Central Division Preview*
Over/Under 47 1/2 - OVER
Tom Thibodeau’s culture of defense and hustle in Chicago will offset the delayed return of their all-world point guard. Boozer’s contract will again block 35+ minutes of Taj Gibson, and the outcry about the loss of Omer Asik is making me think he’s this years DPOY, when he’s really just a tough defender, and little else. Kirk Hinrich is again battling injuries, so whether he fills in full-time for Rose is up to his body. Thankfully, Marquis Teague showed me enough last year that I don’t think they’re gonna get burned too bad at the point spot; although, Derrick Rose might be the best point guard in the league when he’s healthy, so it’s gonna be a large drop-off no matter who fills in for him.
Joakim Noah, if healthy, is one of the best low-post defenders in the league, and not a total calamity on the offensive end, with a jerky game that’s surprisingly effective in the paint. Rip is healthy and that could mean the difference for a team that will struggle to find buckets. Luol Deng is stil the dang-iest role player around: he plays tough “d” (like every player on a Thibodeau-coached team), but he’s also solid for 17 and 9 on a nightly basis.
Can Boozer play better? That’s a big question and one you should keep track of as the season progresses. This team will finish better than a lot of people expect, and I think they’ll be in the running for home-court in the first round depending on when Rose comes back. I’d like to see Chicago keep him out all season, but I’m not from Chicago.
They’re definitely better than 47 wins. How much more rests on Thibs’ boulder-like shoulders.
Over/Under 30 1/2 - OVER
Kyrie Irving is poised to make the jump to a top 15 player in the league this season. That’s been the common refrain from most NBA prognosticators, and I’m in agreement. I think he’s already in the Deron Williams/Steve Nash level and might make the jump to the first tier soon. Aside from Irving, this team is dreadful.
Alonzo Gee is starting at power forward! That’s more than enough to off-set Varejao’s floppy-headed brilliance and anything Dion Waiters might bring to the table; currently, Waiters is behind C.J. Miles & Gibson for the 2 spot.
This team isn’t very good in real life or on paper, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Varejao is traded for money/expiring contracts/draft picks sometime mid-season. That doesn’t really matter when picking the over. Kyrie Irving is that good. Cleveland has struck gold again in the lottery. I just hope he stays healthy. If he doesn’t, the Cavaliers will be WAY under, and they’ll also get a nice lottery pick. I just concur with most of the experts that this will be a huge year for him. Keep rubbing a rabbit foot, Clevelanders, he has to stay healthy for you to do anything this season.
Over/Under 31 1/2 - OVER
This team is gonna sneak up on some people. Jonas Jerebko, Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince are one of the finest front courts in the Eastern Conference, and based off preseason footage (again, I’m not a big believer in the preseason), Joe Drummond looks fantastic. Rodney Stuckey’s move to off-guard and the emergence of Brandon Knight, means the Pistons are on the up and up.
I doubt Charlie Villanueva will be playing much, and Austin Daye is still a weird tweener (height for PF, girth for SF), with a pretty jumper that’s not as accurate as you’d think. Corey Magette is still a professional when it comes to going to the free throw line, but he doesn’t do anything other than that. If the Pistons second team were to be featured prominently, I’d be less assured they’d achieve the over. But I’m guessing head coach, Lawrence Frank, will sometimes have Drummond and Monroe on the court at the same time, and I like there chances as long as he keeps his rotation 7 or 8 deep and resists the urge to play a lot of their bench yokels.
Over/Under 51 1/2 - UNDER
Never trust a guy after signing a big contract. If it were anyone else, I might agree with this sentiment, but Roy Hibbert really gives a shit. A lot of NBA players that finally get their big pay day might sacrifice their work ethic, but not Hibbert. Look for him to continue to improve this year, flash mob Gangham style dancing, notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, it won’t be enough even with another 7-footer, Ian Mahinmi, backing him up. George Hill is now the only point guard, after dealing Darren Collison to Dallas as part of the Mahinmi deal, and I’m still not sold on him as a starting point guard that can produce for 30+ minutes a game. Danny Granger continues to man the small forward spot and shoot up barely contested mid-range jumpers in the process; this is not a good thing. They’re the least efficient shot in the game and even though a smooth jumper is a sight to behold, it’s not gonna win you basketball games.
David West is back for one more year, but he has to stay healthy, and Paul George is entering his 3rd year. George is the one that everything rests on and he’s got a little too much Rudy Gay in his character for me to be positive about his brilliance moving forward. If George makes the leap and becomes one of the best off-guards in the game (somethign that’s there for him to do), then they’ll shatter this over/under, but if he continues to look passive on offense and doesn’t take the reins from Granger, look for this team to surprise no one on their way to a possible road series in the opening round of the playoffs.
They need Larry back, is what I’m really trying to say.
Over/Under 36 1/2 - UNDER
Monta Ellis got involved in the passing game after coming over from Golden State mid-way through last season. His assist numbers were impressive for a guy that’s usually known as a gunner. That being said, I don’t trust a back-court of Monta and Brandon Jennings. Jennings still has a problem hitting shots at the rim; he drives wildly and can’t finish as well when he contorts to avoid larger players, and he’s not the finest defender, being small enough that opposing guards can back him down.
It’s not a good sign that Sam Dalembert has played for four different teams over the last three years, but he’s a presence at least in the middle, and he’ll get spelled often by the triumvirate of the unpronounceable front court bench guys: Ekpe Udoh, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Ursan Ilyasova. But Drew Gooden and his funky facial hair is still starting at the 4, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. is a solid small forward who plays hard and still shoots well.
With all those pieces, this team will only go as far as their back-court takes them, and with little toughness on the back-line, I don’t think it will be that far. This team is supposed to contend for a playoff spot in the East, but I think they’ll be lottery bound unless they deal Jennings before he beomes a restricted free agent this summer.
*All bets via Bovada