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NBA BASKETBALL:  CENTRAL DIVISION
NBA Offseason Team Analysis

By AC YOUNG                   September 13, 2001

Atlanta

Possible Starting 5: Jacque Vaughn, Jason Terry, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Toni Kukoc, Theo Ratliff 

Offseason changes: There were few moves bigger than the acquisition of Shareef Abdur-Rahim.  Point guards Vaughn and Davis were signed.

Team Analysis
Offense- Jason Terry (19.7 ppg) was the top performer last year, and Toni Kukoc had some big games after the Mutombo trade.  They will now be joined by Abdur-Rahim (20.5 ppg for Vancouver) and can form a very potent offensive trio.  If Terry plays the point, expect tall DerMarr Johnson to get minutes at shooting guard.

Defense- They wonít be the best defensive team, but having a healthy Ratliff (3.74 bpg with Philadelphia) will mean they will still be tough. 

Rebounding- The Hawks donít have the dominator on the boards like they did in Mutombo but they have plenty of big bodies now.  Ratliff and Abdur-Rahim have Alan Henderson and Nazr Mohammed to help.

Playmaking- Jason Terry was better at shooting guard but may be back starting at the point.  Vaughn is no longer backing up Stockton and could get more playing time in Atlanta.  The abilities of Kukoc must also be noted.

Franchise Question: Can a team go from having pick 3 in the draft to competing in the competitive Central Division?
Abdur-Rahim, Vaughn and even Ratliff have yet to play for Atlanta.  Mohammed and Kukoc joined midseason and Terry, Johnson and Dion Glover are all improving.  They have the talent to compete, but some question the chemistry.
 

Charlotte

Possible Starting 5: Baron Davis, David Wesley, Jamal Mashburn, PJ Brown, Elden Campbell

Offseason changes: Eddie Robinson left but Augmon will fill his defensive duties.  Outside shooters Matt Bullard and Bryce Drew were signed.  Scoring forward Kirk Haston was drafted and could help off the bench.

Team Analysis
Offense- They are hard to defend against.  Campbell (13.1 ppg) provides an inside option while Mashburn (20.1 ppg), Davis (13.8 ppg) and Wesley ((17.2 ppg) are accurate out to three-point range.

Defense- As he did in Miami, PJ Brown can have a big impact on the defensive end.  Off the bench, Magloire had a good rookie season.  The guards are quick and get many steals.

Rebounding- They are led by PJ Brown (9.3 rpg) and get contributions from Campbell, Mashburn and point guard Davis.

Playmaking- They have three players who are happy bringing the ball up.  Mashburn, Davis and Wesley all have the skills.

Franchise Question: What will Derrick Coleman do?
It's possible that Coleman returns to contributing nicely at all frontcourt positions.  He will have to be ready to play, as Haston will be a similar option off the bench for coach Silas.
 

Chicago

Possible Starting 5: Greg Anthony, Ron Mercer, Eddie Robinson, Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry

Offseason changes: It was a huge offseason for the Bulls.  The draft provided them with tall, talented high-schoolers Curry and Tyson Chandler but also cost them Elton Brand.  Charles Oakley was acquired from Toronto and will be valuable.  Eddie Robinson was signed away from Charlotte while Greg Anthony was acquired from Portland.

Team Analysis
Offense- The inside offense of Brand can be somewhat replaced by Fizer (9.5 ppg in his rookie year).  Mercer is consistent from mid-range while Eddie Robinson shot over 50% last year. 

Defense- Charles Oakley wonít be able to do it all by himself.  Eventually Curry and Chandler should be intimidating shotblockers, but they'll need some time.  If he gets minutes, Ron Artest can get pumped enough to shut down an opponentís swingman.

Rebounding- They were bad last year, and that was with Brandís 10 a game.  Oakley (9.5 rpg with Toronto) will help but improvement has to come from Fizer.

Playmaking- Another big concern for Chicago.  Jamal Crawford wasnít the answer last year and his development will be slowed as he will miss this season with injury.  Greg Anthony will defend well but isnít the best playmaker around.

Franchise Question: Have the Bulls hit the bottom yet?
Brand was a good start for them but the team didnít improve last year.  They changed strategy and now their big hopes are Curry and Chandler.  Expect another lottery pick but Chicago canít get much worse.
 

Cleveland

Possible Starting 5: Andre Miller, Wesley Person, Lamond Murray, Chris Mihm, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Offseason changes: Draft night brought two centers in Sagana Diop and Orlandoís Michael Doleac.  A bigger impact came in the trade for Tyrone Hill and Jumaine Jones, who will both playing big minutes for the Cavs.  Veteran Bryant Stith joins from Boston.

Team Analysis
Offense- Everything depends on the health of the big guy, Ilgauskas.  The new rules could help free up shooters Person and Trajan Langdon.  Chris Mihm and Doleac both have range on their shots.  Miller (15.8 ppg) is good but he needs some help.

Defense- Again, there is Andre Miller and little else.  Tyrone Hill is an improvement over Robert Traylor at power forward.

Rebounding- Hill (9.1 rpg) will be welcomed back.  Improvement needs to come from Mihm, while Diop has the size to be useful.

Playmaking- Andre Miller (8 apg) gets everyone involved.  After only a couple of seasons he is in the elite of the NBA point guards. 

Franchise Question: Is there a problem at shooting guard?
Jim Jackson wasnít the answer for Cleveland.  Harpring played some shooting guard last year but he is now a 76er.  Stith, Langdon and Person can hit if they are open from outside.  Second rounder Trepagnier could bring something different to the position.
 

Detroit

Possible Starting 5: Chucky Atkins, Jerry Stackhouse, Cliff Robinson, Ben Wallace, Zeljko Rebraca

Offseason changes: They didnít make the big splash in free agency, but Detroit added several pieces that have improved the team.  Cliff Robinson knows how to score and should take some pressure, and shot attempts, off Stackhouse.  Rookie Rodney White could get some minutes at forward too.  Rebraca took a long time to get to the NBA and is ready to play. 

Team Analysis
Offense- Last year was mainly Stackhouse (29.8 ppg, second in NBA) shooting, with little offense inside.  Robinson has an inside-outside game, while Rebraca is an able scorer too.  The Pistons decided to keep Corliss Williamson around after his quality play last year after being acquired.

Defense- Ben Wallace (186 total blocks, 107 steals) earned his money on the defensive end for Detroit.  Mikki Moore can block a shot, but after that the Pistons have few defensive players.

Rebounding- Wallace finished second in the league, mainly due to a lack of help on the glass.  Maybe Rebraca can be a factor here..

Playmaking- Atkins and Mateen Cleaves both struggled last year and need to improve their passing, and their shooting percentages.  Stackhouse shot the ball a lot but still averaged 5 assists per game.

Franchise Question: Should Detroit have used their cap-space on Williamson, Robinson and the European signings?
Detroit was never a real destination for Webber because he wanted to play for a winning team.  Few of the other free agents would have helped Detroit long term so the Pistons added some players so they could compete for a playoff spot this year.
 

Indiana

Possible Starting 5: Jalen Rose, Reggie Miller, Al Harrington, Jeff Foster, Jermaine OíNeal

Offseason changes: Indiana tried to change but will have a very similar team to last year.  Zan Tabak has gone to play in Europe but he'll be replaced by rookie Primov Brezec.  Point guard prospect Tinsley was acquired on draft day.

Team Analysis
Offense- Rose (20.5 ppg) and Miller (18.9 ppg) were a potent duo last year.  Jermaine OíNeal was a very good player last year but Croshere and Bender played below expectations.  The team needs more ideas in close games - running Miller off a screen for a three is a bit too predictable.

Defense- Imagine where Indiana would be without OíNeal, last year they would not have made the playoffs if they had Dale Davis in the middle.  Davis has strength but OíNeal (2.81 bpg) was second in the league in blocks per game.  Off the bench, the dependable Derrick McKey is able to stop players at a variety of positions.

Rebounding- Jermaine OíNeal hit the boards as well.  Jeff Foster is good but doesnít get consistent minutes.  Being 6-8 in height, Jalen Rose is a good rebounder from the backcourt.

Playmaking- Rose started and Travis Best came off the bench for the Pacers last year.  They both had similar assist numbers, at around 6 a game.

Franchise Question: Will Bender improve, like Jermaine OíNeal did?
Every now and then Bender shows something great - a quick inside move or an accurate long range shot.  OíNeal got the minutes he needed last year, while Bender has to compete with Harrington, Croshere, Rose and McKey at small forward.  Bender wstill seems a year or two away. 
 

Milwaukee

Possible Starting 5: Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson, Scott Williams, Ervin Johnson

Offseason changes: Lindsay Hunter was traded for Greg Foster in the Bucks biggest move of the offseason so far. 

Team Analysis
Offense- Plenty of jump shooters, Robinson (22 ppg), Allen (22 ppg), Cassell (18.2 ppg) and Thomas (12.6 ppg).  Milwaukee needs an inside threat to progress in the playoffs.

Defense- With Johnson, Ham and second year player Joel Przybilla Milwaukee can defend in the paint.  Allen gets some steals but the Bucks have problems against guards and small forwards.

Rebounding- The Bucks are adequate with Ervin Johnson (7.5 rpg) being the major presence.  Ham, Robinson, Williams and Caffey can rebound as well.

Playmaking- Cassell is helped by Allen, both have passing skills.  With Hunter gone, Rafer Alston will get a chance to play more.

Franchise Question: Can a team with little inside scoring win a championship?
The Bulls and Pistons didnít rely on inside scoring during their runs.  The Bucks do need to drive more, challenging defenses and drawing fouls.
 

Toronto

Possible Starting 5: Alvin Williams, Vince Carter, Morris Peterson, Antonio Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon

Offseason changes: The biggest news was the players they kept, and the Olajuwon signing.  Michael Bradley won't play much but he was a solid draft choice.

Team Analysis
Offense- With Carterís (27.6 ppg, 41% 3P%) success from three-point shooting he became a more complete player, and is now much harder to defend.  Peterson, Curry and Williams can also hit from outside.  Last year Davis (13.7 ppg) was the lone inside threat.  Hakeem will join Davis in the paint.

Defense- The Raptors lose Oakley but still have some very good defenders.  Their two best may be off the bench, Jerome Williams and Keon Clark. 

Rebounding- Antonio Davis (10.1 rpg) hit double figures last year in rebounds.  If Olajuwon can stay healthy and Jerome Williams gets some playing time then Toronto will have some dominating games on the glass.

Playmaking- They had one of the premier passers, Mark Jackson, but went with Alvin Williams at the point, and it worked.  Williams and Childs were adequate for Toronto but need to improve their creativity. Alvin is still improving.

Franchise Question: With so much talent, could the distribution of minutes be a problem?
Keon Clark will be playing for a major contract extension but minutes will be hard to come by.
 
 

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