Movoli continues its NBA preview as the season is set to tip off on Tuesday, October 29. Last week we featured the Atlantic Division and now we move to the Central division, which is highlighted by Derrick Rose’s return to the Chicago Bulls after a full season hiatus.
As evidenced last year, this Chicago Bulls team will go as far as Derrick Rose is capable of taking it. The Rose-less squad demonstrated its grit and determination by getting past the Brooklyn Nets squad in the first round of the playoffs, but they were clearly too fatigued to put up a fight against the Heat despite winning Game 1. The emergence of Jimmy Butler gives the Bulls a strong, defensive-minded starting five, with the exception of Carlos Boozer, in addition to Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Rose. Luckily, coming off the bench, Taj Gibson does a great job offsetting Boozer’s defensive shortcomings. Furthermore, Mike Dunleavy gives the Bulls the outside shooting presence off the bench that Marco Belinelli provided last year.
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As always, we check in with our favorite bloggers from each of the respective teams. Caleb Nordgren of (@chisportsguy41) Pippen Ain’t Easy is extremely encouraged by the Bulls’ preseason and what he has seen of Rose. His most recent performance against Indiana (32 points on 9-for-15 shooting and 9 assists) tells us that Rose might be better and even more explosive than prior to his ACL injury.
Nordgren writes on his blog,
“In short, it seems like Rose made the right move in holding off on #TheReturn until he was well and truly healthy. That sound you’re hearing is the rest of the league muttering curses.”
What is perhaps most exciting for Bulls fans will be a Rose and Butler backcourt – gone are the days of Rose and Keith Bogans or Rip Hamilton. Ricky O’Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) of SB Nation’s Blog A Bull, explains on his blog that although Butler and Rose have yet to play meaningful minutes together, they appear to be the perfect match:
“If you were [to] build the ideal backcourt mate for Rose, that player would look a lot like Jimmy Butler. Roster building in the NBA is as much about surrounding your star with complementary talents as it is maximizing the strengths of the rest of the roster. What the Bulls are will always come back to Rose. In Butler, the Bulls would seem to have the perfect backcourt counterpart.”
Ultimately, the Bulls have a nucleus that is very complete and a title-contending roster, especially given Rose’s preseason display that seems to validate his decision to sit out all of last season. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau will need to be more prudent in regards to player minutes and assuring the health of guys like Hinrich, Noah, Boozer, and Deng, who have had injury issues in the past. As of now, the Bulls lead the way in Central, but the Indiana Pacers proved last year that they are a team to be reckoned with.
The Indiana Pacers exceeded expectations in 2012-13 by pushing the Miami Heat to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Without a prototypical superstar, the Pacers are an incredibly balanced and defensive minded squad – very similar to the Bulls. This balance of young talent and depth is the key to the Pacers identity.
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“Paul George (13), Roy Hibbert (22), David West (44), George Hill (69), and Lance Stephenson (121) all improved their NBA rank when compared to last season, whereas the rest of the Pacers’ stock saw a decline in varying degrees. George and Stephenson’s rankings saw the greatest spike. George jumped from #75 to #13, while Stephenson made the biggest leap improving from #405 to #121.”
Not included on this list is Danny Granger, ranked 69th by ESPN, who was the team’s best player prior to last year’s injury-riddled season. The Pacers proved to be effective without Granger last year, so even if he returns to a shell of his former self (he has already crowned George as the new face of the franchise), he will be a greatly added benefit.
“Realistically, Danny will probably assume the same role that Reggie Miller did when Jermaine O’Neal became the face of the franchise. Danny’s forgotten and underrated defensive prowess and leadership on the court will be assets that the Indiana Pacers will need in a long 82 game season. Not to mention, the guy can still shoot. However, there is the outside chance that he returns to all-star form. Heck, the guy is only 30-years-old, but only time will tell.”
The most popular knock to the Pacers, particularly in comparison to the Bulls, is the lack of a true high-volume scorer like Derrick Rose. However, Paul George, only 23 years of age, is making strides to reach that scoring level (17.6 ppg) all while providing tremendous rebounding (7.6 rbg) and passing (4.1 apg) from the SG/SF position. Although Rose recently stated that there is no rivalry between the Pacers and Bulls, almost to dismiss Indiana, these two teams will be battling all season long and a rivalry is expected to develop as they compete for the Central Division title.
After finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference last year, the new Milwaukee Bucks will likely head for a similar finish in 2013-14. Gone is the explosive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, and new additions include O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, and Giannis Adetokunbo. The Bucks’ young frontcourt is the most intriguing aspect of the team.
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“John Henson’s excellent per-minute numbers (over 16 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes) from last season make him a popular pick among projected “breakout” players this year. When the PBT staff sat down to discuss the players ready to make a leap, Henson was one of the first guys brought up.”
Despite the new players and reason for optimism, Mitch Vomhof (@mitchvomhof) of Bucksketball (@Bucksketball) has seen many of the same inconsistencies that plagued the Bucks last year in an early preseason game:
“The Bucks continued their streaky ways from last season, opening up a 21-point lead at one point in the game and then giving it all back and more before losing by seven. After the game, Larry Drew expressed concerns about the ‘sense of urgency’ he saw from his team when the Bobcats started on their eventual game-winning run. It seemed like the same old Bucks story – look good at the beginning and fade away at the end.”
Overall, despite the change in roster, the Bucks will be similar to last year and have a realistic chance to finish over .500. While there is by no means an excess of talent, there are several good players on the roster. However, there is not enough for this team to be considered a contender in any way. Scoring the basketball will be an issue on many nights, especially when Mayo’s shots aren’t falling, but with a strong bench and a young and developing nucleus, the Bucks should continue to make strides.
The Detroit Pistons had as busy an offseason as any coming off a miserable 29-53 campaign. However, they promise to be more competitive with the addition of impact players like Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and Chauncey Billups.
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“Interestingly enough, the ‘wow’ moves of the offseason might not even be what will matter the most. Dumars continued his active offseason by adding depth to the wing, luring 25-year-old Italian League MVP Luigi “Gigi” Datome to the Pistons despite interest from other reputable teams. Datome, an incredibly gifted shooter, could be the team’s X-factor and a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year if he earns minutes in what is shaping up to be a crowded rotation.”
Packey goes on to praise the Billups reunion and the resignation of Will Bynum, predicting that with the “big” moves, the Pistons will finish over .500 and secure the 7th seed in the East. If nothing else, the Pistons, who previously ranked so low in what he calls “watchability,” now at least become a dynamic and exciting team.
“Watchability” and flare, which Smith and Jennings certainly provide, don’t always translate to winning. Jennings, in particular, has a well-earned reputation as a “chucker,” despite claiming that he shot so much because of the poor quality of his Bucks teammates. Through an analysis of his past teammates and field goal percentages, as well as his projected future teammates, Dan Feldman (@PistonPowered) of Piston Powered does not see an impending change in Jennings’ game, writing,
“Jennings’ gunning has been teammate-agnostic. Jennings is trying to sell that he’s always been the same player, one smart enough to shoot when he’s better than his teammates and pass when he’s not. That would be great for the Pistons, because it’s always risky relying on players to improve. But I don’t buy it.”
Ultimately, the talent in Detroit does not end with Jennings and Smith as Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond represent one of the most exciting, talented, and young frontcourts in all of the NBA. As Brady Frederickson, also of Piston Power, assessed of his recent 14 point/15 rebound/2 block effort:
“Drummond had what’s become a pretty standard game for him. He did the dirty work, rarely tried to do too much and played pretty solid defense. He, like Smith and Greg Monroe, is still learning what his role is, but if he plays near this level in the regular season, well, that’s a great role.”
Despite the question marks that surround some players, and the youth and development that Drummond still needs to experience, the Pistons will be a much more relevant and “watchable” team in 2013-14.
Rounding out the Central Division is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are coming off a dismal 24-58 season. The team did make many significant moves, particularly adding Anthony Bennett and Sergey Karasev in the draft, but also adding wildcard-signing Andrew Bynum and Jarret Jack. The team didn’t experience any major losses and hope to finally get a full year of health from their start point guard Kyrie Irving.
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“The sky is the limit for Kyrie. He can be as great as he wants to be in this league. But a couple changes need to happen. First, he needs to get better on defense. And second, he needs to become a better leader. This offseason Kyrie seems to be more proactively staying in touch with teammates and has been coordinating multiple team workouts to build chemistry, trust, and friendship amongst his teammates. These are positive signs. Now he needs to carry that leadership over to the court as well. As for his defense, he doesn’t need to be great, but he needs to be better. He needs to show better effort and body language on defense. He needs to be more aware of the pick and roll and he needs to at least slow down the opposing PG at the point of attack…It’s just a matter of Kyrie showing better effort there.”
One player who could truly bring the Cavs to a competitive level is Andrew Bynum, if (big if), he is healthy.
“Here is the thing: He looked healthy. He is happy. And when he is healthy, he gives the Cavaliers the potential to have two of the top 15 or so players in the entire NBA on the court at the same time. He is an elite presence in the post and is excellent at finding space offensively, especially for easy baskets on cuts. And when he is focused and motivated, his defense is pretty darn good as well. I can’t promise Andrew Bynum is going to play for the Cavaliers this season, but unless my eyes deceive me, I really think he will and that it will be sooner rather than later. Put me down as saying he will be back by November 15th.”
The Cavs have an interesting mix of talented youth, but way too many questions concerning injuries – Anderson Varejao is yet another injury-prone member of the roster in addition to Irving and Bynum. Ultimately, much of the Cavs’ success will hinge upon the development of youngsters Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett – but if all the pieces fall into place, a .500 season is entirely possible.
Peter Stein (@peterWstein) is a regular contributor of NBA coverage to the movoli blog.
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- NBA Preview: Atlantic Division (movoli.com)
- Comparing Chicago Bulls’ 2013-14 Opening Day Roster vs. Start of Last Season (bleacherreport.com)
- Rose: Pacers great, but Heat only true rival (espn.go.com)