Oct 24 2012 10:18AM

NBA Season Preview: Central Division

CHICAGO BULLS


Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Coach Tom Thibodeau could probably win 50-plus games with you and I in his starting lineup. So this is no time to doubt whether the Chicago Bulls can win 50-something without Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson, John Lucas and EVEN Derrick RosE--for half the season AT LEAST. Yes, from the outside looking in, it does look like the Bulls took a step back, replacing the aforementioned with Vladmir Radmanovic, Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Kirk Hinrich and Nazr Mohammed. But nobody ever thought the Bulls would post the NBA’s best record the past two seasons with the aforementioned leading the way, did they? Tibbs and fellow defensive wiz coach Ron Adams just have a way of getting the most out of their talent, so don’t be surprised if the new guys post the league’s best defensive efficiency just like the 2012 Bulls and the 2011 Bulls did. Luol Deng, the most underrated guy in the NBA, just may be the league’s best defensive player and will continue to hold the Bulls to such high standards, with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson by his side. When former MVP Rose returns from his torn ACL injury in February, March or April, the Bulls should be in good position to lock down that No. 2 East seed. And if Rose is at full strength come playoff team, the Bulls should become the toughest competition the Miami Heat will face in the Eastern Conference. Nobody game-plans better for a team than Coach Tibbs.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 51-21

CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTION: 1st

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

SF Luol Deng12.82
PF Taj Gibson7.52
PG Derrick Rose5.82
C Joakim Noah5.59
PF Carlos Boozer4.58
PF Vladimir Radmanovic*3.43
PG Nate Robinson*3.06
PG Marquis Teague*2.15
SG Richard Hamilton2.03
SG Marco Belineli*1.83
PG Kirk Hinrich*1.34
SF Jimmy Butler1.16
C Nazr Mohammed*1.09

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

INDIANA PACERS


Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Indiana fans are excited about their up-and-coming team, but y’all might want to slow your roll a bit because the 2013 Pacers are not that much improved from the 2012 version. When you consider the four returning starters—All-Star Roy Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger and Paul George—only missed a combined five games in a lockout-shortened season, you have to realize that the Pacers’ 42-24 record was a bit of an overachievement. You cannot depend on such an injury-free season again … although it would be nice. Having George Hill replace the departed Darren Collison in the starting lineup will surely help, but the Pacers still have an unproven bench with Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi, Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin hoping to prove the doubters wrong. Most people don’t realize that Indiana’s starting five last year—whether Collison or Hill ran the point—was as good as any quintet in basketball last season. They showed as much, going toe-to-toe with Miami before the Heat discovered the secret to championship basketball. So on the positive side, Indiana has an incredible base of chemistry, which is hard to maintain in today's NBA. So kudos to them. But this squad is still a bench away from becoming a true championship contender. If young talents Green and Mahinmi get up to speed with the Pacers' pace by playoff time, Indianahas a legit shot to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 48-34

CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTION: 2nd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

SF Danny Granger10.32
PF David West7.89
SG Paul George7.76
C Roy Hibbert7.04
PG George Hill6.79
SG Gerald Green*3.87
C Ian Mahinmi*2.36
PF Tyler Hansbrough1.61
PG D.J. Augustin*0.74
PF Jeff Pendergraph0.42
PF Miles Plumlee*0.20

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

MILWAUKEE BUCKS


Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: In Milwaukee, with Coach Scott Skiles, it’s always defense first. And even though the franchise parted ways with center Andrew Bogut, they still have the potential to become a Top 5 defensive squad again, just like the 2009-10 and 2010-11 Bucks. There are just so many good defenders on this one team that you cannot deny their toughness: Samuel Dalembert, rookie John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih could all be All-Defense candidates if they could just log 30 minutes per game. But that’s the key to Milwaukee’s success, playing limited minutes--like when the Bucks made the 2010 NBA Playoffs. They had 10 guys who logged 1,000-plus minutes, giving 100-percent effort every time they are on the floor. Those 2010 Bucks had the league’s third-best defense and went 46-36. These 2013 Bucks may approach those same numbers with the aforementioned studs amping up the D, while scorers Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova shoulder the offensive load. It's a union that should lead to a playoff berth, especially when you observe the ever-evolving game of point guard Jennings, who is a big reason why the Bucks had the fourth-lowest turnover ratio in the NBA last season. Among starting point guards, only Chris Paul and George Hill had an individual turnover ratio lower than Jennings.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 44-38

CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTION: 3rd

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PG Beno Udrih6.92
PF Ekpe Udoh5.81
PF Ersan Ilyasova5.14
PG Brandon Jennings4.80
SF Mike Dunleavy4.76
C Samuel Dalembert4.39
SF Luc Mbah a Moute4.32
SG Monta Ellis3.94
C Larry Sanders1.70
PF John Henson*1.27
PF Drew Gooden1.16
SF Tobias Harris1.13
C Joel Przybilla*0.59

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS


Gregory Shamus/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: Like other teams at the bottom of the standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not in-a-rush rebuilding program. Rather they're taking the long route, building with draft picks--Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson last year, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller this year--instead of free agency (role player Alonzo Gee's 3-year, $9.8 million contract was the biggest signing this summer). Consequently, it is going to be difficult for the Cavs to improve on their No. 26 status defensively and No. 27 ranking offensively. That's alright, for now, since Cleveland has itself a gem of a prospect in 20-year-old Irving, who may be only a year or two away from becoming an All-NBA point guard for the rest of the decade. He's special, as indicated by his 21.49 Player Efficiency Rating which ranked 5th among all 2011-12 point guards. To take that dominance another step further, the 6-3 point guard, who averaged 19 points and 6 assists in only 31 minutes per game, had the highest PER for any teenager in NBA history (Uncle Drew topped T-Mac, Kobe, LeBron, everybody!). Alas, basketball is a 15-man team game and a 20 year old alone cannot win in this league. Thankfully, Kyrie's team does have some good veteran guidance from center Anderson Varejao, if he can stay healthy. Varejao not only provides excellent post pick-and-roll defense, he is one of the game's best rebounders, grabbing 20.8 percent of all rebounds in his limited 25 games last season. It was a big part of the reason why Cleveland ranked 17th in the league in rebound rate . Young talent Tristan Thompson also appears promising in that area, grabbing 15.5 percent, but the 21-year-old power forward still has a long way to go as a contributing offensive and defensive NBA player. That wait-and-see approach also applies to 2012 lottery pick Dion Waiters, who will play alongside and learn from such veteran wings as Daniel Gibson, C.J. Miles and Gee, among others. There is some potential to do some good things here in Cleveland. But as an unknown philosopher once said, potential is a French word that means not this year.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 29-53

CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTION: 4th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

PG Kyrie Irving7.04
C Anderson Varejao5.44
SG Daniel Gibson4.18
SG Dion Waiters*3.78
SF C.J. Miles*3.08
SF Alonzo Gee2.95
PF Samardo Samuels0.96
SF Omri Casspi0.88
SF Luke Walton0.81
PF Tristan Thompson0.55
PF Luke Harangody0.51
C Tyler Zeller*0.40
PG Jeremy Pargo*0.25

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)

DETROIT PISTONS


Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images

2012-13 ANALYSIS: The Detroit Pistons are one of the rare teams with a losing record that have established a core group of rotation players over the years, with a projected six different players logging over 5,000 minutes as career Pistons by season's end. This is a natural sign for future improvement, though do not expect it to happen this 2012-13 season. The Pistons have many holes in the lineup and didn't exactly hit the free-agent market with open wallets, trying to make something happen this season. No, Detroit is on a long-range plan, drafting the likes of 22-year-old Greg Monroe, 20-year-old Brandon Knight and 19-year-old Andre Drummond with their last three lottery picks. Monroe is perhaps developing into a Top 10 center, with great around-the-basket scoring and rebounding skills. Once he learns how to play defense on the other end of the court, Monroe becomes an All-Star caliber player and lifts Detroit from its No. 25 status defensively. On the other hand, Knight and Drummond still have much to learn and may not be able to make similar contributions for another couple years. In the meantime, the Pistons will lean heavily on Rodney Stuckey to squeeze as much out of this team as he can. The 26-year-old combo guard is quietly becoming the heart-and-soul of this team. And if ever Monroe, Knight and Drummond reach their potential, a big assist will have to go out to Stuckey, who has become adept at getting the most out of his teammates (his Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus has steadily risen the last three seasons from -0.7 to +0.9 to +1.4). Unlike other losing teams around them, the Pistons will have chemistry together, with the likes of veterans Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko and Will Bynum also providing leadership. What they lack in talent, the Pistons will make up--in time--with growth.

2012-13 PROJECTED RECORD: 27-55

CENTRAL DIVISION PREDICTION: 5th

2012-13 TOP CONTRIBUTORS … Victory Value projection

SG Rodney Stuckey7.33
C Greg Monroe6.08
SF Tayshaun Prince3.29
PF Jason Maxiell3.10
PF Jonas Jerebko2.44
PG Will Bynum1.69
PF Brandon Knight1.33
SF Austin Daye0.67
PF Charlie Villanueva0.65
C Andre Drummond*0.60
PF Kyle Singler*0.42
SF Corey Maggette*0.37
PF Vyschevslav Kravtsov*0.30

* denotes new acquisition

(Note: Victory Value projection is a wins-contributed metric based on plus-minus and playing-time projections)