CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
Continuing our 2020-21 previews, here is a quick look at how things shape up in the NBA’s Central Division.
The Chicago Bulls are a team with sufficient talent to be better than expected by most pundits. Coby White is an elite scoring guard and Zach LaVine is potent in his own right. The two should pair well, with a frontcourt rotation that features a consummate small forward in Otto Porter and a sharpshooting 4 in Lauri Markkanen.
Wendell Carter Jr could still make big steps forward at center. Daniel Gafford has a future as a reserve. The Bulls get shaky in the backup rotations at 3/4, and the backup guard Tomas Satoransky and Denzel Valentine both have their question marks.
Overall, to see the Bulls go .500-plus and make the playoffs would not be surprising, but the potential for major defensive issues looms with this lineup really, which does cap its potential to a degree at least.
Projected Record: 34-38
The Cleveland Cavaliers have some interesting prospects. How well they all fit together is anyone’s guess. The backcourt basically features two combo guards with Darius Garland and Collin Sexton something of interchangeable parts. Kevin Porter Jr is the third guard in that rotation, and he has significant promise too.
Rookie Isaac Okoro joins to start at small forward, with Kevin Love and Andre Drummond providing more rebounding prowess than one frontcourt could ever need. Overall, with Larry Nance providing his boost and energy off the bench, the Cavs could gut its way to more wins than expected. This team has talent at every position, while perhaps lacking a top-shelf closer at least for the moment (Sexton has the potential to develop into this).
Projected Record: 33-39
The Detroit Pistons will have a much different look without the dominance of Andre Drummond in the paint. The backcourt also takes on a rookie point guard in Killian Hayes, and while he is a talented guard, the transition for rookie 1s has never been easy. That said, Blake Griffin will function in his usual role of point-forward to take off at least some of the pressure from Hayes’ load.
That said, outside of super athlete Sekou Doumbouya, there are few reasons for intrigue on this roster. Even with Derrick Rose having revamped his entire career, there is a scarcity of talent in every regard on this roster. Griffin and Rose would have to play nearly every game healthy with Hayes adapting quickly to even sniff a playoff chance. That said, with the new play-in games the Pistons could stink up the regular season and find a playoff berth by some stroke of late-season luck. It is unlikely though.
Projected Record: 25-47
The Indiana Pacers are hoping for health from Victor Oladipo and a continued breakout from small forward TJ Warren, who played his way to superstar status in the bubble. Beyond that, it starts a dynamite 4/5 combo with Domantas Sabonis’ soft shooting touch and Myles Turner’s staunch defense. Indiana will make its calling card on the defensive end, and Aaron Holiday should get more chances this year behind Malcolm Brogdon and Oladipo.
Justin Holiday also could breakout behind TJ Warren. There is a lot of talent and Goga Bitadze is a solid backup at both the 4/5 positions. Doug McDermott is useful as a second unit shooter. There is a lot to like about Indiana’s roster construction, and while it lacks a premier superstar, there are no less than four candidates who could leap to that tier.
Projected Record: 47-24
The Milwaukee Bucks should have its best chance to contend this season. The acquisition of Jrue Holiday is huge, and he will start at point guard while defending three positions as usual. He is tremendous on both ends of the court, and Donte DiVincenzo will become a starter this year finally. Khris Middleton remains criminally underrated in the immense shadow of team superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Brook Lopez has proven a reliable center with range and defensive ability. The Bucks also added a reliable backup point guard in DJ Augustin. Bobby Portis comes from New York via Chicago and has had consistency issues his entire career, but when he locks in he is a dangerous player with shooting range and athleticism. The Bucks will contend this season as Holiday adds a lot of missing elements to the team.
Projected Record: 55-17