NBA Log: Draft and Offseason Outlook for Central Division (Chicago Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers)

Part 3 of my (ever later) NBA Draft and Off Season Coverage is here. You can find Part 1 on the Southeast Division here and Part 2 on the Atlantic Division here. Today, we round out the East with the Central Division before heading West tomorrow. If you want updates on all my writing, please bookmark and check out my home page.

Chicago Bulls

I didn’t see last year coming. Sure, Tom Thibedeau was expected to be a great coach, but best in the league? From a 6 seed? No way. Well, here we are with Chicago the favorites in the East and among the best teams around. Of course, they’re far from flawless.

Despite a hot early season, MVP Derrick Rose’s shot is still a work in progress. Until that arrives, expectations are likely to always overreach reality for the Bull. Still, though, they can get better. Carlos Boozer will likely, in the Bulls defense first system, never be the #2 option he’s paid to be, but he can release some of the scoring load. Joakim Noah had developed a shot before injury and should relocate that piece to complement his strong defense, rebounding and passing. Luol Deng has become a great player, if not a great scorer, and can play big minutes defending the opponent’s top wing. All of this will go well with whatever, or rather whomever Chicago installs at the 2, since as good as Keith Bogans is on defense, it’s hard to imagine him as the starting shooting guard on a championship team.

The Bulls are bolstered by an extremely strong bench. Taj Gibson is a game changer on defense who doesn’t kill you on offense, and might even be better suited to start with Boozer’s defense not as dauntingly bad against second unit players. Omer Asik is even better defensively than Gibson and Noah, but he’s a zero on offense. Still, on the cheap, he changes games with his ability to jump out on shooter sand neutralize the post. CJ Watson is a serviceable backup 1 who plays good defense. Pundits often argue for an upgrade, but, really, no one gets that many minutes behind Rose anyway, and Watson’s D is stellar. Finally, backing up the wings we have Corey Brewer, a defensive specialist, and Kyle Korver, a marksman. Brewer or Bogans and Korver can handle backup duties, but, really a starter here to limit their minutes to the most effective bit is the great need here.

The Bulls drafted into their bench strength, grabbing Jimmy Butler at the end of the first round. Butler offers another tough defender at the wing, but one who has already shown he can hit open threes, which is, really, most of what the Bulls need. Don’t be surprised to see a solid role from Butler by year’s end. The Bulls also traded for the rights to Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is the kind of big, sweet shooting 3 the Bulls covet, but will be spending a few years developing overseas. Still, grabbing him now is the kind of championship level move the Spurs regularly make, and letting him become, hopefully, a star on someone else’s dime is excellent. Still, that won’t matter for 2-3 years, during which time, a great amount can change. Because of that, the Bulls really need to get set at the 2 and make a run at the title now.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland isn’t as bad off as many think, and that’s even before they took Kyrie Irving #1 and Tristan Thompson #4. This is a team that had good role players to begin with, starting with Center Anderson Varejao. Despite getting no credit, Varejao is a world class glue guy, a defender and rebounder of extraordinary skill, he will improve the team defense immediately if healthy next year, and give the team a ton of energy. Next to Varejao is a solid bit of scoring in Antawn Jamison, woefully underpaid, but likely to be shipped to a contender since there’s 1 year on his contract. Ramon Sessions will likewise be traded. Baron Davis is still on the team, and since he brought with him the #1 pick in the draft, complaining about that should pretty much cease. Baron is still a strong scorer and solid passer, although with poor shot selection. After that, Cleveland has quite a few role players that it disguises as starters.

Still, Ryan Hollins, Alonzo Gee and Samardo Samuels won’t have to start next year. Varajeo replaces Hollins, a healthy Jamison, and, barring that Thompson, replaces Samuels, and Gee is replaced by the man they traded JJ Hickson for, Omri Casspi. Casspi is a nasty, aggressive player who can shoot and handle the ball a bit. He was almost untouchable in Sacramento once, and his fall from grace came with the arrival of guys who dominated the ball. Since he plays so hard and Cleveland seems to be forming a defensive identity, he’s a great fit. Sharing the wing with Casspi will be the lone starter who’s really far below average, Anthony Parker, who is at least a veteran who understands his role. Ideally, though, he’ll give way sometime for Christian Eyenga, a super athletic wing who shows signs of being a dominant defensive stopper. That leaves the Cavs with a strong defender everywhere but at the 1, where it has been shown, PG defense has the least direct effect on team success.

Now, the draft picks. Cleveland, in my opinion, made a mistake with both picks. Kyrie Irving should be very good at the Point for a long time, barring injury, and next year’s draft seems weak in point guards, so he’s defensible. He has extremely high efficiency, and with a team as offensively limited as the Cavs, it makes sense to use him to maximize possessions. I would have swung for the fences with Derrick Williams, but this is hardly a bad pick. The more questionable pick is Tristan Thompson. Tristan is an energy, shot blocker/rebounder right now who has the athleticism and work ethic to be much more… but then so did Tyrus Thomas and numerous other guys who either outright busted or took years to develop. While the Cavs have years, next year’s draft is awash with effective 4’s and they could have paired that with Jonas Valanciunas and Irving for a big three of their own. Now it looks like, unless they luck into target=new>Andre Drummond, they’ve taken a risk that next year’s pick makes Thompson obsolete, while likewise risking on Thomson’s development either way. Still, at worst, Thompson’s work ethic should make him a valuable starter down the line, and he and Varejao is not a frontcourt I’d look forward to facing were I the rest of the league. At the three, they have two strong defenders and at the 1, a budding star – this is a team on the rise.

Detroit Pistons

Well, the Pistons are in a weird spot. They got the best player available when they drafted, Brandon Knight at #8, but he’s a player that largely duplicates what combo-guard Rodney Stuckney gives them, and since they haven’t developed Stuckney into a 1, there’s no reason to assume they would Knight. Worse, the two will have trouble playing at the same time with Rip Hamilton still unhappily a Piston and Ben Gordon unlikely to go anywhere. On the mild plus side, there’s next to no chance Tayshaun Prince returns to the team, meaning they can be undersized at the 3, and play several of these guys together. With their second pick, the Pistons grabbed Kyle Singler who will either be a solid role player, adding the missing size at the 3, or out of the league in a couple of years. Such is the life of a second round draft pick.

Of course, this would imply a fast-paced team which doesn’t fit with the skills of the Pistons’ best player, post presence Greg Monroe. Monroe showed great flashes during his rookie year of being an effective post-presence, rebounder and defender. The Pistons badly wanted a defender at the 4 or 5 who was athletic to pair with him, but seem to have instead decided that since none are available, they will just be bad again next year and grab one in next year’s draft, since that draft seems to go 7 or 8 deep on potential franchise talents, almost all at least big 3s. So, that’s it Piston fans. Expect another year in transition, with next year’s pick being used to replace the solid, but clearly not starter on winning team pieces at the 4 like Charlie Villanueva and Jason Maxiell.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are still a star away from contention, but they look like a good, playoff bound team. With Roy Hibbert in place at the 5, they could have used an athletic 4 who could rebound, in order to let Tyler Hansborough just be a beast off the bench. With that gone, they decided to go to war with a team similar to last year, only filling one major hole. AJ Price was not much as a backup 1, and he’s been replaced with George Hill. Hill is a gamer and a big shooter who can play the 1 and 2. That allows him to back up both starting point guard Darren Collison, who’s quite good in his own right, and starting shooting guard Paul George. George seems like he might be a star and is a natural 3, so he himself might be pushed their on occasion. That would leave the team’s best player, Danny Granger fewer minutes, but Granger can play the 4 at times for an extremely effective seeming small ball lineup. If George develops, and Hill plays as expected, that sure sounds enough for around the 6 seed… and if injuries force it to fall apart, a high draft pick could put the team right back into contention, except with another potential star. That sounds win-win, even in the improving East.

    Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks gave out bad contracts to Corey Maggette and John Salmons before last year, only for both to explode in their face. They then used this year’s draft pick to get rid of both, pick up a player superior in Stephen Jackson and get the youngest player in the draft, combo forward Tobias Harris who looks to be a quality player for a lot of years thanks to his high basketball IQ. That’s a great draft.

As for the rest of the team, well, it comes down to health. Andrew Bogut is, when healthy, the second or third best 5 in basketball. He’s a dominant defensive presence and solid offensive one. If he’s healthy, the team will make the playoffs, especially thanks to defensive stopper extraordinaire Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who can cover any position effectively, likely starting at the 3 thanks to shot blocking 4 Larry Sanders need to develop. Drew Gooden is an effective veteran backup at the 4 and 5, while Chris Douglas Roberts joins Harris on the wing. If any falter, Jon Leuer offers a bit more help at the 4 and 5 as a floor stretcher who’s also an underrated athlete.

The backcourt, however, is a bit strange. If Brandon Jennings develops into the star he seemed after his rookie year, this team can make real noise in the playoffs, but, if not, he seems to be trade bait, as the Bucks have 3 other point guards, all quality on the roster. Shaun Livingston is big and talented, among the best defensive 1s in the game, along with new teammate Keyon Dooling who is likewise defense minded. Beno Udrih is a shooting, creating backup one, who’s not quite as good on D, but does give effort. Unless a trade is looming, well, a trade must be looming. For whom is the real question. Still, the team doesn’t need much and should be in the playoffs, as they look an awful lot like Chicago without Derrick Rose and a bit of seasoning.

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