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2016-17 Season Preview: Central Division

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner NBA.com

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Oct 12, 2016 1:00 PM ET

This division got some love when the offseason smoke cleared, driven by some new faces, development of talent from within and the presence -- for the first time since 2004-05 -- of the league's defending champions. But stronger overall doesn't translate into more competitive at the top -- it's unlikely any of the other four will make a serious run at the Cleveland Cavaliers. How they jockey amongst themselves, though, could very much be up for grabs.

DIVISION PREDICTION

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

Team On The Rise

Indiana Pacers -- The Pacers have a strong Kia MVP candidate (Paul George), a young future star (Myles Turner) and a transfusion of helpful vets (Thaddeus Young, Al Jefferson, Jeff Teague).

Team On The Decline

Chicago Bulls -- Adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo made this season more about marking time and staying "relevant" in the city's sports pecking order.

Top Player

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers -- As good as Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo are or will be, LeBron remains the guy you'd choose for this season.

Player On The Rise

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers -- Prized asset of the Pacers, Turner's offense is ahead of his defense but he's still only 20 years old, for crying out loud.

Top Coach

Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons -- What SVG has done in his first two seasons, both on the court and in reshaping the roster, has the Pistons racing along their learning curve.

Coach On The Hot Seat

Fred Hoiberg, Chicago Bulls -- Process of elimination plays a role here -- the other four have accomplished more, have clout with ownership and/or are more freshly hired -- and so does last season's fall from the playoffs for Chicago.

Top Rookie

Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls -- The No. 14 pick from Michigan State doesn't lack for confidence -- he picked himself to win Kia Rookie of the Year. The depth chart suggests he'll get more opportunities than some of the other top youngsters in the division, and as a four-year college player who turns 23 in November, there's no time like the present. 

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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