2017-18 Central Division Preview
Our Central Division Prospectus highlights some unique rebuilds and the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Mostly, however, it seems that this preview highlights some of the dismal situations in the Eastern Conference.
From a team whose fate hinges on the ACL of its second-best player, to a No. 8 seed from last season’s playoffs entirely stripped of its success factors, the Central Division borders on depressing as we dive into the over/unders of one of the league’s most lackluster divisions.
Win projection, over/unders c/o Bovada.lv
Regular Season Wins: Over/Under 22
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The Chicago Bulls were surprisingly competitive last season, so to make sure no such thing happens this year, the Bulls let Dwyane Wade walk and traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves to rejoin former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in the Twin Cities. What is left in the wake of the loss is a Bulls team now firmly engaged in a rebuild, without a lot of overwhelming prospects to suggest this season will be much more than a disaster in the Windy City.
NBA oddsmakers at Bovada more than agree, giving the Bulls an over/under of just 22 wins this season, and while Chicago will undoubtedly be horrible, there are some young pieces on the roster that should be able to boost the team actually above 22 wins. No. 1 of those reasons is dynamic 2-guard Zach LaVine, who came as part of the deal that sent Butler to Minnesota.
LaVine is a potential superstar, but he sustained an ACL injury he is supposed to be nearly fully recovered from. If LaVine takes his game to the next level and lottery pick Lauri Markakken taps into some of his immense potential, the Bulls could be a bit of a surprise. By surprise, we simply mean 25 wins, and an OVER on that paltry win total set by NBA oddsmakers.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 53.5
Over (-140); Under (+110)
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost 1-4 to the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, but LeBron James, player and GM (jokes aside?), went and made some acquisitions to try to bolster the roster against a seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors team. To be clear, most are expecting the fourth straight matchup between the Cavs and Warriors in the Finals, and James brought aboard old friend Dwyane Wade to help with that chase, as well as signing Derrick Rose to provide some backup guard play that the Cavs so badly lacked last season.
Wade will likely start at 2-guard, which pushes J.R. Smith to the bench where he will team up with Rose, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. Rose, still, may yet start, but his role seems better suited to that of a sixth man, to provide some scoring and explosiveness to the second unit. The thing is, if Rose does not start, that means Cleveland has to choose between sophomore guard Kay Felder (who is just 5-foot-9) and the ancient Jose Calderon?
What you are thinking is what we are seeing: a lot of washed up and overrated players that cannot be the difference maker in usurping the Warriors’ status as reigning champions. Even while Jae Crowder could be a difference-maker in slowing Kevin Durant in the 2018 Finals, the Cavaliers are still a full level behind what the Dubs have going with its high-powered assault that even James was not enough to overcome. Even so, the team will likely find a way to the mid-50s in season wins and be a good bet on the OVER of 53.5.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 38.5
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The Detroit Pistons added Avery Bradley this offseason, but made few other moves that really will drastically alter the roster from last season. Continued maturation of Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Jon Leuer could help some, but this team really has no game-changers that spell that of a roster designed to finish above .500. Losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will prove to hurt a lot, even if Bradley is a defensive upgrade over Detroit’s former 2-guard.
Moreover, Reggie Jackson has been shopped and was nearly dealt to New Orleans, but the Pistons are still reliant on him as its best offensive player? Andre Drummond has stalled out and failed to improve over the past few seasons. Is Boban Marjanovic more promising? When questions like this are being asked, it is easy to see how we are so bullish on the Pistons. Detroit will fall short of the 38.5 wins and likely win 33 to 35 games, so we are going with the UNDER here.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 31.5
Over (-115); Under (-115)
The Indiana Pacers finally bid adieu to its franchise player Paul George. That hands the reigns to Myles Turner to become the superstar the Pacers are hedging he can be. Along with Young, the team adds former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo, which will generate some homegrown excitement, but is unlikely to result in much improvement from last season’s mediocrity.
The Pacers roster an array of replacement-level talents at other positions, like Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison, and with so much of its roster resembling fringe rotation players (on a contending team) is there any way that Indy does much more than scrape through the regular season en route to a 2018 lottery pick?
Few think so, including NBA oddsmakers who set the line at just 31.5 wins. As to whether the team betters that mark or not, largely depends on just how good Turner can be now that he has become the team’s de facto star. While he has certainly shown flashes of being that type of star, he is immature to lead a team at this point in his career and we expect the Pacers to fall below 30 wins, making this an UNDER.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 47.5
Over (+110); Under (-140)
The Milwaukee Bucks surprised some last season, but the biggest surprise was the loss of Jabari Parker to his second ACL injury in his young promising career. It was the same ACL that held Parker out his rookie NBA season, and it lingers over both his career, and the Bucks, as a major limiting factor in this team’s ascent.
The theme is familiar, as last season the Bucks had to play the first-half of the year without shooting guard Khris Middleton, a very good but overlooked shooting guard who could make an All-Star bid before he lands a sneaker contract.
That kind of sums up Milwaukee, though, a team possessing one of the league’s best young talents in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but still something of a team that is far better (and more interesting) on paper than it is on the court. Antetokounmpo is committed to Milwaukee and helping the Bucks become winners, but with the back luck and injuries that have hit Parker this year, and Middleton last year, can the Bucks do more than intrigue league pass surveyors?
Sure, there is a certain ring and excitement to “Fear the Deer,” but without putting together a more balanced roster, it seems like Milwaukee is more of a breeding ground for talent than a team that other NBA teams are going to necessarily “fear.” Also, 47.5 wins is an awful lot to ask from a team that is without its second-best player with Parker’s career entirely in question at this point.
If Parker returned to full-force the Bucks could do eclipse this win figure, but without a clean bill of health it seems mostly like fantasy, and we are going with a 41-win season and an UNDER on this prop bet. Even if the Greek Freak goes entirely bonkers, he just lacks enough complementary pieces, particularly with Parker’s ACL being that best option as a running-mate.