Wednesday, 25 October 2006

2006 NBA Preview: Central Division

After looking at the worst division in basketball yesterday, now comes what may be the best division in basketball, with all 5 teams having a shot at the playoffs.

Chicago Bulls - The Bulls made perhaps the biggest move in this NBA Offseason by signing Ben Wallace, who was surprisingly not that good in the playoffs last year, but will provide much needed rebounding and defensive toughness inside for the Bulls, while deferring offensively to the scoring guards and wing players. The addition of Wallace and Tyrus Thomas in the draft will make a good defense even better, which is good because they will struggle to score. I like Kirk Hinrich a lot, but he can't carry the scoring load. Ben Gordon is hit-or-miss at times. Luol Deng is another solid player but not one that will carry the scoring load. We know they'll play defense, but where will the points come from?

Cleveland Cavaliers - First off, they have one thing that makes them really good no matter who else is on the team... LeBron James. In my mind he was the best player in the NBA last year, and should only be better with another year under his belt. He's not a great defender at this point, but he's the most athletic player in the NBA, a great passer, and the best at finishing at the basket. So they have that going for them, which is nice. Elsewhere, a lot of things are the same, but I think they have some decent depth. Eric Snow and Damon Jones are not very good at the Point, so it would be a good thing if rookie Shannon Brown could push them for minutes. Larry Hughes wasn't that good last year, but if he's healthy that's a massive upgrade over the junk they put out there in his place. Donyell Marshall and Anderson Verejao provide solid front-court depth. And with LeBron, anything is possible.

Detroit Pistons - They are obviously due for a little bit of struggling losing Wallace and replacing him with Nazr Mohammed, but they'll still be a solid ballclub. The other four starters return, all of them above average. Depth, though, is an issue. Up front, there's the mainstay Antonio McDyess, but after that is it undersized Jason Maxiell? Dale Davis? In the backcourt, Carlos Delfino and Flip Murray are ok, but nothing to really depend on. The Pistons have remained extraordinarily healthy in the past couple years, and they really need that trend to continue, or they're in trouble.

Indiana Pacers - The Pacers are deep, but don't have great star power. Jermaine O'Neal is the cloest thing they have to a star, but he's had trouble staying healthy for the past couple of seasons. Al Harrington was a very nice pickup however, and will be very solid for them. The they've got guys like Stephen Jackson, Danny Granger, and Marquis Daniels on the wing... all solid players, but nothing to write home about. And that pretty much describes Indiana. Solid, but not able to compete realistically for the division or conference title.

Milwaukee Bucks - They've got a lot of young talent on the roster, but they'll be battling for the last playoff spot once again. Charlie Villanueva is a very good looking (not literally, haha!!) young forward, and immediately boosts the front line. Andrew Bogut looked solid as a rookie, though he'll be out for a while to start the season. And we all know how dangerous Michael Redd is. A lot of the season rests on the PG Maurice Williams, who is the starter now that TJ Ford has left the building. If he can improve even more from last year, Milwaukee will be right back in the playoffs. If not, they might just miss out on the fun.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Detroit Pistons
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Indiana Pacers
5. Milwaukee Bucks