LeBron James has left his cavalry behind to take flight in the City of Angels, which leaves the four remaining franchises in the Central Division with an altogether more visible path down the yellow brick road to glory.
With almost unlimited depth and talent, expect to see the Indiana Pacers and the Milwaukee Bucks battle it out in some of the most intense competition we’ve seen in a number of years.
For a four-year, $120 million contract, the Cavaliers anchored-down Kevin Love. A steep cost initially, but Love is a man that will now form Cleveland’s nucleus. Looking ahead, Cleveland have also secured their future point guard in Collin Sexton, who was drafted with the number 8 pick.
Sexton has some big shoes to fill – that of Kyrie Irving’s (and his shoes are delightful) – and despite the initial negative response to his signing with the Cavs, taking Kyrie’s number to boot, he is a player that should in no way be underestimated.
Collin Sexton asked about following in Kyrie Irving’s footsteps. Points out that “Mo Williams also wore No. 2”
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) September 24, 2018
Sexton earned Summer League first team honours and averaged 19.6 points, and only has Love to contend with in some manner. Quite possibly a Rookie of the Year contender, and Cleveland’s next franchise centrepiece.
George Hill, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith should work well for the Cavs in keeping them in the top tiers, as they are contracted until 2020. The question that remains: Will Cleveland compete and take a stab at the East, or will they bottle it and begin fracturing the team? Only time will tell, and of course, keeping an eye on the scoreboard…
Diving straight in at the offensive end of the Bulls, the franchise’s horns are most definitely sharp ahead of the upcoming season. Their problem lies with defence.
The re-signing of Zach LaVine, for a hefty four-year $78 million contract, is the most notable move from the Bulls. His prior performance in defence led to his reputation getting hit. He was ranked 511th in the League for defence last season, but he has vowed to improve on his weak side performance, an issue he has identified.
The defensive lull may also be partially filled by Jabari Parker, who was contracted in on a two-year, $40 million deal. Alongside Lauri Markannen’s rebounding and ever-improving three-point shooting and a healthy, improved LaVine – we may begin to see the Bulls move in a positive direction.
Keep an eye on rookie Wendell Carter Jr too, as we may see the beginnings of one of the NBA’s best all-round players.
Giannis ‘The Greek Freak’ Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ cornerstone. Giannis finished sixth in MVP voting, averaged 10 rebounds and 26.9 points per game last season, with ‘Bron now gone, he has his sights set on a potential MVP campaign.
Coupled with a solid supporting cast this franchise could steamroll their division. However, this may be substantially harder than initial reports let on.
One of the more questionable decisions Milwaukee made was to let go of Jabari Parker, who was the number two pick in 2014, as he could have taken off some of the pressure off Giannis.
Giannis said today he showed up THREE HOURS early to his workout with Kobe.
"I'm not here to F around" ? pic.twitter.com/aOJdSqgPag
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 24, 2018
The Bucks are lacking in two departments, three-point shooting (of which they averaged just 8.8 threes last season) and rebounding. This issue may begin to fade, with the appointment of Atlanta’s Budenholzer and the signing of a particularly versatile centre in Brook Lopez.
The Bucks finished with a top-10 offence last season despite lacking shooting talent. With both rebounding, floor-coverage and shooting from Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova and Eric Bledsoe and a coach experienced in range-shooting offence – Milwaukee are the ones to watch.
The Toronto Raptors dropped a particular gem in Dwayne Casey, who won them a franchise-record 59 wins and got them to the playoffs five times. Bizarre yes, but his appointment adds a particularly powerful engine to Motor City.
The Pistons’ big-three come in the form of Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. Drummond has potential to add versatility to the Pistons, with a league-leading 16 rebounds last season and his latest “green light” from Casey to shoot opportunity three’s (a dire aspect of his former game, as he shot 0-11 last season), we may begin to see some solid offence from him.
All being well with Griffin’s health, Casey may be able to extract that potential from the five-time All-Star. Jackson, who is still slowly being brought on after an ankle injury, averaged around 14.5 points per game in his last two seasons, on 40 percent shooting and 5.5 assists. His health is also a priority and rightfully so, but if we see these three fit to play, the Pistons should start making a dent.
The Pacers pushed LeBron and the Cavs to the edge in the first round after winning 48 games last season. With some notable additions ahead of the new season, the Pacers are boasting a depth that may once again drown out their competition.
Tyreke Evans also represents a terrific addition, and could be a suitable man to take Oladipo’s place whenever he sits out. Evans sank 38.7 percent of threes in his last few seasons, and could be the best sixth man in the NBA.
Do they have any weakness? It’s not quite clear yet. Expect Indiana to rain threes and success in this season.