NBA Season Previews: Bulls, Bucks, Pistons, Cavs, Pacers
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls should win the Central Division walking away, pretty much no matter what.
Not only do they have plenty of talent (Rose, Noah, Boozer, Deng), but they got depth like nobody’s business. Chicago’s second-team last year (special shout-outs to Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and Omer Asik) was energetic on offense and as equally stalwart on defense as the starters – and they all return. Now they add Richard Hamilton to the mix—who won’t be relied upon to carry them ever, so he’ll be great in his reduced role—plus severely underrated rookie Jimmy Butler, so there’s no reason they can’t platoon starting lineups during their numerous back-to-backs and rotate the 8 through 12 spots constantly based on the opponent.
Chicago did so well last season because of their Tom Thibodeau-orchestrated team defense and magnificent offensive rebounding. Well they return virtually everyone and will be hoping for Boozer to play a nearly-full season (something he normally does every other year), so nothing significant will change for the Bulls, which is great in a shortened season with so little time for new team chemistries to form. What would be nice to see change if the Bulls want to challenge the Heat out East, however, is Rose’s role from a shoot-first, high-degree-of-difficulty, intentional highlight maker who saw his FG% drop significantly and Assist-to-Turnover ratio continue to mire in 2.2 ineptitude into something a little more…oh, point guardy.
I know everyone jumped on his MVP bandwagon last year, but there’s a reason the Bulls nearly lost each of their first 4 playoff games to the Pacers and then got demolished by Miami: Rose tried to do too much. He’s overrated at this point, and if he can play a little more like Chris Paul and little less like Russell Westbrook (who had almost the exact same stats as Rose on a similarly good team but received 0 MVP votes – just saying), his value would be much higher to a Chicago club trying to take a big step up from simply being the club that tried the hardest during the regular season.
Could Make the Playoffs (in order of likelihood)
Indiana Pacers: Last we saw of this club, Frank Vogel was named the interim coach for the last 38 games, he turned around a sinking ship to make the playoffs, and the Pacers were a few magnanimous referee calls away from an 8-over-1 upset of the Bulls. Coming into this season, they return just about all of their significant players, Tyler Hansbrough has shown improvement, and just recently the team picked up David West (right around 19-and-8 for six straight years) and George Hill.
This team has no real identity outside of being slightly up-tempo, but a full year under Vogel and the addition of West and Hill to an already level-headed and diverse-enough rotation (Granger, Collison, Hibbert, Hansbrough, Rush, George) could be enough to push them above .500 for the first time in 7 seasons. You’ll probably forget about them again this year, but again they could put a scare into someone in the first round.
Milwaukee Bucks: Is this finally the year the whole team isn’t injured? How about just Andrew Bogut? If the big Ausie can keep his right elbow bending in only one direction for 60 games, he will throw up stats in the 15 ppg, 11 rpg, 2.5 bpg neighborhood, which would reaffirm his place as the league’s 2nd or 3rd best pure center.
Milwaukee will continue to sport that killer defense they’ve exhibited the past couple years under Scott Skiles, and the offense should improve if if if IF pick-up Stephen Jackson stops shooting 15 jumpers a game and Brandon Jennings starts to play like an NBA PG and not like the reincarnation of Sebastian Telfair's disappointment. There are plenty of guys on the squad whose confidence and efficiency shooting the ball would improve if they saw a little more of it, so hopefully Jax and The Curator get on board with how teams work. I have to mention that Luc Mbah a Moute is probably the most underrated, under-appreciated player in the entire league – hopefully he gets his due this year with some Defensive POY votes and consideration for the All-Defensive teams.
Detroit Pistons: I’ll follow the advice of my mother and say nothing but nice things about Detroit. Lawrence Frank has to be an upgrade at coach over John Kuester, who had completely lost control and respect of the squad by season’s end last year. The return of Jonas Jerebko’s energy has long been anticipated by fans. Greg Monroe was a pleasant semi-surprise last year and should only improve in his sophomore season. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva might start to earn half of what the team is paying them. For the thousandth year in a row, the Red Wings are quite good.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving should eventually be a great PG, but this is the absolute worst situation he could walk into as a rookie: a horrendous team with very little talent during a cramped season that will be lacking practices and most of the pre-season – plus he barely played last year during his one year in college. Anderson Varejao’s return from injury is nice, as is back-up PG Ramon Sessions (he has put up more points and assists in a game than Chris Paul: 44 and 24). Beyond that, Antawn Jamison obviously doesn’t give a rip anymore, Tristan Thompson was a horrible reach at the #4 pick in June’s draft, J.J. Hickson is gone, and opponents will continue to thrash the Cavs for another year as they prepare for a top-3 pick in the loaded 2012 Draft.
Top 5 Players:
C: Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks
F: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
F: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
F: David West, Indiana Pacers
G: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls