The second-to-last division overview of the 2019-2020 NBA season preview is the Central Division of the Eastern Conference, which should be somewhat weaker than the Atlantic Division, but stronger than the pitiful Southeast Division, and features the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Players Added: Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver, Robin Lopez, Dragan Bender, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Jaylen Adam
Players Lost: Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Nikola Mirotic, Bonzie Colson, Tim Frazier, Pau Gasol
Summary: The Bucks were just two games away from the NBA Finals last year. Surprisingly, for a team of that level, the Bucks saw a lot of turnover this summer. They let Malcolm Brogdon walk, watched as Nikola Mirotic moved back to Europe, and shifted the end of their bench. In the end, Brogdon is the real loss, a solid defender and excellent shooter who was an ideal fit playing off of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton. Those core three, along with Brook Lopez, will return, but the departure of Brogdon lowers the Bucks’ ceiling a bit. The Bucks’ tried and true identity with shooters around Giannis and the greatness of the Greek Freak himself will power them to one of the best records in the NBA again, but they definitely got worse this summer. The upside for the Bucks lies in their younger players such as Sterling Brown and DJ Wilson, but coach Bud usually tends towards veterans such as Korver, and that could prevent the young guys from getting the minutes they need.
Predicted Record: 57-25
Players Added: Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ Warren, Justin Holiday, TJ McConnell, Goga Bitadze, JaKarr Sampson
Players Lost: Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, Wes Matthews, Kyle O’Quinn
Summary: The Pacers are one of the more divisive teams in the Eastern Conference, with many pundits having them as a playoff lock and a potential home-court challenger, and others leaning towards them missing the playoffs. Why the confusion? Well, the Pacers underwent some major roster turnover, with many of their key players of the past two years moving on. Their replacements, in a vacuum, look pretty good – the Pacers stole Jeremy Lamb and TJ Warren at low cost, and both should be solid bench scorers at the very least. Malcolm Brogdon is excellent, and will be a big loss for Milwaukee (as mentioned just above). However, Brogdon isn’t really a point guard or lead ball-handler, and that is the duty he will fulfill with Collison and Joseph gone and Victor Oladipo hurt. His ability to fill that gap will be a huge factor in determining the Pacers’ season.
Questions linger elsewhere as well. When will Oladipo come back, and how will he look when he does after missing a year of action? Can Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner play together? Will one of them get traded? There are all sorts of variables with the Pacers, but at bottom, they have a fair amount of talent, a good head coach, and a potential star return in the wings. At the least, I believe they can sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed.
Predicted Record: 43-39
Players Added: Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoranksy, Coby White, Luke Kornet, Daniel Gafford
Players Lost: Robin Lopez, JaKarr Sampson, Wayne Selden, Antonio Blakeney, Tyler Ulis
Summary: Winning 40 games might seem a tall order for a Bulls team that has been downright horrific the last couple years. And maybe it will be. But their roster is sneakily good, and if a couple of their younger guys break out, this record could even look conservative. Thad Young and Otto Porter are both analytics darlings, very solid two-way players with experience in big games. They are better veterans than Chicago has seen since the departure of Jimmy Butler and will especially help the Bulls defensively. Satoransky is a huge upgrade at point guard over the motley crew of G-Leaguers and disappointing prospects the Bulls have trotted out in recent years, and is a nice complement to Zach LaVine. The addition of those three guys alone should push the Bulls from “bad” to “competent”, and a leap into the mid-30s in terms of wins. If Wendell Carter Jr. can stay healthy and improve on a promising rookie campaign, or Lauri Markkanen becomes more than an outside shooter, the Bulls could be legitimately good. They’re not going to be great, but solid and entertaining is a massive step up.
Predicted Record: 40-42
Players Added: Tony Snell, Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Joe Johnson, Sekou Doumbouya, Christian Wood
Players Lost: Wayne Ellington, Ish Smith, Jose Calderon, Jon Leuer, Glenn Robinson III, Zach Pachulia
Summary: There might not be a less interesting, more mediocre team in the NBA than the Pistons, who have seemingly dedicated themselves to winning 35-44 wins and gunning for the 8th seed over the past few years. They should be right in that range again this year, with the brilliance of Blake Griffin taking them farther than they have any business going. That said, Griffin is 30, with a great deal of wear and tear and many injuries both major and nagging in his career. It seems unlikely he will meet or exceed his production from last year, and if he doesn’t, this team will be in trouble.
There just isn’t a whole lot else here. Andre Drummond is a fantastic rebounder yet has never progressed beyond fringe All-Star status into the level of franchise player he flashed becoming early in his career. Reggie Jackson is a fine point guard when healthy – but he never is. Derrick Rose can get buckets but hasn’t made plays for others or played defense in half a decade. Markieff Morris loafed through most of the past two years with the Wizards, and a mediocre Pistons team probably won’t receive his best effort either. Hope for the Pistons lies in their young guys like Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown, if it can be found anywhere. And both those guys (and rookie Sekou Doumbouya) are legitimately promising youngsters. They just probably won’t be enough to turn this steamship of mediocrity around.
Predicted Record: 36-46
Players Added: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Daniel Hamilton, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot
Players Lost: David Nwaba, J.R. Smith, Nik Stauskas, Channing Frye, Jaron Blossomgame, Marquese Chriss
Summary: The Cavs are going to be really, really bad yet again. Kevin Love is a stabilizing force, yet its unclear how much longer he will be in Cleveland. With Bradley Beal off the trade market, Love might be the biggest name available in talks this year, and there are plenty of teams who could use the former All-Star’s services. If Love plays out the year, the Cavs will probably be better than this, though not by much. If the Cavs flip him for assets, they are going to be the worst team in the NBA.
That said, not all is grim and dark for the Cavs. Collin Sexton came on strong down the stretch last year, and while his defense and playmaking need work, the scoring and shooting might be for real. Darius Garland is a promising point guard who should bring some much-needed excitement to the Cavs, and might even make Sexton expendable. Seeing if the two young guards can play together should be the top priority for the Cavs this year. They do have some other intriguing young players, especially Windler and Porter, but the rest of the team is largely devoid of talent. New coach John Beilein is a basketball savant, but even he will have trouble magicking wins out of a roster where Jordan Clarkson is one of the best shot creators and playmakers, and which might have zero above-average defenders. The Cavs’ offense should be merely bad. Their defense could be one of the worst in NBA history.
Predicted Record: 18-64