Season Preview: Eastern Conference - Central Division
Web Editorial Associate
Editor’s Note: Timberwolves.com will break down each of the NBA’s six divisions leading into training camp, highlighting the moves each team made and what to watch for during the 2012-13 campaign. Part VI looks at the Central Division, where the Chicago Bulls will have to begin their season without Derrick Rose and the steady Pacers will look to make another leap in the postseason.
2011-12 Season record: 50-16, 1st in division, 1st in Eastern Conference, lost Eastern Conference quarterfinals to Philadelphia 76ers (4-2)
Kirk Hinrich (from Hawks), Nate Robinson (from Warriors), Marco Belinelli (from Hornets), Marquis Teague (from Draft), Nazr Mohammed (from Thunder), Vladimir Radmanovic (from Hawks)
Kyle Korver (to Hawks), Ronnie Brewer (to Knicks), Omer Asik (to Rockets), C.J. Watson (to Nets), John Lucas III (to Raptors)
Bad luck hit Chicago in a hard way in 2011-2012. Even with star guard Derrick Rose missing large parts of the regular season, the Bulls still led the league with a 50-16 record and clinched the first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. In the first game of the first round, Rose tore his ACL during the fourth quarter, and the Bulls went on to drop the series to the eighth-seeded 76ers. By the end of the year, Carlos Boozer and Omer Asik were the only players to have played in every game, with key contributors like Rose, Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton significant stints due to injury.
With Rose in the middle of rehabbing his knee and aiming for a return sometime this season, the Bulls will have to plan temporarily for life without him. Kirk Hinrich returns to Chicago—the team that originally drafted him out of Kansas in 2003—and could step in at point guard until Rose returns. Other contributors at point could be newcomers Nate Robinson or Marquis Teague, the latter of which was Chicago’s first round draft choice at No. 29 overall.
The rest of the roster is relatively set, with Deng (15.3 points per game), Boozer (15 PPG, 8.5 rebounds per game), Hamilton (11.6 PPG) and Joakim Noah (10.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG) rounding out the starting five. Key bench players C.J. Watson, Kyle Korver and John Lucas III all left in the offseason, but Chicago acquired rising guard Marco Belinelli (Hornets) and also filled out the bench with veterans Nazr Mohammed (Thunder) and Vladimir Radmanovic (Hawks).
It’s hard to tell how this team will start 2012-2013 without their floor general and former NBA MVP. The encouraging news is that despite losing Rose for significant parts of last season, they still compiled a great record. This team’s focus should be set on working towards a playoff spot and making sure that Rose is not rushed back onto the court too early.
2011-12 Season record: 42-24, 2nd in division, 3rd in Eastern Conference, lost Eastern Conference semifinals to Miami Heat (4-2)
Gerald Green (from Nets), Ian Mahinmi (Mavs), D.J. Augustin (from Bobcats), Sundiata Gaines (from Nets), Miles Plumlee (from Draft), Orlando Johnson (from Draft), Sam Young (Sixers)
A.J. Price (to Wizards), Darren Collison (to Mavs), Dahntay Jones (to Mavs)
After losing in the first round in 2011, the Indiana Pacers came back to the postseason in 2012 and held a 2-1 series lead against the eventual champion Miami Heat. Although Miami came back and won the series, Indiana continued improving on a winning trend and will carry higher expectations into this season.
Gone is starter Darren Collison at point guard, but he’ll be replaced by D.J. Augustin, a two-year starter for the Bobcats. Super-athletic shooting guard Gerald Green comes over from the Nets, and newly-drafted center Miles Plumlee (Duke) provides a big body down low.
Indiana returns their top four leading scorers from last season, including their go-to option in Danny Granger (18.7 points per game). Also back is Roy Hibbert (12.8 PPG, 8.8 rebounds per game), a center who is starting to be mentioned as one of the league’s top young big men. Paul George (12.1 PPG) took a big leap from his rookie to his second year, and David West (12.8 PPG) rounds out the frontcourt. George Hill (9.6 PPG) and Tyler Hansbrough (9.3 PPG) should come off the bench first.
The Pacers are a team that has been carefully assembled over the years, and their postseason success has been steadily improving. The next step is the Eastern Conference Finals, and they’ll have to get past plenty of talented squads to get there.
2011-12 Season record: 31-35, 3rd in division, 9th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Joel Przybilla (from Blazers), Samuel Dalembert (from Rockets), John Henson (from Draft), Doron Lamb (from Draft)
Kwame Brown (to Sixers), Carlos Delfino (to Rockets), Jon Brockman (to Rockets), Jon Leuer (to Rockets), Shaun Livingston (to Rockets)
The Milwaukee Bucks became a drastically different-looking team around the trade deadline last season. With the playoffs out of sight and injuries abound, the Bucks shipped out starters Andrew Bogut and Steven Jackson in exchange for volume scorer Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown.
Also joining Milwaukee are draft picks John Henson and Doron Lamb. Henson is a lengthy, 6-foot-10 forward from North Carolina whose stock rose late in the draft process after some good workouts. Lamb was a second-round selection who was a knock-down shooter for the national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Brandon Jennings will be back to main the point, having logged his best scoring rate (19.1 points per game) and shooting percentage (.418) of his career in 2011-2012. On a team that was impacted by injuries, Jennings was a rock, playing and starting all 66 regular season contests. Ellis will start at shooting guard and wing Ersan Ilyasova will try and build on his great 3-point shooting clip from last season (.455). Newcomers Joel Przybilla (Blazers) and Henson will battle for time down low along with veterans Drew Gooden and Luc Mbah a Moute.
The addition of Ellis will give the Bucks offense a kick, as evident in the 21 games that he played for them at the end of last season. Pairing him with Jennings will provide an explosive backcourt complemented by Ilysova’s outside shooting. The question in Milwaukee will be who can step up in the forward/center rotation and assume the role that Bogut left behind.
2011-12 Season record: 25-41, 4th in division, 10th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Andre Drummond (from Draft), Khris Middleton (from Draft), Kim English (from Draft), Kyle Singler (from 2011 Draft), Corey Maggette (from Bobcats)
Ben Gordon (to Bobcats), Vernon Macklin (to Gaziantep, Turkey), Ben Wallace (retired)
While the Pistons' core of talent may be among the league’s youngest, it may also turn out to be one of the league’s most talented in a few short seasons. Center Greg Monroe (22 years old) and point guard Brandon Knight (20) are both former high draft picks that have flashed serious potential, while top 2012 draft choice Andre Drummond (19) brings NBA size and rebounding to the floor immediately.
Besides Drummond, there are four other rookies on the team’s current roster, including undrafted talent Vyacheslav Kravtsov of Ukraine. It’s quite clear that there’s a youth movement in Detroit, as young veterans Rodney Stuckey (25), Jonas Jerebko (24) and Austin Daye (23) will see considerable time on the floor.
Tayshaun Prince, now in his 11th season in Detroit, returns at the small forward spot. Stuckey should slide in at shooting guard, while the rest of the youngsters like Knight, Monroe and Drummond fill out the starting lineup. Watch for Jerebko (8.7 points per game) and Charlie Villanueva (7 PPG) to contribute in spot time.
After losing franchise regulars in Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace, this young team got even younger. The sooner coach Lawrence Frank can mesh this group together, the sooner Detroit can begin marching back towards their historic winning ways.
2011-12 Season record: 21-45, 5th in division, 13th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs
Dion Waiters (from Draft), Tyler Zeller (from Draft), Michael Eric, Kevin Jones, C.J. Miles (from Jazz), Kelenna Asubuike (from Mavs), Jeremy Pargo (from Grizzlies), Jon Leuer (from Rockets)
Antawn Jamison (to Lakers), Semih Erden (Anadolu Efes, Turkey), Anthony Parker (retired), Manny Harris (Azovmash Mariupoi, Ukraine)
Although they aren’t quite as young as Detroit, Cleveland has a youth movement of their own going on, led by 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving. The top overall draft pick in 2011 averaged 18.5 points along with 5.4 assists per game during his first NBA campaign, becoming the only unanimous selection to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Other young talents in Cleveland include Tristan Thompson, the 21-year-old Canadian forward that was picked three spots later at No. 4 in 2011. He will look to build on his numbers from last year (8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game). Add in this year’s first rounders in Dion Waiters (Syracuse) and Tyler Zeller (North Carolina) and you’ve got a nice group that will develop together.
Besides Irving and Thompson, other returning players include Anderson Varejao, who averaged 10.8 PPG and 11.5 RPG when healthy. Alonzo Gee (10.6 PPG), Daniel Gibson (7.5 PPG) and Omri Casspi (7.1 PPG) will also be back in crimson and yellow.
Two seasons past the LeBron exodus, Cleveland’s new squad is taking shape. Led by breakout rookie Irving, there’s enough talent on this roster to make a splash this season or next.