NBA Central Division Mid Year Grades: Part I Bulls, Pacers

The Central division, at the half way point, is not what it will be at the end. Indiana and Chicago are leading division, primed to jump into the upper echelon once their injured stars return. Detroit is getting better with every game, right now playing like the third best team in the division. Milwaukee is maddeningly inconsistent looking like world beaters one day and bottom feeders the next. Cleveland is not a good team but from game to game shows the promise of a future playoff game. This post ended up being much longer than anticipated, so I’m breaking it in two. In Part one, I will be covering the contending Central teams in the Bulls and Pacers. Part two will cover the rest of the division.

CENTRAL

W

L

DIFF

L10

25

16

.610

13-11

12-5

6-3

20-6

93.6

91.3

+2.3

Won 2

7-3

26

17

.605

16-3

10-14

5-2

14-10

91.0

89.3

+1.7

Lost 1

7-3

22

18

.550

2 ½

11-9

11-9

6-5

17-9

97.0

97.7

-0.7

Won 3

6-4

16

26

.381

9 ½

12-11

4-15

4-3

13-12

95.0

95.7

-0.8

Lost 1

6-4

11

32

.256

15

5-12

6-20

1-9

8-18

95.0

100.4

-5.3

Won 1

4-6

The Chicago Bulls

Point Guard: Kirk Hinrich, B
6.5 PPG 5.2 APG 2.8 RPG
The Former Kansas Jayhawk will not wow you with his averages. Hinrich has always been known for his defense, and he fits right in with this Chicago squad. Offensively Hinrich also exemplifies everything the Bulls want to do. He moves the ball quickly and decisively, only takes shots when necessary and lets the game come to him. His game might not fit with every team in the league but on the Bulls he is a perfect piece to the puzzle.
Shooting Guard: Richard Hamilton, B-
12.0 PPG 2.5 APG 1.8 RPG
Richard Hamilton is another player that is well suited for Tom Thibodeau’s system. He and Ray Allen are two of the remaining players who make using a screen an art form. The Bulls start two very good screening big men in Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer who free Hamilton for many jumpers. His B became a B- because of his inability to stay 100% healthy at a time when his scoring is sorely needed to temper the loss of Rose.
Small Forward: Luol Deng, A
17.4 PPG 2.5 APG 6.4 RPG
Luol Deng was voted an All Star reserve and deservedly so. Deng is one of the best defenders in the league, he rebounds, attacks the hoop, knocks down jumpers and moves the ball when need be. Recently he has been bothered by a tight hamstring, but when he does play there is no one in the league who plays more minutes per game. Deng is a perennially underrated player who is finally getting his due with Derrick Rose injured.
Power Forward: Carlos Boozer, B+
16.1 PPG, 9.9 RPG
Boozer is a great offensive power forward. He works the pick and roll to perfection, popping when the defense sags, rolling when the defense jumps out and crashing the boards on every shot. Although he isn’t great when given the ball in the post there are few players better on the pick and roll. On top of that he is an excellent off ball screener who routinely frees guards for jumpers. His grade would be higher if he wasn’t so pathetic at defense, that coach Thibs has to sub Taj Gabson in on important defensive possessions.
Center: Joakim Noah, A+
Noah is what Kevin Garnett was during the Celtic’s championship year. A big who can protect the rim and shows so well on the pick and roll that he often prevents the other team from running it. On top of that he is great at ending defensive possessions by securing the rebound. This year Noah has refined his corkscrew shot, making him a threat to score in the mid range. What takes Noah from an A to an A+ is his passing ability. After watching him all season you realize that he is the best passer at his position in the league.
Bench: A
The Bulls essentially jettisoned most of the players from their bench last year. Normally that scenario happens when a bench isn’t performing. In this case it was because their bench was so good the Bulls could not afford to keep everyone. Despite losing stalwarts such as Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik the Bull’s bench mob is near as strong as last year. Jimmy Butler has shown himself a solid player and  top notch defender, Nate Robinson has been a spark plug off the bench (when he plays within himself) and Marco Bellinelli has replaced Korver as a long range shooter that can come through in the clutch. Even with Taj Gibson going through his after contract lull the Bull’s have one of the better benches in the league.

The Indiana Pacers

Point Guard: George Hill, B
14.5 PPG 4.8 APG 4.3 APG
The Good news for Hill is that he has put up career highs in points, rebounds and assists. The bad news? He has nearly doubled his turnovers since last year. To boot he is shooting his worst percentage from the field and from three in his career (excluding his rookie year). Hill has picked up his scoring in the absence of Danny Granger, but for him to get a better grade he needed to keep his career level shooting percentages and create more offense for teammates.
Shooting Guard: Lance Stephenson C+

Stephenson was thrust into the starting lineup when Danny Granger went down (with Paul George to the three). As a stop gab measure Stephenson is doing a fine job, knocking down shots and playing solid defense. However, Stephenson is not the type of starter you want on a contending team. If Granger fails to come back 100% and the Pacers are forced to rely on Lance, it could be their downfall.
Small Forward: Paul George A+
17.3 PPG 3.7 APG 7.8 RPG
Paul George came into the league a long athletic player with high upside. With these type of players all a team can ask for is steady improvement. George has outpaced this hope, growing by leaps and bounds every year. Not only is he improving every year, his scoring averages have improved every month this year! Which has lead to career highs in pretty much every category while also being elite at the defensive end. With his progression some are even questioning if the Pacers need Danny Granger. Although, this thinking might be out of line, that anyone is uttering these words truly speaks highly of Paul George’s game.
Power Forward: David West, B+
16.8 PPG 7.7 RPG 1.1 BPG
When David West signed with the Pacers last year, everyone thought it was a nice move. The Pacers were getting a very good veteran on the downside of his career for a reasonable short term contract, and during his first year that’s exactly what he was. This year, a full year removed from knee surgery he has brought his game back to his days with Chris Paul. On offense he is being more aggressive, taking more shots and crashing the boards. However, his biggest mark can be felt on defense, where he clogs the lane and helps lead the best defense in the NBA.

Center: Roy Hibbert D
Hibbert has been a complete disappointment this year. After signing him to a long term contract Pacers fans hoped he would improve his game and truly earn his money, no such luck. When Danny Granger went down Pacers fans expected Hibbert to step up and help carry the scoring load, again, no such luck. Hibbert is taking fewer shots, making a lower percentage of those shots and being a general drain on the offense. The only reason he did not get an F, has to do with his defense. By most metrics Hibbert is having his best defensive year as a professional. Even with this Hibbert has been a disappointment.
Bench: C-
Injuries on starters always have a trickle-down effect. Lance Stephenson would be a solid bench piece on a competing playoff team, but with Danny Granger going down he was forced into the starting lineup. This move, has weakened an already weak bench. On a team that struggles to score ideally your bench could provide a consistent pick me up. Although, Gerald Green is capable of having a random scoring explosion they have no players that give them the consistent scoring they need off the bench.

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