By: Zachariah Blott
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James is the newer Garnett: supremely talented, unselfish, and a player who clearly makes everyone around him better. His combination of size, strength, and speed makes him impossible to stop on the fast break, and his 3-point shooting is coming along (34% last year). You already know this, but it can’t be stated enough: he does everything (7.6 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.2 bpg, 9.4 fta).
The rest of the frontcourt is loaded: veteran jokester/jackass Shaquille O’Neal, Energizer Bunny PF Anderson Varejao, consistently solid C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and underrated athletic freak SF Jamario Moon. PF Leon Powe is a solid low-post presence, but he is still sidelined after undergoing ACL surgery in the spring. PG Mo Williams and SG Delonte West are both overrated because they play with LBJ, but they’re decent at what they do. SG Anthony Parker was another great pick-up (O’Neal, Moon, and Powe are also new to Cleveland) since he’s a perimeter shooter (39% 3FG), committed defender, and all-around under-appreciated player who can actually defend taller 3-pt shooters (he’s 6-6, far bigger than everyone else Orlando easily shot over in the playoffs).
Could Make the Playoffs (In Order of Likelihood):
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls lost a lot when SG Ben Gordon signed with Detroit, but SG John Salmons has come into his own (18 ppg, 42% 3FG), C Brad Miller is now fairly well-known for being an unknown star, and FC Joakim Noah is a caffeinated cartoon character out to rack up hustle plays. Oh yeah, and they possibly have the East’s best lead-guard: Derrick Rose.
I don’t know if he can score 900 on the SAT, but he’s a one-man fastbreak who has shown he can make great decisions on the fly (6.3-2.5 A/T). I would expect his production to take a jump as the Bulls continue to play fast, and hopefully he’s been getting some extra shooting in over the summer (22% 3FG). They can also get some positive minutes out of skilled SF Luol Deng, fast-break maestro PG Kirk Hinrich, and aggressive-but-possibly-nuts PF Tyrus Thomas.
Derrick Rose Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Detroit Pistons: The leftovers from their deep postseason runs in the middle of the decade are starting to get long in the tooth, but they will have to provide all the defensive intensity for a team whose focus appears to be shifting to offense. Ben Wallace (35) is back and can still rebound and play some D, but he’s no longer a feared enforcer in the paint. Richard Hamilton (turns 32 in February) is still a mid-range machine who plays great defense, very similar to Tayshaun Prince (turns 30 2 weeks later).
The more offensively-minded youngsters include PG Rodney Stuckey, who picked up his game last year (13.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), and new acquisition Ben Gordon, who will light it up off the bench. Another newbie is the Big Twitter, PF Charlie Villanueva, whose athleticism is generally only used for good when he has the ball. Rookies Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers could both contribute in the frontcourt. It’s tough to figure out what the identify of this team will be, so have fun Pistons fans.
For more on the Pistons, check out our full team preview.
Indiana Pacers: This team is kinda average, a little bad on defense, and they do it all while running (league’s third-fastest pace, 96.5 possessions per game), which means everyone’s stats are inflated. SF Danny Granger is a good outside shooter (40%) and ran his way to 26 ppg last year. PF Troy Murphy is a decent rebounder and ran his way to 12 rpg while hitting 45% from deep. TJ Ford is a good open court PG who has seen better days, but he ran his way to a career-high 15 ppg. C Jeff Foster is a high-intensity rebounder and defender who keeps Pacer possessions alive (3 orpg).
Some other names sound like they could be intriguing: athletic GF Brandon Rush, improved big stiff Roy Hibbert, major motor PF Tyler Hansbrough (he won’t be able to rebound or defend in this league, but he’ll score in this offense), still-hurt-but-could-be-okay SG Mike Dunleavy. It’s a below-average team that runs – that’s about it.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Good: Michael Redd can still score 20+, Andrew Bogut is a decent banger with good skills in the middle (when he’s not hurt), and SF Hakim Warrick is an exciting addition. The Bad: 37-year-old PF Kurt Thomas hasn’t played starter’s minutes in 6 years, and Luke Ridnour probably isn’t a starting PG.. The Ugly: The Bucks have no frontline depth, this team has injury problems out the wazoo, and PG Brandon Jennings is not the answer or the future – only the occasional sweet highlight.
Central Division award predictions, after the jump …
Top 5 Players:
C: Shaquille O’Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
F: Danny Granger, Indiana Pacers
G: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
G: Richard Hamilton, Detroit Pistons
Top 5 Reserves:
C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavaliers
FC: Joakim Noah or Brad Miller, Chicago Bulls
F: Jamario Moon, Cleveland Cavaliers
G: Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons
G: Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Likelihood: Pretty good. He’ll continue to have dominant statistics (and Cleveland actually has a slow pace: 88.7 possessions per game, 25th in the NBA) that only Dwayne Wade can touch, and it will be on a team that could again earn the NBA’s best record.
Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Likelihood: Not so hot. Hansbrough will score some points and Jennings will get some assists and highlights, but both will be inconsistent and deservedly come off the bench.
Least-Known Player Who’s Still Overrated:
Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Most Well-Known Player Who’s Still Underrated:
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
Zachariah Blott is a teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.