This is our third (of six) NBA preview blogs. Today we look at the Central Division (Bulls; Cavs; Pistons; Pacers and Bucks). Stats are provided by ESPN, anecdotes sourced from the Athletic but “takes” and win totals are all Brian.
The Bulls will likely start: Thomas Satoransky (free agent from Wizards); Zach LaVine; Otto Porter; Lauri Markannen and Wendell Carter. Backups will include: first round pick, big afro, fun to watch, three point gunner Coby White; Kris Dunn; Ryan Arcidiacano; Denzel Valentine (often injured former Spartan); Thad Young (free agent from Pacers) and Luke Kornet (free agent from Knicks). LaVine, the Bulls best overall player, had a nice stat line last year with 23.7 points per game; 4.7 rebounds; 4.5 assists and 47% shooting % in his 5th year in the league. He needs to improve his defense and get to the line more often vs. settling for jumpers. Satoransky and Young should help improve the Bulls defense from sixth worst last year at 112.8 ppg. We like some of the young pieces here, especially White, Markannen and Carter. Porter is solid but as the Athletic indicates the Bulls are weak at the small forward position behind him so some three guard line-ups are possible. Look for Coby White to get time at the shooting guard. The Athletic predicts 40 wins for the Bulls (up from 20 last year so a significant improvement). Bri says 34 wins for the 2019-20 Bulls..
John Beilin, the mid 60’s first time NBA coach, (after 40+ years coaching in college), is leading a complete Cavs rebuild. Expected starters include: rookie Darius Garland who played less than 10 games for Vandy last year due to injury; shot creator/highlight reel Colin Sexton; Cedi Osman; All Star Kevin Love and long time Cav Tristan Thompson. The bench mob should include: Delly at back up point guard; Jordan Clarkson as back up shooting guard; rookies Kevin Porter or super shooter Dylan Windler (strained tibia so may miss time) at small forward; Larry Nance Jr and Ante Zizic. We expect Osman to be on the bench by mid-season as the Cavs go with rookies-Porter is uber talented but will likely need a lot of guidance-Beilin, (who took his team to see owner Dan Gilbert who is recovering from a stroke), could be a perfect coach on the court and off it for Porter. This is a multi year rebuild but most Cavs fans are probably ok with that given their 2016 NBA title. The Athletic reports Love is owed $120MM over the next 4 years. Bri has been speculating about a potential trade of Love to Portland, (he is originally from Oregon), for draft picks. The Blazers lost both starting forwards (Aminu and Harkless) from last year’s Western Conference finals team to free agency. They may be battling for a playoff spot in the super competitive Western Conference so look for a Love trade to Portland if the price is right (Zach Collins and two first round picks?). Delly, Clarkson and long time Buck John Henson are on expiring contracts so look for potential deadline trades with these guys as well. Athletic says 26 wins, Bri says 25.
The Pistons were the 8 seed in the East last year, that might be tough to repeat with Heat improving. Starters: Reggie Jackson (expiring contract); Luke Kennard (good shooter who improved in second half) or Bruce Brown (good defender); former Buck 3 and D wing Tony Snell; All Star Blake Griffin (3 years $110MM left, nagging injuries but remade himself into a 36% shooter from three) and big Andre Drummond. Bench will be: Derrick Rose (still fun to watch get buckets in his mid/late 30’s); Langston Galloway; Markieff Morris and former Buck Thon Maker (still needs to add muscle). The rumors are the Pistons last roster spot is a battle between 38 year old Joe Johnson (last seen in 3 on 3 league) and former Buck/G league dominating big man Christian Wood. We think the Pistons should go young (Wood over Johnson) and rebuild as this team seems stuck in the mud fighting for the last spot in the East-we say trade Blake (Dallas perhaps?)/blow it up. Athletic says 34 wins, Bri says 35.
Starters are likely: Malcolm Brogdon; Jeremy Lamb; TJ Warren; Domantis Sabonis and Myles Turner. Bench should include: TJ McConnell/Aaron Holliday; Justin Holliday; Doug McDermott; TJ Leaf and rookie center Goga Bitadze. When Oladipo returns, (out at least 2 months with a knee), Lamb strengthens the bench. Bri says Pacers should trade Sabonis for Gordon Hayward to strengthen the wing, (back home again in Indiana for Hayward who played at Butler), but for now the Pacers will go with the two starting big guys as Turner shoots the three well and Sabonis works beautifully inside. Note: Rumors of Sabonis for Jaylen Brown trade are also in the air. Brogdon signed 4 year $80MM deal but is he a true point guard and can he be THE MAN in crunch time until Victor returns? Lamb at 3 years $31MM is a nice scoring punch (free agent from Charlotte). Candidly we do not know what to make of TJ Warren (never get a chance to see the Suns on TV). We don’t talk much about coaching but we really like Nate McMillan-focused on defense. Athletic says 42 wins, Bri says 46.
Simply said the Bucks need to make the NBA Finals this season (before Durant returns from injury in 2020-21). Starters include: Bledsoe (may miss the first week); Wes Matthews; Middleton (new contract); NBA MVP Giannis; and Brook Lopez. Bench includes: George Hill; Pat Connaughton; Sterling Brown; Ersan Ilyasova and Robin Lopez. DiVincenzo and Korver (All Star under Bud with Atlanta) should play as well. DJ Wilson may play some but could see more time if the Bucks trade Ersan’s expiring contract. Why would they trade Ersan?-if they are not happy with the shooting guard situation. We know what we have with most of these guys (and coach Bud’s system (60 wins last year). The Bucks need to sort through the rotations to be ready for playoffs. Could you see a jumbo lineup of: Bledsoe; Middleton; Giannis; Brook and Robin in key situations? Athletic says 59 wins, Bri says 58.
BRI’s EASTERN CONFERENCE PLYOFF TEAMS/WIN TOTALS