2008-09 NBA Draft Kit: Central Division Preview
Today, Herija checks in with the next in his riveting series of division previews as part of the 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit.
Since putting all five teams into the playoffs in 2005-06, the Central Division has become the haves (Detroit, Cleveland) and the have-nots (Milwaukee, Indiana) with Chicago somewhere in the middle. The Pistons have been the standard bearer in the Central for most of this century, but with an aging roster it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll still be the class of the division in ’08-09.
DETROIT PISTONS (59-23)
Lost in Conference Finals
Flip Saunders did what Flip Saunders does best last season, guiding his team through a successful regular season and an uneventful first two rounds of the postseason before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third consecutive year. His latest gaffe, a six-game exit at the hands of eventual champion Boston, cost Saunders his job, and he was replaced by Michael Curry. Even with the change on the bench, most of the off-season headlines centred on the possibility that Detroit would break up its core, but for better or worse it returns intact.
Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton remain perhaps the NBA’s predominant two-way backcourt, and if Rodney Stuckey can build on a strong postseason the Pistons could have their best three-guard rotation since Isiah Thomas–Joe Dumars–Vinnie Johnson. Gangly Tayshaun Prince is one of the game’s top defenders and as durable as they come, though he seems to have topped out at 14 points and five boards a game. Walking enigma Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell form a nice three-man rotation at the four and five, but keep an eye on Amir Johnson. The previous regime seemed unwilling to give the 21-year-old meaningful minutes, but he’s a phenomenal athlete and always made things happen on the court. The Pistons inked former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown, though I figure this was done as a reminder that there have been worse selections than Darko Milicic in the last decade. Point taken.
Guy I like…Stuckey – With a roster full of veterans there isn’t a lot of upside in Motown, but I’ll give the nod to Stuckey. The second-year guard is in line for more playing time with Hamilton and Billups on the wrong side of 30 and no true backup behind Prince. Look for Stuckey to push towards 12 points and four assists a game. Looking for a deep sleeper? Two words…Amir Johnson.
Guy I hate…Wallace – Despite posting average numbers, Wallace always seems to be drafted in the first six rounds. The 34-year-old averaged just a shade over 30 minutes per game last year and figures to see another reduction in playing time this season in an effort to develop Johnson and keep Wallace fresh for the playoffs. Unless your league awards bonus points for technical fouls, I’d shy away.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (45-37)
Lost in Conference Semifinals
A year after unexpectedly reaching the NBA Finals, Cleveland regressed, finishing with five fewer wins but experiencing some déjà vu by eliminating Washington from the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The Cavs pushed Boston to Game Seven in the semis, where LeBron James poured in 45 points, but they came up just short. The Cavs had swung for the fences in a deadline deal that netted them Delonte West, Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak in an effort to toughen their interior defense and provide them with better spot-up shooters, but it wasn’t enough to put them over the top.
Not content to make another run with its existing group, Cleveland dealt for shoot-first point guard Mo Williams, who despite posting good numbers (17.2 PPG, 6.3 APG) with Milwaukee had clearly worn out his welcome. Assuming the chemistry is better with James than it was with Michael Redd, Williams immediately becomes Cleveland’s second offensive option. He can take pressure off James with his ball-handling and ability to create his own shot – two things sorely lacking last year. Look for Sasha Pavlovic to start opposite Williams with West and Daniel Gibson as the backups.
The frontcourt has some concerns as Wallace declined significantly last year and Zydrunas Ilgauskas looks so stiff when he moves it makes my legs hurt. Anderson Varejao might be the league’s biggest flopper, so we’ll see how he adjusts now that he can’t act like he got shot every time someone grazes him. Outside of the flopping, he’s actually a strong on-the-ball defender and ferocious rebounder, though he still has work to do offensively as he takes too many questionable shots. First-round pick J.J. Hickson is raw and a work in progress.
Guy I like…Varejao – He has approximately 37,000 fewer miles on his body than Wallace, and I expect he’ll be starting before season’s end. He’s a capable finisher close to the rim, and he should snag plenty of offensive rebounds when defenders collapse on penetration by James and Williams. Sideshow Bob is a double-double waiting to happen.
Guy I hate…Ilgauskas – His birth certificate says he’s 33, I say “shenanigans.” Fact is I haven’t seen anyone lumber up and down a basketball court slower than Big Z since Ethan Suplee in American History X. On the plus side he can score and rebound at a respectable clip, and his foul shooting is excellent for a centre. Ilgauskas just has the look of someone that could get old overnight.
INDIANA PACERS (36-46)
The Pacers missed the playoffs for the second straight time last season, marking the first time they’ve done so since the late ’80s. The weakness of the East’s second-tier clubs allowed Indiana to remain in the hunt long past when it should’ve, but it mercifully missed the postseason. The team made significant changes during the offseason, dealing Jermaine O’Neal to Toronto for T.J. Ford and others. The Pacers also brought in Jarrett Jack to give them some insurance in case the oft-injured Ford breaks down again. The additions of Ford and Jack mean Jamaal Tinsley’s troubled tenure in Indiana has almost certainly come to an end.
Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Danny Granger return to form a potent one-two punch offensively, and the team drafted Brandon Rush in the first round to add some depth. Look for that threesome to see most of the minutes at the two and three, though Marques Daniels remains in the mix. Troy Murphy should start at power forward, and the Pacers have to hope that O’Neal’s departure will get Murphy back on track as right now he’s basically Keith Van Horn without the Something about Mary hairdo. Rasho Nesterovic, Jeff Foster and rookie Roy Hibbert give the team plenty of options at centre, though Foster has battled injuries in recent years. In the midst of rebuilding, Indiana has the look of a last-place club in 2008-09.
Guy I like…Dunleavy – The Duke grad made a big jump last year, going from a player that might get you 15 on a given night to a player that poured in better than 22 points per game after the All-Star break. He shoots a solid percentage, buries threes and is lights out at the foul line. If that’s not enough, Dunleavy is good for five boards and three assists a night.
Guy I hate…Ford – He ran the perfect offense for his skill set in Toronto and still posted marginal numbers (12.1 PPG, 6.1 APG). The diminutive point guard shot better last year, but remains a liability in field goal percentage and three-pointers. There’s also that whole business about not being able to stay healthy. I’m not spending a pick on Ford this year unless he falls into my lap as a late-round flier.
CHICAGO BULLS (33-49)
With the possible exception of the Heat, nobody underperformed like the Bulls, who went from a 49-win team in 2006-07 to a 33-win team a year later. The fact that Ben Wallace aged roughly 62 years during the offseason didn’t help, and the team tuned out Scott Skiles, which led to his early dismissal. If Wallace’s decline was surprising, Kirk Hinrich’s was shocking. The 27-year-old’s numbers plummeted across the board and Chicago’s selection of Derrick Rose with the top overall pick suggests it’s not banking on a rebound season from Captain Kirk. Luol Deng struggled with injuries and took a step back as well, but the team still dished out huge bank to retain him. In retrospect, the Bulls should’ve pulled the trigger on the rumoured deal for Kobe Bryant.
Despite their terrible season, the Bulls are still well stocked with young talent, and they’ll be counting on increased contributions from Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas this year. Drew Gooden, acquired in the Wallace deal, is the veteran of the group and has long been underappreciated at power forward. The Bulls also got injury-prone bricklayer in Larry Hughes last season, and he should be good for around 55 games while shooting a blistering 38 per cent from the field. Luckily, the team does have Thabo Sefolosha and Andres Nocioni on hand for when Hughes falters. With the amount of talent here, last season had to be aberration…right?
Guy I like…Thomas – His athleticism is phenomenal and with Gooden a free agent after the season, the Bulls should give the 22-year-old every opportunity to be the team’s starting power forward. He definitely has work to do, but would be a good player to roll the dice on in the final rounds.
Guy I hate…Ben Gordon – Yeah, I didn’t even mention him in the preview section because he has no interest in being in Chicago. He spent the offseason saying he wouldn’t be back before eventually signing his one-year tender. He’s a good scorer, but offers little else and is stuck in a backcourt logjam.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (26-56)
The Bucks are going to need name tags after blowing up their front office and roster during the offseason. Out are the Larrys (Harris and Krystkowiak), and in are Skiles and former Joe Dumars understudy John Hammond, though such moves are merely cosmetic if meddling owner Herb Kohl can’t stay out of the decision-making process. Luckily for Buck fans it looks as though that’s the case as Hammond dealt Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to bring in Richard Jefferson, and then moved Mo Williams and Desmond Mason in a deal to acquire Luke Ridnour. The Jefferson deal gives Milwaukee another one-on-one scorer to pair with Redd and someone that’s a professional on the defensive end. Williams was dealt because he and Redd lacked chemistry on the court — think addition by subtraction.
Ridnour is expected to start at the point this year, though Ramon Sessions, who authored some huge games late last year, and Tyronn Lue will compete for minutes. Combo guard Charlie Bell will be looking to bounce back after a forgettable season that saw him report out of shape and unhappy. Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva are the starting forwards with first-rounder Joe Alexander backing them up. The team gave Andrew Bogut a hefty contract extension, and it’ll be interesting to see if Skiles actually runs some offense through Bogut, who is a great passing big man. If the additions click and Skiles can inspire serviceable defensive effort, the Bucks could push for a low playoff seed.
Guy I like…Bogut – The Aussie averaged 16 points and almost a dozen boards a game after the All-Star break last year, and there’s no reason he can’t rank among the top fantasy centres. Bogut can fill up a box score like few other big men, though his foul shooting remains poor.
Guy I hate…Jefferson – He may bring a lot of things to the table, but it’s hard to imagine the move to Milwaukee won’t take a toll on RJ’s scoring average, which from a fantasy perspective is about all that’s left. He has lost three rebounds per game off his average in three years, and lingering knee problems are always a concern.