Central Division Round Up: Overachievers and Underachievers

Despite it being very early in the season the haves have already separated themselves from the have-nots. Indiana, Chicago and Milwaukee look like playoff teams while Detroit and Cleveland fans can look forward to another rebuilding year. In this week’s edition I will go over who has overachieved and who has underachieved for each Central division team. These titles will be bestowed upon players in conjunction with their team’s strengths and weaknesses. 
CENTRAL

W

L

DIFF

L10

16

12

.571

8-3

8-9

4-2

8-6

91.5

89.9

+1.6

Won 3

7-3

15

12

.556

 ½

8-6

7-6

5-2

13-6

95.6

96.4

-0.9

Won 1

7-3

15

12

.556

 ½

8-7

7-5

4-2

11-4

92.9

92.1

+0.9

Lost 2

6-4

9

22

.290

8 ½

6-8

3-14

2-2

7-9

94.4

96.6

-2.2

Lost 1

3-7

7

23

.233

10

3-9

4-14

1-8

5-15

93.7

99.2

-5.5

Won 2

3-7

The Indiana Pacers
http://www.nba.com/pacers/
This Week’s Games: 3-0
1. Win vs Utah 104-84
2. Win vs Cleveland 99-89
3. Win @ New Orleans 81-75

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 2-1
1. vs Phoenix Friday at 7:00
2. @ Atlanta Saturday 7:00
3. vs Memphis Monday 3:00

Indiana is finally playing the basketball that all of us expected. After seeing them take Miami to six games in the conference semi finals we had high hopes. They are still playing elite defense, but lately their offense has began to pick up (scoring 99 points in two of their last three games). In those games the Pacers were lead in scoring by Hibbert and Green, this was not a coincidence. In order for the Pacers to be effective on the offensive end they need a hot shooting night from one of their players. Without Danny Granger they are not the type of team with a go to scorer. In the end this will make them harder to defend, but in the early portion of the season it has left them disjointed.

Next week Indiana plays two of their three games against big, defensively stout teams. Their games against Atlanta and Memphis should be nothing more than glorified wrestling matches. The question as always with the Pacers is can they find enough offense to win those games. With their offense not being something to be counted upon at this point, I expect them to split those games. Phoenix should be an easy win, they rely mostly on the fast break, something Indiana will negate with their slow down style.

Overachiever: David West
Key Statistics: 17.4 PPG, 109 Offensive Rating, 24.6 Usage Rate, 3.4 Win Shares

David West has returned to form a full year removed from knee surgery. His numbers are actually in line with his career numbers playing in New Orleans. The difference is a lot of West’s scoring in those days was directly related to playing with Chris Paul. With Danny Granger going down West has increased his usage rate (essentially the percentage of offensive plays a player is involved in) in an effort to take over the scoring load. The most telling statistic is his win shares, (a rough calculation of how many wins a player is directly responsible for) at 3.4 are good for 19th in the NBA.

Underachiever: Roy Hibbert
Key Statistics: 92 Offensive Rating, 14.9 PER , .432 True Shooting Percentage, 9.9 PPG

Hibbert has been abysmal offensively, having his worst season since his rookie year. Even in his rookie year his statistics were better across the board except for points per game. The common thinking is that he is suffering greatly from the loss of Granger, having to take more shots. However, his usage rate is about  the same as it always has been, meaning he is taking as much of the offensive load as he did with Granger healthy. Although his defensive numbers are career bests if he does not improve offensively Indiana will struggle to win the Central.

The Chicago Bulls
http://www.nba.com/bulls/
This Week’s Games: 1-2
1.Win @ New York 110-106
2. Loss @ Atlanta  92-75
3. Loss vs Houston 120-97

Next Week’s Games: Projected outcome 2-0
1. vs Washington on Saturday at 8:00
2. vs Charlotte on Monday at 3:00

Chicago followed one of it’s best wins of the year, a tough gritty effort against New York, with no shows against Atlanta and Houston. Without Derrick Rose, Chicago is a team that must control the pace by slowing it down. With this style of play they have little room for error, this was clearly evident when they got demolished by Houston on Christmas day. Luckily for them they play two games against the league’s cellar dwellers next week. I expect them to right the ship and stay in contention for the Central title while Rose is out.

Overachiever: Joakim Noah
Key Statistics: 13.3 PPG, 4.4 Assists, 1.4 Steals (all career highs)

Noah has always been a defensive force. However, this is the first year he is being talked about as a defensive player of the year candidate. This year’s defensive numbers are well in line with his career averages and aren’t even his best. For example the points he’s given up per 100 possession is the worst it’s been in three years. The NBA is an offensive league however, and all things being equal the defensive awards usually go to the better offensive player. This year Noah has increased his averages in points and assists picking up the slack for the Bulls with Rose out.

Underachiever: Taj Gibson
Key Statistics: 6.2 PPG, 4.4 Rebounds, .448 Effective Field Goal %, 104 offensive rating (all career lows)

Surprise, Surprise another big man gets paid in the off season then proceeds to have the worst year of his career. It seems to be an epidemic in the NBA, and you will find several of these players on my underachiever list.  Gibson is having his worst year as the professional, with career lows in eFG%, Rebounds, PPG, and Offensive rating. Considering that they are missing their leading scorer and best player you would expect his numbers to increase, but this has not been the case.

The Milwaukee Bucks:
http://www.nba.com/bucks/
This Weeks Games: 2-2
1. Loss @ Memphis 90-80
2. Win @ Boston 99-94 (in OT)
3. Loss vs Cleveland 94-82
4. Win vs Brooklyn 108-93

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-1
1. vs Miami on Saturday at 8:30
2. @ Detroit on Sunday at 7:30

The Bucks continue to be a team that lack consistency. With their shoot first shoot second back court they can catch fire and beat any team in the league. That very same back court can shoot them out of a game as well. This week they beat solid teams in Brooklyn and Boston but lost to bottom feeder Cleveland. Their defense has been their only consistent trait, with Larry Sanders looking more and more like the future of this team. With two chuckers in the back court I fear that they will not be able to gain some consistency this season. Next week I expect them to lose to Miami and beat Detroit, but with this team they could just as easily beat Miami and lose to Detroit.

Overachiever: Larry Sanders
Key Statistics: 7.9 Ppg, 3.0 Bpg, 8.5 Rpg, 93 Defensive Rating, 9 block percentage (bolded numbers indicate league leaders)

Larry Sanders came into the league as an athletic freak with springs for legs. This year he has finally harnessed that athleticism  to be one of the best defenders in the league. He currently leads the league in defensive rating, blocks per game and block percentage, on top of that he has more than doubled his scoring. His defensive efforts have allowed the Bucks to be in every single game no matter how many bad shots Monta Ellis and Brendan Jennings take.

Underachiever: Ersan Ilyasova
Key Statistics: 8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, .474 True Shooting Percentage

The third team in the central division, brings us the third under achieving big man who is fresh off a new contract. Like Taj Gibson and Roy Hibbert, Ersan Ilysova has been much worse than in his contract year. All those statistics listed above are career lows (excluding his rookie year). You could make the argument that his rebounding has decreased due to the emergence of Larry Sanders, but there is nothing to explain Ilyasova’s poor shooting percentage. If I had to guess I would say it’s a combination of being fed up with his back court and a lack of work put in, in the off season (compared with the work he put in on his contract year).

The Detroit Pistons
http://www.nba.com/pistons/
This Week’s Games: 2-1

1. Loss @ Toronto 97-91
2. Win vs Washington 100-68
3. Win @ Washington 96-87

4. Loss @ Atlanta 126-119 (2OT)

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. vs Miami on Friday at 7:30
2. vs Milwaukee on Sunday at 7:30
3. vs Sacramento on Tuesday at 7:30

Detroit is not ready to be a contender. They are one of the worst teams in the league, with just Cleveland and  Washington being the other teams that they can beat with any certainty. This week should be very tough for them, as they play Miami and Milwaukee. Although Milwaukee could decide not to show up that game, in all likelihood they should lose both contests. Sacramento is currently in disarray with the problems of DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento coaching staff. With this distraction Detroit should gets its only win of the week.

Overachiever: Andre Drummond
Key Statistics: 98 defensive rating, 2.2 Win shares, 113 offensive rating, 20.5 total rebounding precentage, .575 eFG%, 6.2 block% (all first on team 100 minutes minimum)

Andre Drummond was known to be a project by everyone who has ever watched him. Which is why it has been shocking that all the advanced metrics have him as the best player on the Pistons. His team scores better when he’s on the court, his team defends better when on the court and his team rebounds better when he’s on the court. He shoots a high percentage, block shots and is one of the better pick and roll defenders in the league. The Pistons have found a very good player in Drummond.

Underachiever: Rodney Stuckey
12.1 Ppg, .382 FG%, 14.1 PER (worst of career exluding rookie year)

Stuckey, continues the proud tradition of playing poorly after signing a new contract. However, he has the distinction of being one of the only guards to mail it in after getting paid. At his core Stuckey is a scoring combo guard that poses match up problems because he is too strong for point guards but too quick for two guards. This year he has shot a low percentage and had trouble scoring, making him what amounts to useless, or at least not worthy of $25 MM over 3 years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers
This Week’s Games: 2-2
1. Loss @ Boston 103-91
2. Loss vs Indiana 99-89
3. Win vs Milwaukee 94-82
4. Win @ Washington 87-84.
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. vs Atlanta on Friday at 7:30
2. @ Brooklyn Saturday at 7:30
3. vs Sacramento Wednesday at 7:00
The Cav’s are on fire! Ok, not really they won two games in a row, but for the Cleveland that counts as fire. After losing at Boston to start the week they finished strong beating an unpredictable Bucks team and a bad Washington team. This week I expect losses against Atlanta and Brooklyn. The Kings being in the dischevled state they are will probably lose to the Cavs.

Overachiever: Anderson Varejao
Key Statistics: 23.3 Total Rebound Percentage, 14.1 Ppg, 14.4 rebounds per game, Usage Rate 18.5 (all career highs)
Varejao has always been known as a very good rebounder, defender and energy player. This year he has went from very good to elite in those phases of the game. Andy excelling at these facets is not shocking, him scoring at 14.1 points a game is. With little else around him he has picked up his game. His bargain basement contract as well as his play will make him a coveted name during the trade deadline
Underachiever: Kyrie Irving
Key Statistics: 11 games missed due to injury
Without a doubt the Cavs are a  better team with Kyrie on the floor. Their record reflects the fact that he has missed 11 games and not been 100% for numerous others. Thus far in his career he has been an injury risk, if this continues this team will not go anywhere. 
Outro
Thanks again for reading. You can expect the next edition of this column on Thursday. Check out my weekly feature Bracket 68 on Roundball Direct. You can also expect my weekly Northwest Wrap up on Saturday and our Podcast should be up Sunday (If not my computer will have a date with the wall).
Past week Projection Record: 11-4




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