Upcoming 2011-12 NBA Preview: Central Division

EASTERN CONFERENCE – CENTRAL

CHICAGO BULLS

Last Season: 62-20, Division Champions, 1st Overall in East, Lost to Miami in Eastern Conf Finals

Key Losses:  Rasual Butler, Kurt Thomas

Key Additions Richard Hamilton, Brian Scalabrine (resigned), Nikola Mirotic (draft), Jimmy Butler (draft)

Main Rotation:  Starters – Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah;  Key Reserves – Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Omer Asik

The Bulls definitely improved their chances to getting to the NBA Finals this year.  They were good enough to get to the Finals last year too but they needed another scorer/shooter.  Enter Richard Hamilton.  After the Pistons bought out Hamilton, it was no surprise he was going to choose the Bulls.  At 33, Hamilton still has plenty of gas left in the tank and has something to prove after the last two seasons.  Hamilton is going to love coming off curls here in Chicago.  Noah and Boozer are going to be Hamilton’s best friends.  Although more valuable coming off screens, Hamilton can be trusted to create his own shot which the Bulls sorely lacked during the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

Chicago will still be one of the favorites to win it all.  Everyone knows what Derrick Rose can do and will be even better this year.  That’s a scary thought.  However, this team cannot go another year and get inconsistent play from Carlos Boozer.  He’s got to be the big man and put up consistent double-doubles and be that second enforcer on the block.  The front office will need to look at a way to bring more of a scoring punch to their bench unless Ronnie Brewer can provide that threat.  This is the one weakness that teams will look to target.

Other than keeping an eye out on MVP candidate – Okay…he’ll be MVP again.  I’m calling it – Boozer and Hamilton will be the main focus.  Are they going to bring the consistent second and third all-star options to Rose.  It’ll be fun watching this team in its half-court sets, on the block, and the screens being set.

Prediction: 52-14, Division Champions, 1st Overall in East, Championship Contender

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Last Season: 35-47, 3rd in Division, 9th Overall in East , Missed playoffs

Key Losses: Corey Maggette, John Salmons, Keyon Dooling

Key Additions:  Stephen Jackson, Mike Dunleavy, Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (resigned), Tobias Harris (draft), Jon Leuer (draft)

Main Rotation: Starters – Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson, Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, Andrew Bogut ; Key Reserves – Beno Udrih, Carlos Delfino, Shaun Livingston, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris

The Bucks didn’t bring in any big names or out of this world talent but what they did do is bring in leadership, defense, and composure.  Stephen Jackson may end up being the most valuable acquisition for any team during the offseason.  His vocal leadership, defense, competitiveness and let’s not forget – dude’s got skills –  will make the Bucks a force to reckon with.  The additions of Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih, and Shaun Livingston are guys you know will do the right thing and will never get rattled.  Expect a rejuvenated Dunleavy.  After being hampered by injuries the last two years, Dunleavy will have something to prove and should return to that solid small forward position with ease.

The Bucks barely missed the playoffs last year and in order for them to fight for a playoff spot, Andrew Bogut must stay healthy.  If he was able avoid these injuries during his career, he would be one of the top 5 big men in the NBA right now.  As much as Bogut will need to bring the defensive presence in the middle, he’ll need some help.  Drew Gooden and Ilyasova will need to chip in as their second and third big man.  All in all, it’s the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Jackson that will determine how far this team can go in the playoffs.  As long as they keep a level head, this team will be solid.

The Bucks will be the sleeper of the NBA and will surprisingly win more games than expected.  This will be Jennings’ year to really mature as a point guard playing next to Jackson.  FEAR THE DEER!!!

Prediction 42-24, 2nd in Division, 5th Overall in East, Playoff Contender

INDIANA PACERS

Last Season: 37-45, 2nd in Division, 8th Overall in East, Lost to Chicago in 1st Round

Key Losses Mike Dunleavy, T.J. Ford, Josh McRoberts, Brandon Rush, James Posey

Key Additions:  David West, Jeff Foster (resigned), George Hill, Louis Amundson

Main Rotation: Starters – Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones, Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert; Key Reserves – Tyler Hansbrough, George Hill, Paul George, Jeff Foster, A.J. Price

As long as newcomer David West is fully recovered from his knee injury, the Pacer’s front line will be very formidable with Danny  Granger and Roy Hibbert.  Former all-star West has always been a underated power forward in this league.  He doesn’t really blow you away with his states or personality but the guy can ball.  He just does it quietly.  Last year in the playoffs, the Pacers lacked a real second option on offense.  With West, the two should work very well in pick and roll, pick and pop situations.  Their other acquisition George Hill was a solid pick up who will back up Collison.  Nice safe pick up by the Pacers.

The Pacers need to have their 1-2 punch work out.  Not just as a solid duo but they need to make an impact in order for this young, hungry Pacers team take the next step.  Their third best player must also continue improving and making an impact.  No, not Darren Collison but Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough.  It would not be surprising at all if Hansbrough battles for Sixth Man of the Year averaging a double-double off the bench.  Now at the point, Collison should thrive with the addition of West, his assist numbers should go up and if he continues to hit his jump shot, the Pacers have found their point guard.

As mentioned earlier “Psycho T” should be able to step his game up.  Look for this guy to put up consistently 13 and 10.  This kid has a knack for getting the loose balls and has a toughness to him that will become a fan favorite.  Look for the team to feed off of his tenacity and energy.  The big man Hibbert should have a solid year as well.  West and Hibbert will be a nice 4-5 combo.

Prediction: 39-27, 3rd in Division, 6th Overall in East, Playoff Contender

DETROIT PISTONS

Last Season: 30-52, 4th in Division, 11th Overall in East, Missed playoffs

Key Losses: Richard Hamilton, Tracy McGrady, Chris Wilcox, DaJaun Summers, Terrico White

Key AdditionsRodney Stuckey (resigned), Tayshaun Prince (resigned), Jonas Jerebko (resigned), Damien Wilkens, Brandon Knight (draft), Kyle Singler (draft – Will remain in Europe for one year), Vernon Macklin (draft)

Main Rotation: Starters – Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Greg Monroe; Key Reserves – Ben Gordon, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko, Will Bynum, Ben Wallace, Jason Maxiell, Damien Wilkins

The Pistons finally were able to cut ties with long-time Piston Richard Hamilton.  By doing so this opens up more time to let their prize rookie Brandon Knight make his mark.  The Pistons didn’t make any major moves during the offseason.  They basically just took care of business in-house and resigned their top two free agents – Rodney Stuckey and surprisingly Tayshaun Prince.  The Pistons will have Jonas Jerebko after missing all of last season due to an achilles tear.  This should help Monroe on the boards.  God knows, Villanueva can only be trusted for two boards a game.

This team’s still not going to be that good but their future is bright.  A future that’s built around Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, and second year big man Greg Monroe.  If this team is going to challenge for a playoff spot, their first step is to correct the team’s biggest need – an IDENTITY.  Until a sense of roles and responsibilities are set, this team will continue to struggle.  Who’s personality is this team going to take on? Stuckey? Knight? Gordon?

The focus during this season will be on the eighth overall pick Brandon Knight and how he develops into what everyone’s hoping he’d be in Detroit – Motown’s Saviour.  There’s no question he’ll be good but will he be a Derrick Rose or a Darren Collison.  Stuckey may have something to say about who’s Motown’s saviour, if he is able to take his game to another to level while playing at the two.

Prediction: 28-38, 4th in Division, 11th Overall in East, Draft Lottery-bound

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Last Season: 19-63, Last in Division, 15th Overall in East, Missed playoffs

Key Losses: J.J. Hickson, Baron Davis, Joey Graham

Key Additions Anthony Parker (resigned), Omri Casspi, Kyrie Irving (draft), Tristan Thompson (draft)

Main Rotation: Starters – Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao; Key Reserves – Antawn Jamison, Ramon Sessions, Alonzo Gee, Daniel Gibson

There really isn’t much to say about the Cavs.  They’re going to be terrible.  However, the Cavs saving grace are their prize draft picks – No. 1 overall Kyrie Irving and No. 4 Tristan Thompson.  These kids are going to be thrown into the mix right away since the Cavs don’t have anyone really to show them the ropes.  Well, Antawn Jamison can be a mentor to Thompson and that’s not a bad person to have looking up to.  Thompson will have to take in as much as he can quickly since Jamison most likely will not be a Cav by the All-Star game.  As for Irving, he’s already the best player on this team and the future.  He will be given the keys to drive this team out of the ground.

The team needs a lot of help at every position but they’re starting on the right track with their rookies.  Basically, the Cavs just need time to build a competitive team.  They are only in year two of life without Lebron but the future is bright.  Thompson will probably develop a little slower offensively than expected but he will be a solid big man in his first year.  If he can put up hustle points, play solid defense, and rebound that’s a great start.    Irving will need to obtain guidance from  head coach Byron Scott who has coached the likes of Jason Kidd and Chris Paul.  (Sarcastically) Oh, I forgot those point guards didn’t do much.

Lookout for Omri Casspi.  Not a lot of people know who he is or what he can do.  Cleveland will be a great situation as it will allow him to showcase his talents and have a breakout year.  Imagine a combination of Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu in their prime.

Prediction14-52, 5th in Division, 14th Overall in East, Draft Lottery-bound

Stay tuned for: Eastern Conference – Southeast Divison

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