NBA Central Division Preview
The NBA's Central Division is the East's best, featuring the experienced Detroit Pistons, the dangerous Chicago Bulls, the 2006 East Finals-appearing Cleveland Cavaliers, the backcourt-driven Milwaukee Bucks, and the Jermaine O'Neal-led Indiana Pacers.
BEST CENTRAL DIVISION PLAYERS
LeBron James, Michael Redd, Chauncey Billups, Jermaine O'Neal, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Mo Williams, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Ben Gordon, Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden.
INSIDEHOOPS.COM'S ALL-CENTRAL TEAMS
Players may be used slightly of of position (within reason) to make the best possible teams:
ALL-CENTRAL FIRST TEAM: PG: Chauncey Billups, SG: Michael Redd, SF: LeBron James, PF: Rasheed Wallace, C: Jermaine O'Neal
ALL-CENTRAL SECOND TEAM: PG: Kirk Hinrich, SG: Richard Hamilton, SF: Luol Deng, PF: Drew Gooden, C: Ben Wallace
ALL-CENTRAL THIRD TEAM: PG: Mo Williams, SG: Ben Gordon, SF: Tayshaun Prince, PF: Andrew Bogut, C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas
CENTRAL TEAM ONE-LINERS
Chicago Bulls: Is this the year they finally rise a notch and reach the Finals?
Cleveland Cavaliers: Lack of signings this summer means Cavs aren't lock to return to Finals
Detroit Pistons: With four starters who won championship in past, Detroit needs a center and their bench to put them over the hump.
Indiana Pacers: Are they rebuilding? Can't contend with current core of Jermaine O'Neal and supporting cast.
Milwaukee Bucks: Injuries ruined them last season, and should be better in 2007-08. Backcourt is set, frontcourt needs to step up.
THE CENTRAL TEAMS TO WATCH
The top three Central division teams should all continue to compile very similar win-loss records. Detroit features four of the guys they once won a championship with: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace. They're all getting older, but aren't washed up just yet. Former Pistons center Chris Webber remains unsigned and may return, which would help because the team is weak up front. Detroit's bench could get a bigger role this season. In Chicago, the Bulls lose PJ Brown but add Joe Smith and rookie Joakim Noah to their talented, deep mix. They return the core: Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Ben Wallace. Cleveland features LeBron James, the best player in the Central division, but the team's lack of signings this summer hurts. At this time both Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao, two key rotation players, remain unsigned, and the team didn't have much depth to begin with.
MORE CENTRAL DIVISION STORYLINES
Will the Bulls keep the height-challenged backcourt of Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon together? ... Who will turn out better, Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah? ... Will the Bulls power forward spot primarily go to one guy, or will it be a by-committee position? ... Will Ben Wallace keep showing his advanced age, and if so, will he lose minutes? ... Will the Cavs re-sign Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varjao? And if so, assuming they are one-year contracts, will those guys keep playing for the team or will the need for a new deal distract them? ... ... Zydrunas Ilgauskas won't revert back to his days of getting hurt a lot, right? ... Is Rasheed Wallace old now? ... Who will play center for the Pistons? If it's Antonio McDyess, or Rasheed sliding over to the position, will the team's lack of big-man depth hurt? ... Will Jermaine O'Neal stay healthy? And happy? ... Will the Pacers keep Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy? How about Jamaal Tinsley? ... Why didn't the Pacers make any real deals this summer? Did they try? And just manage to stay off the InsideHoops.com rumors page? ... How good can a healthy Bucks team be? ... Is Mo Williams really as good as his 2006-07 stats suggest or were they inflated due to all the injuries the team had and their bad record? ... Will Charlie Villanueva and Yi Jialian compete for minutes or can they play alongside each other? Related: Who will be the main Bucks power forward? ... Who is the better overall player, Desmond Mason or (a healthy) Bobby Simmons? ... Will Andrew Bogut ever dramatically improve or will it just be slow and steady?
PREDICTED ORDER OF CENTRAL DIVISION FINISH
Note: The Cavs, Pistons and Bulls should finish very close to each other and in almost any order. And the Bucks and Pacers could have very similar win-loss records. So, 1-3 is a tossup. So is 4-5But, if we have to be exact:
1) Chicago Bulls: Know exactly how to play and their stars are mostly young and still improving.
2) Detroit Pistons: The most experienced team in the division when it comes to regular season and post-season success.
3) Cleveland Cavaliers: Only LeBron James is still growing, literally and figuratively. The other key Cavs have limited upside.
4) Milwaukee Bucks: Michael Redd and Mo Williams form a great backcourt, and there's some respectable talent up front.
5) Indiana Pacers: A perfectly decent team but still lottery-bound.