaukee.
The Bucks attempted to gain some shooting by signing Kyle Korver, as well as fellow-veteran Robin Lopez, who joins his brother Brook in the post.
The Bucks and Sixers are easily the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, and Milwaukee will go as far as The Greek Freak can take them. With another MVP-caliber season inevitable, with or without an effective jump-shot, the Bucks will have to rely on solid play from their second and third options if they want to make the NBA Finals. In the the division however, there isn’t much competition outside of Indiana.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.