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CHARGED NBA Preview: Central Division

by Photo of Moke Hamilton

With only 66 games in the season, CHARGED is in the fast lane with part one of Moke Hamilton’s six-part 2011-12 NBA Preview

CHARGED NBA Preview: Central Division

For the modern NBA fan, egg nog and turtlenecks probably rank no higher than second on the list of “favorite things about Christmas.” Christmas has become all about basketball, baby! And this year, since Christmas Day was opening day for the 2011-2012 NBA Season, I think it’s safe to say that the anticipation was a bit higher than in previous years. How else would you explain the NBA’s insane Christmas Day ratings?

Yes, we’ll only get 66 games. The playoffs will begin later than usual, and there will be a much smaller sample size of games from which fans can base their All-Star game votes.

But at the end of the day, there will be sixteen playoff teams, two conference champions, and one team holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy come late June. Welcome to CHARGED.fm’s 2011-2012 NBA Season Preview. This is a six part series, each part dedicated to breaking down the five teams in each of the NBA’s six divisions. We’ll predict a division winner, tell you why, and identify some key players who might make the difference for their respective ball clubs.

Check back right here over the next week as we break down the NBA’s other five divisions. Here's the schedule:

Wednesday:
Central Division (Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons) 

Thursday:
Pacific Division (Clippers, Kings, Lakers, Suns, Warriors) 

Friday
Atlantic Division (Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors, Sixers) 

Monday
Southwest Division (Grizzlies, Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs) 

Tuesday:
Southeast Division (Bobcats, Hawks, Heat, Magic, Wizards) 

Wednesday:
Northwest Division (Jazz, Nuggets, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trailblazers)

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The NBA’s Central Division, once one of its toughest, is now one of the easiest to call. Last season’s division champions—the Chicago Bulls—proudly represented the division as they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Miami Heat. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers struggled to remain relevant en route to winning a total of 19 games. At least we know the bookends will probably be the same.

Cleveland Cavaliers 2012 Division Projection: 5th

In the post Lebron era, the Cavaliers will continue to struggle. Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson have given the franchise some hope for the future, but a team like the Washington Wizards have had a few years worth of a head start and are currently showing how painful a rebuilding process can be. The Cavaliers have solid coaching and a few solid rotation players in Ramon Sessions, Anderson Varejao, and Omri Casspi, but in all, it’s far too little to compete against rest of the division. I picked Kyrie Irving to be my Rookie of the Year, only because he’ll play plenty of minutes and will need to do plenty of scoring just so the Cavs can remain relevant. For Cavs fans, another trip to the lottery and a shot at getting another solid star for the future via this June’s 2012 NBA Draft awaits. The X-Factor for the Cavs is Anderson Varejao. In my opinion, he’s nothing more than a scrappy defender and pick and roll threat, but if he watched some Luis Scola film and tried to develop a few post moves, he could make a difference for the Cavs.

Detroit Pistons 2012 Division Projection: 4th

At some point, the Pistons will prove itself to be the quintessential “addition by subtraction” scenario. Things have been downhill since the franchise traded Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets back in 2008. Today, after three years of “rebuilding” the team has some redundant parts that it needs to spare. Their roster resemble a team full of guys acquired more so because they were the best guy available at a particular time than a team that looks to be building a cohesive unit. Who’s team is this? Rodney Stuckey’s? Then why did they draft Brandon Knight? Why do they still have Will Bynum? Is Ben Gordon the long-term sixth man? Then what’s Charlie Villanueva’s role? Are Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, and Jonas Jerebko as good as their sporadic flashes of brilliance suggest? If so, why did the Pistons re-sign Tayshaun Prince? These are all fair questions that new head coach Lawrence Frank must figure out. It’s a good problem to have, but until the Pistons unload some of their spare pieces and decide who they’re building around, they’ll struggle. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy to figure things out in a 66-game lockout shortened season. The X-Factor for the Pistons is Lawrence Frank. This team has talent, and if he figures out how to utilize it, maybe they can contend for a playoff spot in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks 2012 Division Projection: 3rd

History has shown that the third year is when most NBA players prove their worth. And the time is now for Brandon Jennings. After helping to lead the Bucks to the playoffs in his rookie year, they missed the party last year. Some think he’s a stud while others think he’s a career 40 percent shooter from the field that shoots too much and isn’t much of a floor general. But with Beno Udrih, Stephen Jackson, and Mike Dunleavy added to the mix, health is the only thing that should keep the Bucks out of the playoffs this year. They have a sneaky good roster and enough experience to expect to make the postseason party. Their X-Factor is Andrew Bogut. He has very quietly become a very proficient low post scorer and defender. The main concern? He’s only played all 82 games once, and that was in his rookie year in 2005-2006. Without him, the Bucks will have no interior presence and hence, no chance against the likes of those I expect to rise to the top of the conference.

Indiana Pacers 2012 Division Projection: 2nd

The Chicago Bulls should be thanking Chris Wallace for deciding to hold off on trading O.J. Mayo to the Pacers. I think Mayo’s NBA game has long been underrated and would have added something to the Pacers that seems to be their only missing piece—a reliable threat to create their own shot off the dribble and finish at the rim. Danny Granger, the leader of this young club, is most comfortable out on the perimeter, and he’ll be able to play there with the addition of David West. West is a solid post presence and should work nicely with Roy Hibbert. Newly acquired George Hill and sixth man Tyler Hansbrough give the Pacers two guys off the bench that that can play a number of positions. The end result is the young team whose experience last year in the playoffs should—when combined with West and Hill—be better. I expect the Pacers to be better than most expect, and that includes battling for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The X-Factor for the Pacers is David West. If he is fully healthy, he will add a missing dimension to the Pacers and help them challenge the Bulls for the division crown.

Chicago Bulls 2012 Division Projection: 1st

All things considered, you’d be a fool to bet against Chicago. As my colleague, Ross Bernhardt eloquently pointed out: Derrick Rose is pretty good. That said, continuity in the realm of coaching and rotation pieces is of the utmost importance for a young team. They’re toiling, just like the Thunder. Biggest positive for the Bulls is the addition of Richard Hamilton. He’s a solid piece that can play without the ball and should continue to be a reliable midrange shooter. He’ll make them stronger. Although I don’t like the Bulls to win the conference, they’re a shoe-in to win the division for the second consecutive year. That is assuming their X-Factor, Derrick Rose, continues to play his MVP caliber ball. I’d say they’re in good hands.

Tune in Friday for Moke's Pacific Division rankings. It just might shock you.

Moke Hamilton is the Lead NBA Writer for CHARGED.fm and covers the New York Knicks for SheridanHoops.com. For the latest in the world of the NBA, follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton


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