Enough has changed, and is set to change, that the division desperately needs another breakdown. In the past month or so, a few major things have happened:
- First and foremost: LeBron James signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Pau Gasol signed with the Chicago Bulls
- Derrick Rose looked explosive in the Team USA scrimmage
- Paul George suffered a gruesome, season-ending injury at the same scrimmage.
You may be wondering why I didn't list the imminent addition of Kevin Love to the Cavaliers, which is a fair question to ask. The answer: I'm a sucker for semantics. The guy cannot officially be a Cavalier for a couple of weeks yet and so I cannot officially list him as one of the seismic, division-shifting events.
That said, let's look at the Central. (I'll try not to duplicate too much of what I wrote in the previous division breakdown.)
The bottom-feeders: The Milwaukee Bucks
Not too much has changed from our last evaluation of the Bucks. Jabari Parker continues to be the sole source of inspiration and hope for an otherwise hapless unit.
Their major off-season move was executing a Game of Thrones-like betrayal of Larry Drew - replacing him with an ever-scheming Jason Kidd. Most sources are reporting that Kidd (the consummate ladder-climber) will soon be angling for the general manager's position as well.
From a basketball perspective this is concerning. From a front-office perspective this is concerning. Kidd is an unproven commodity. He had a decent year last season with the New Jersey Nets. But the Nets were a team stacked with quality vets and one or two rooks and sophomores with potential (Plumlee, mostly).
And they were a couple of notches above tanking most of last season. Considering what owner Mikhail Prokhrov expected from that team (realistic or not) and what was actually produced for roughly one half of the season; there was clearly a cognitive dissonance between the roster and expectations.
But there was also a clear lack of identity and professionalism. We can spout off all we want about the spilled soda incident. It was juvenile at best. We could take special note of the well publicized in-fighting among the coaching staff. What's more intriguing was Kidd's inability to recognize his roster's potential as a small-ball unit. It took a bevy of injuries for him to adjust the role of Shaun Livingston and properly manage his big-man rotation.
Here's the bright side for Milwaukee fans: there aren't many ways to screw up the Bucks roster.
Here's the dark side for Milwaukee fans: there aren't many ways to screw up this Bucks roster because there just isn't that much talent.
They have two glaring question marks at the big man position. Ersan Illyasova and Larry Sanders have potential, particularly Sanders (who has at least flashed sustained stretches of defensive brilliance). Illyasova has struggled to be much more than a glorified Robert Horry, a fine player on a championship-caliber team; a net-loss on a team like the Bucks (aka deficient in everything).
Nate Wolters was a bit of a revelation last year. The early comparisons to Steve Nash were obviously insane, even then. He's a white player from a small college who plays the point guard position. He lacks some of the flashier aspects of contemporary point guard play: bouncy athleticism, top-flight speed and pterodactyl wingspan. But he does have decent floor vision and a knack for making the right pass. He should project as a second-unit captain. He might push for a starter's role at some point in his career, though I'm not sure what that would say about the quality of the team he is on. Perhaps he could take a jump, I would not bet on it though.
Brandon Knight currently projects as their starting point guard and OJ Mayo their shooting guard. To compensate for their clear lack of guard talent they brought in Kendall Marshall (from the Lakers), who can pass the ball and run an offense but still can't really shoot. They also added combo-guard Jerryd Bayless (from Memphis), who is sometimes electric on the court. And sometimes he short-circuits.
The forward position could be the stronghold of this team for a decade. They're sporting Jabari Parker, the number two overall pick and a man whose game we have broken down ad naseum since the draft. And they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who occasionally showed a dominant athleticism last season. That said, Giannis had, by most standards, a mediocre statistical season for a rookie. He averaged 6.8 points on .414 percent shooting. His 3 point percentage was below .350. He snagged about four rebounds a game and tossed in two assists. He did notch close to one block and one steal a game.
Parker will likely obliterate all of Giannis' rookie numbers. Not that it's a competition.
But if it was, Parker would win in a landslide.
Here's the thing though: this team still doesn't have much talent. Parker is still an unproven. Giannis is an unproven. Sanders and Ersan haven't shown an ability to consistently get it done. The point guard position is in total upheaval.
Worst of all: Jason Kidd is their coach.
This team will contend for last-place, even below the decimated Pacers.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Moondog Landing's Look at the Central!