The NBA Media Day is over and less than a month until the start of the NBA season! In the upcoming previews we look ahead per division and we highlight all the offseason moves of the teams. We’ll start with the Central Division.
2021-22 Central Division preview
1. Milwaukee Bucks: 58-24
As the reigning champion, many eyes will be on Giannis Antetokounmpo and ‘his’ Milwaukee Bucks. That is not surprising, because as a champion you immediately have a certain status. Add to that the fact that the line-up hasn’t changed much and that immediately turns the team into one of the big contenders.
So the offseason was not one of big surprises for Milwaukee. Seven players left Milwaukee, but frankly, only PJ Tucker and Bryn Forbes (and sometimes Jeff Teague ) were part of Coach Mike Budenholzer ‘s regular rotation. As a counter move, Milwaukee did sign up three new players: George Hill, Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye. In addition, crowd favorite Bobby Portis also extended his contract.
Add these three major changes to the core that was already there and you won’t see many changes in Milwaukee. With Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo (when he is fit again from his foot injury), the starting line-up was already known.
PG: Jrue Holiday | SG: Donte DiVincenzo/Pat Connaughton | SF: Khris Middleton | PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo | C: Brook Lopez
The starting line-up will therefore have no surprises. DiVincenzo will miss prep and likely the start of the season, leaving Pat Connaughton to fill in most of his minutes. With George Hill, Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye and Bobby Portis, the ten most logical names for the rotation are known. Behind that, Grayson Allen and Thanasis Antetokounmpo along with Jordan Nwora and rookie Georgis Kalatizakis can hope for the remaining garbage time.
2. Indiana Pacers: 43-39
Nothing for a long time after the Milwaukee Bucks, but after a while the Indiana Pacers appear on the horizon. Where Milwaukee logically opted for the same course, Indiana has changed course. Coach Nate Bjorkgren received his letter of resignation after one season and former Coach of the Year Rick Carlisle was named.
For Carlisle, a great challenge lies ahead. Last season was a hectic year for Indiana. In the James Harden trade, Caris LeVert went to Indianapolis, but after a tumor was found on his kidney, most of his season went up in smoke. Fortunately, LeVert is back, the team with Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner has enough quality and can hope for the return of TJ Warren, who impressed in the NBA Bubble.
There are not many changes: exactly three for the rotation. Forward Doug McDermott departed from Indianapolis and NBA Finalist Torrey Craig joined from Phoenix. Guard Edmond Sumner still had an ongoing contract in Indiana, but tore his Achilles tendon during the offseason. His season ended before it really started.
PG: Malcolm Brogdon | SG: Caris LeVert | SF: Justin Holiday | PF: Domantas Sabonis | C: Myles Turner
Few changes in the roster for the Pacers, so there won’t be many differences in rotation either. Without TJ Warren, we expect Justin Holiday to take his place. However, Jeremy Lamb and Torrey Craig also have a chance to win these minutes. The team also has a phenomenal point guard from the bench with TJ McConnell. McConnell puts his heart and soul into his squad every night and will excel both offensively and defensively as a true guard. In terms of big men, Carlisle also has Goga Bitadze at his disposal. Rookies Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson and Oshae Brissett, which is entering its third year, will close the rotation.
3. Chicago Bulls: 41-41
Continuity was an important word with the two previous teams, but not in the Windy City. With reinforcements in the form of DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Alize Johnson and Tony Bradley, head coach Billy Donovan ‘s squad has been given a whole new look.
With so many new players, it also means players have left Chicago. The biggest name was Lauri Markkanen, who went on a sign-and-trade to Cleveland (more on that later). Furthermore departed Garrett Temple, Daniel Theis, Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio the Bulls. If you really look at the incoming names, this is just a piece of cake.
If you add the names to a selection with All-Stars in Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic and young talent with Patrick Williams and Coby White, you suddenly have a very strong group. Three (former) All-Stars, young talent with potential and a group that fights for every meter.
PG: Lonzo Ball | SG: Zach LaVine | SF: DeMar DeRozan | PF: Patrick Williams | C: Nikola Vucevic
Compared to the preview last season, only Zach LaVine is still in the expected line-up. It gives a good indication of how big the metamorphosis is that the Chicago Bulls have undergone in 2021. All good things take time, including Chicago. There is, however, a very good group, because in addition to this on paper strong starting five, it is also a must from the couch. Coby White as a contender for the Sixth Man of the Year award, Alex Caruso can also always surprise and with Derrick Jones Jr. and Alize Johnson has coach Donovon at his disposal two guys who don’t seem to know the word ‘fatigue’. With Tony Bradley, the backup center is also easy to fill in. Behind these ten, the wash is thin, with players such as Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson, Troy Brown Jr. or rookie Ayo Dosunmu, but the core is solid. It will take some time before this group gets used to each other, but then the team certainly has a chance of making the play-offs.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers: 31-51
Big bigger Biggest. That’s what they must have thought this offseason in Cleveland, as with the third pick in the draft they chose center Evan Moble. Not an odd choice at the time, as he was the best possible player in the draft and Jarrett Allen ‘s contract was expiring. But, looking back at the past few months, it can be called a separate choice from the Cavaliers.
First, Jarrett Allen was offered a five-year contract worth $100 million. At only 23 years old, Allen has a lot of potential, but that will not always benefit Mobley’s development. In addition, Kevin Love is still under contract in Cleveland. Whether he will be traded or bought out is not yet known, but for now he is a Cavalier. On top of that, Cleveland thought it would be a good idea to also offer Lauri Markkanen a four-year contract worth nearly $70 million. As icing on the cake, über big man Tacko Fall (7’5/ 2.26 meters) also got a one-year contract.
Besides all the big-mans, not much else changed. Ricky Rubio came to Cleveland in a trade and will split the minutes in the guard positions with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Even Denzel Valentine came to Cleveland. Taurean Prince left the ‘Ricky Rubio trade’ for Minnesota and Larry Nance Jr. went to the Portland Trail Blazers.
PG: Collin Sexton | SG: Darius Garland | SF: Cedi Osman | PF: Lauri Markkanen | C: Jarrett Allen
There’s no shortage of big men in Cleveland. Not even if Kevin Love leaves or isn’t in the plans, which seems plausible. With Allen, Markkanen and Mobley enough players who can play as center/power forward and also Cedi Osman and Mfiondu Kabengele could fill these positions. There is also plenty of talent in Cleveland for the three ‘smaller’ positions. Sexton (22 years old), Garland (21), Isaac Okoro (20) and Dylan Windler (25) all have potential to grow. In addition, with Ricky Rubio, they also have a good teacher for these talents in-house. Valentine, Lamar Stevens, Kyle Guy and Dean Wadewill compete for the final minutes in the rotation of head coach JB Bickerstaff.
They must have taken ‘Dream Big’ quite literally in Cleveland, because the selection does not have enough quality in terms of quality to compete for the play-offs.
5. Detroit Pistons: 22-60
“With the first pick, of the 2021 NBA Draft, the Detroit Pistons select: Cade Cunningha.” That phrase will be central to the Detroit Pistons’ upcoming season. A 20-year-old guard, who is 2 meters 1 (6’7) and also has a good jump shot. In the Summer League, Cunningham already showed how great his potential is, but it is difficult to estimate where he will be in a year. He certainly has the potential and he also gets the freedom, but the team around him. That’s the biggest question mark.
With Jerami Grant, Detroit has a surprising second option. He went from around 12 points per game last year to 22 and also showed glimpses of a real attacking skillset at times. This was with a lot of freedom, because the rest of the Pistons simply weren’t good enough.
No real reinforcements were added. Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles signed in Detroit, but this was offset by the departures of Sekou Doumbouya, Jahlil Okafor, Dennis Smith Jr. and Wayne Ellington.
PG: Cade Cunningham | SG: Rodney McGruder | SF: Saddiq Bey | PF: Jerami Grant | C: Kelly Olynyk
Let’s just say that Detroit is betting on the future. Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, Josh Jackson, Saben Lee and Isaiah Stewart are players with good potential for the future, but they don’t have really experienced teachers yet. Kelly Olynyk is the oldest player on the team at 30 years old. Perhaps he, together with Jerami Grant, Trey Lyles, Rodney McGruder and Cory Joseph, can teach the young dogs something, but real experience is lacking.
Let’s compare the Detroit Pistons to a freshly picked grape. It will have to mature for a while before it can become a good bottle of wine.
Finally, a few division awards. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a very easy pick for MVP. One of the favorites for the true MVP award and without any other superstars in this division is this award for him. Rookie of the Year will go to Cunningham as with only Mobley as the other high pick there is little real competition here either. Defensively, we’re going to make a small exception, as we’re going for both TJ McConnell and Myles Turner here. McConnell deserves him for his excellent perimeter defense and steals, but if you manage to get past him, you’ll encounter one of the best shot blockers in the NBA in Myles Turner. Good luck!
With the new selection for the Chicago Bulls they take two prizes. Coby White will have to come from the couch, but it will earn him the Sixth Man of the Year award. The award for Executive of the Year also goes to Chicago. Who exactly is responsible for this selection is not entirely clear, but they have done well in Chi-town. The last one is Coach of the Year and a good coach is a winning coach, so congratulations to Mike Budenholzer!
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year: Cade Cunningham
Defensive Player of the Year: TJ McConnell and Myles Turner
6 th Man of the Year: Coby White
Coach of the Year: Mike Budenholzer