The NBA’s Central Division featured the 2017 NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who are predictably the toast of the division and as close a thing as there is to a lock for a division winner at -1100 on NBA futures odds at Bovada.
The Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons are both playoff-caliber clubs, and the Milwaukee Bucks have a young collection of talent that will pique a lot of interest as a league pass darling. Even the maladjusted Chicago Bulls lineup offers the chance at playoff basketball, but lack of spacing and depth seem to doom Fred Holberg’s team.
The Central Division belongs to Cleveland, but Indiana and Detroit will likely be postseason threats at the minimum. Stan Van Gundy alone makes Detroit relevant, and Paul George is a true superstar in Indiana.
(All odds and futures bets c/o Bovada.lv)
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers
Odds to win Central Division: -1100
Odds to win NBA Title: +300
Over/Under 56.5 wins
It is too hard to bet against LeBron James, who has now appeared in six consecutive NBA Finals and solidified his place as an all-time great. Whether fans like him or not, James’ all-around dominance and effect on a game is impossible to deny and the league’s best player makes the Cavs threats even to the loaded Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving has now asserted himself as a big time proven performer too, which makes it bearable that Kevin Love has regressed to being a shell of the dominant 4 he once was.
Even with Love producing at a humble 16/10 clip, the Cavs are still a really tough team to beat. Tristan Thompson adds interior toughness, defense and depth and J.R. Smith is a shot hitter, even if his shot selection has been one of the worst we have ever seen. The Cavs will also have the veterans on the roster to provide the steady play it needs, whether it be sharpshooter Channing Frye, the ageless Mo Williams or James Jones.
These are not guys that pop off the roster, but on the right veteran team like the Cavs the are very useful. Frye hits over 40 percent from behind the arc, and that always makes him playable. The Cavs got him for next to nothing from the Orlando Magic at the 2017 trade deadline. Cleveland will be there again representing the East, barring an incredible show from the Celtics or Raptors which oddsmakers project to be exceedingly unlikely.
Can Cleveland repeat? Oddsmakers favor the Golden State Warriors, but who really does want to bet against LeBron James? At +300, the Cavs seem to offer some good betting value. This is, after all, a team that rallied from a 3-1 Finals deficit to defeat the winningest team of all-time. What is there not to like at +300?
Prediction: 60 wins (over)
(2) Indiana Pacers
Odds to win Central Division: +1200
Odds to win NBA Title: +6600
Over/Under 44.5 wins
A different take may be that the Indiana Pacers have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA. Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner and Paul George are as good at the 3/4/5 spots as any trio in the Association, and the Pacers have experience in the backcourt with Monta Ellis and Jeff Teague. This is a team constructed well enough to be postseason threats, and Indiana really may be a team capable of causing some problems in the East.
It really begins with Turner. He is the player on this team most capable of taking the leap towards stardom, and a comparison to a defensive-minded LaMarcus Aldridge is as fair as it is lofty. Turner is a basketball player, flat out, and his positionality as a 4/5 does not matter all that much. He can thrive at the 5-spot with Young serving as a strong stretch-4 and a guy whose value has not gone unnoticed over the last few seasons despite failing to land a role on a good team.
Young can be the court stretcher to pair with Turner that gives Indiana shooting at all five positions. And this is a shooting league. Add to the fact that the Pacers should be a plus-defensive team, and it is difficult to imagine the team winning less than 50 games.
The Pacers do have depth with C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench, so the fall off to the second unit can be painless when either of those sharpshooters get going. The Pacers also have a tough Lavoy Allen at the 4, and Glenn Robinson III to develop in the backcourt. Indiana should have adequate depth to hang with most opposing second units.
That said, Indiana likely cannot do much more than that either. George is a true superstar, but he is outclassed by James and the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors both have more depth and balance. Indiana could finish as high as No. 2 in the East, but it is more likely they are No. 4 or No. 5, battling it out with Detroit for home court advantage in a 4 vs 5 series. Indiana is a good enough team to consider as second round playoff threats, but without Turner making a rapid progression ahead of schedule, this team still is one that is merely on the cusp of being actual contenders.
Prediction: 48 wins (over)
(3) Detroit Pistons
Odds to win Central Division: +2500
Odds to win NBA Title: +10000
Over/Under 44.5 wins
The Detroit Pistons were dealt a tough blow when starting point guard Reggie Jackson injured his left knee (and his thumb). He is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks, which leaves Detroit hurting for a starting 1. That may slow the Pistons coming out of the gate this season, unless Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can shoulder a much larger offensive role than he has over his NBA career. He has been a big minutes guy, but is mostly a defender and the Pistons need someone to step up a playmaker until Jackson is back.
Expect former Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris to also see more of a playmaking role, but the loss of Jackson still really hurts the Pistons badly. Beginning the season in a rut is also kind of like playing behind the eight ball in some senses, as the Pistons will still be looking to build initial momentum as other teams are hitting “mid-season form.”
That said, once Jackson does come back, this is a team capable of damage. Andre Drummond is arguably the best center in the league, and his commitment towards leading the league in rebounding again is exactly what it should be. He has the legs and strength to lead the league in caroms for the next half-decade at least, and as long as Detroit has Drummond anchoring it in the paint it will be a top defensive team. For the second time in his coaching career, Stan Van Gundy has taken charge of a dominant center and shaped his team around him.
The Pistons will go as far as Drummond carries them, even if Jackson is the key guard on the roster and premier perimeter scorer. Harris is a perfect fit in Detroit and can be the high volume scorer to ensure that this defensive team gets its fair share of wins. Stanley Johnson and Marcus Morris are both good small forwards, and Johnson could become one of the best defensive stoppers at the 3/4 positions sooner than later. He wants to play some point guard, and while he may not be best suited for it, the confidence he is showing in his offensive game is a good sign. Detroit can win a lot of games of it is offense outperforms expectations.
Prediction: 44 wins (under)
(4) Milwaukee Bucks
Odds to win Central Division: +5000
Odds to win NBA Title: +10000
Over/Under 34.5 wins
The Milwaukee Bucks are something of a sleeper team, if only because they figure to outperform the Chicago Bulls who are given much better odds at making a run at the division. Milwaukee, though, has a unique collection of talent and a transcendent star in Giannis Antetoukounmpo. The “Greek Freak” can do it all, and the Bucks are planning to test his playmaking abilities in a point-forward type of role this season. At 6’11” and with a 7’6” wingspan, he has the length to stretch it out and make some plays, and his ability to convert defense into offense should help the Bucks become a tough team in transition.
That is because Antetounkounmpo is running with a talented frontcourt mate in Jabari Parker. Parker is finally fully recovered and he showed it by banging his head on the rim in a preseason game on a dunk he converted into a three-point play. Parker was once thought to be a franchise player, and truthfully, he still is. He has a smooth offensive game and can effortlessly score 20 points per game over his career. With the Bucks not bereft of talent outside this combo, there are a lot of reasons to fear the deer.
One setback is the loss of Khris Middleton, who is out the majority of the season. The Bucks dealt for Tony Snell, but it is unclear whether he will factor into the team much more than their their other recent acquisition Michael Beasley. The Bucks really need Middleton, given he is a guy who could easily make the leap to being an NBA All-Star. He is a premier shooter and an above-average defender, and after being a second round pick in 2012 he has developed quickly into much more than some sort of second round fodder. The Bucks have been scrambling for answers.
Before Milwaukee can fully come together as any sort of threat, it needs Middleton healthy, but this is a club coached by Jason Kidd and capable of playing some serious defense. With rookie lottery pick Thon Maker and John Henson as two more premier defensive cogs in the second unit, the Bucks could be a team that causes a lot of problems in half court sets for teams trying to get into their sets. The length will help this team win “50/50 balls” and some games.
Prediction: 38 wins (over)
(5) Chicago Bulls
Odds to win Central Division: +1800
Odds to win NBA Title: +4000
Over/Under 38.5 wins
Off-hand, it may seem harsh to put Chicago behind both Milwaukee and Detroit, but the Chicago Bulls are just not a well-built basketball team, particularly not in this era. Dwyane Wade shot 15 percent from three last season, and though Rajon Rondo is far better than often given credit for, the Bulls are going to have major problems with court spacing. Trading Tony Snell, a 35 percent marksman, for an errant shooting Michael Carter-Williams only exacerbates this issue.
The Bulls have two sharpshooters, but it is a problem that they are not really playable together. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott are the two best shooters, but both are power forwards and defensive liabilities if played at the 3-spot. The Bulls do not have any other shooters to speak of, and that is going to ultimately lead to a real lack of spacing. Wade and Rondo will not be able to get to the basket if teams ultimately just clog the paint and dare Chicago to shoot the ball. It does not seem like a winning formula, and really this has the potential to be a total disaster.
On a talent level alone? Chicago is better than both Detroit and Milwaukee, even if its two best player are aged legends of sorts in Wade and Rondo. This is still a team with Jimmy Butler who is arguably a top-15 NBA talent. Butler’s two-way skills and ability to play huge minutes keeps Chicago from falling apart completely, but there is not enough shooting on this roster and it seems like something best suited towards ball played 15 years ago.
Prediction: 32 wins (under)