Central Division Round Up

The Central Division motto to this point in the season is “the only way left to go is up”, injuries, slow starts and youth have been the story in this division to start the year but each and every team is almost assured of improvement. Last night was an especially good indicator of this likely improvement. At this point however here is how the teams stand.

CENTRAL

W

L

DIF

F

L10

11

9

.550

93.9

91.4

+2.4

6-4

10

9

.526

 ½

96.8

97.7

-0.9

4-6

10

11

.476

1 ½

90.8

91.8

-1.0

6-4

7

17

.292

6

94.3

97.3

-3.0

4-6

5

17

.227

7

94.6

100.2

-5.6

2-8

The records don’t look very impressive but once you delve into each team you realize that there are reasons for optimism abound.

The Bulls
The Bulls are currently in first place without Derrick Rose who according to this commercial is working his tail off to get back.

Despite losing last night Bulls fans had a lot to be excited about with D Rose being on the court shooting jumpers before the game. Now without Rose the Bulls aren’t exactly setting the league on fire but their point differential (this stat has proven to be the best predictor of record long term) is good enough for 9th in the league, without their MVP candidate. Not only is Derrick Rose injured but their third leading scorer and starting two guard Rip Hamilton is likely out for the season. They are winning mostly with defense putting up the second best eFG% (essentially the field goal percentage that they give up with foul shots, two point baskets and three point baskets weighted for their value). Along with playing great defense they are fourth in the league in offensive rebound percentage (the % of offensive rebounds available that they get), these two stats show that they are playing with supreme effort, but then again who would expect anything less of a Tom Thibbedeaux team. In addition to playing with great effort the defensive numbers indicate they are playing well as a team, so too does the fact that they have five players averaging in double figures.

Two players that exemplify the Bulls way are Loul Deng and Joakim Noah. Among NBA fans they are ignored, underrated and (in Noah’s case) disliked. However, these two bring great defense and rebounding to a team that is known for the those two things. So far they have combined for 4.7 Win Shares (a complicated Stat that attempts to show how many wins each player is personally worth) meaning that between the two of them they are responsible for nearly half of their teams wins. According to this stat these players are having a greater impact than perrenial all stars Paul Pierce, Dwayne Wade, Pau Gasol and Joe Johnson. Something to think about next time you are casting your all star vote. When Rose comes back this team should be near the top in the league.

Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee has been NBA purgatory for a long time. Not good enough to make a deep playoff run but not bad enough to get a high draft pick that could turn into a franchise player. There is no better example of that than this year. The Bucks are a mediocre team, with a mediocre win total and a mediocre point differential. They are right smack dab in the middle of the league.

Their back court has two players that love to shoot. Now it is good to have players that can score, but you want players who through scoring make it easier for their teammates to score. This is achieved through taking good shots which the defense needs to account for. Monta Ellis and Brendan Jennings consistently take difficult contested shots which make their teammates easier to guard (because you know neither is likely to pass to said teammates). Both are good players who if paired with a pass first elite player could flourish. Instead you have two players that can catch fire and be among the best in the league or shoot so poorly their team is sure to lose. The average of those two events tells the story of the Milwaukee Bucks as a whole, in the end they are stuck in the middle of the league. The good news is that both players are free agents at the end of the year. The bad news is few general managers are bold enough to let a player walk if it will make their team worse next year (but better long term), since if their team loses they could lose their job.

At the end of the year the team looked like they might take the next step to a seed in the top half of the Eastern conference. They re-signed a young Ersan Ilyasova who surprisingly had a career year in his contract season. They brought in Samuel Dalembert and John Henson to further improve their front court rebounding and depth. As part of the trade that brought Ellis to town they picked up a good defensive big in Ekpe Udoh. Did all these moves help? Of course not. Milwaukee is 19th in efg%, 19th in defensive rebound % and 16th in offensive rebounding %. How could this be you ask? Well, Ilyasova followed the time honored tradition of playing well in a contract year then playing poorly. While Henson and Udoh have given them good minutes they have been unable to stay healthy. Dalembert is requesting a trade after not being able to get off the bench. The only reason their numbers are as positive as they are is the emergence of Larry Sanders. Sanders has been near the top of league in blocks and more importantly gives up 95 points per 100 possessions which is good for best in the league (300 minutes minimum).

The Bucks have a lot of good players and very well could get hot later in the year, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They have a back court that doesn’t like to pass, and a coach that players are known for not enjoying playing for. This is not a combination for maximum effort and cohesiveness as a team. For this reason I doubt they put it all together. On the bright side they might have found the next Ben Wallace in Larry Sanders.

Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers have been a disappointment plain and simple. After giving the Heat all they could handle in the second round last year everyone expected more from them this year. When looking at the defensive stats you see the reason for optimum. They have the best defensive eFG% in the league, they are second in defensive rebounding %, they are also 9th in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage %. For a team that hung its hat on being physical rebounding and defense those are great stats. The problem is pretty much every other stat is not positive for the Pacers.

Despite having the best defense as far as field goal percentage they are not forcing any turnovers (last in the league). The main problem however is on offense they simply can not score. They are 28th in fg%, they are 29th in eFG% and 21st in the league in turnovers. Danny Granger might not be a great player but he was the best offensive player they had. When he went down for the year the Pacers have been unable to recover.

Roy Hibbert had a career year last year en route to making the all star team. Coincidentally it was Hibbert’s contract season. Following the NBA rule of the contract season he has been sub par at best thus far in the year. Not only has he not picked up any of the offensive slack with Granger going down, his scoring has decreased by 3 points a game. If they are going to make any noise later in the season they will need to improve on offense.

The Detroit Pistons 
DEEEEE-TROIT-BAASKKKKETBALLLLLLL has not been very good this year.Since there record is bad and they are a team filled with you that no one expected to do anything I’m going to focus on the positive here.

The Pistons have a solid young core of Monroe (15/9), Knight (15/5), Singler and… Drummond (don’t laugh). Which means that their last four first round picks are all NBA level players. Monroe has shown that he can someday be an elite level big man. He is a throw back scoring in the post with position, post moves and girth rather than sheer athleticism. Knight is still extremely young but looks to be making the improvements in his second year that point to him being a top point guard some day. Singler while not special is solid in pretty much every way and is third on the team in Win Shares. Drummond to the untrained eye is an awful basketball player. When you look at his play on offense it’s offensive. However defense is where is athletic  prowess really comes into play. His quickness and length makes him one of the better big men pick and roll defenders already. He allows 99  points per 100 possessions which is good  for best in the rookie class. He also currently is the second most valuable Piston according to win shares. So before you watch him on offense and write him off as a joke watch him play defense and you will know he someday will be a valuable NBA players.

Despite having a solid young core this team still has some quality veterans. Tayshaun Prince is the biggest name they have in that department. You can expect him to be moved around the deadline for a young piece that can bolster their core going forward  If none of this has made Pistons fans more optimistic here is an awesome dunk Jason Maxiell threw down last night from a slick pass by Greg Monroe.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland has looked awful this year. Not many teams can maintain solid play without their best player. When Kyrie Irving went down the Cavs struggled mightily. Last night Irving showed how good of a player he is by leading his team to a victory over the lifeless Lakers.

You would assume that the Cavs missing Irving be the main cause for all the losses. While it certainly is a contributing factor, the real problem is their defense. They are last in the league in defensive eFG% and 28th in fouls per shots attempted, they however are fifth turnover forced %. These stats point to an athletic team that takes too many chances leaving themselves out of position to defend. This is a characteristic of a young yet talented team. As the year goes on and they gain continuity the defense will improve because they do have the players capable of playing solid defense.

Fans might assume that Anderson Varejao will get moved due to their poor record. This would certainly put a dent into my argument that they will improve defensively as the season goes along. Well, let me be the first to say “Side Show Bob” isn’t going anywhere. He is signed at around $9mm for the next two years with a team option for the third. This is a bargain if you consider Varejao to be one of the best defensive/rebounding bigs in the league. His relatively low salary makes little incentive for the Cavs to trade him. So for better or for worse this Cavs team should be intact for the rest of the season.

Thank you to everyone who read this. If you have any suggestions for next weeks round up email me at evanjavel@gmail.com or mention them to me via twitter @evantime.

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