- Milwaukee Bucks; Last season’s record and division finish: 46-26/1st; NBA Champs
This shouldn’t surprise anyone as the defending champs have mostly the same crew coming back, and most importantly they still have Giannis. Last season the Bucks were 7th in points per 100 possessions offensively at 117.5 and they were 10th in points per 100 on the defensive end at 112.1. Both of those rankings are able to be improved with what they have as the prior two seasons they were top five in defensive points per 100, and with Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday the offense can pick it up to.
Middleton averaged 20.4 points per game on 47.6% shooting overall and 41.4% from three to go with 6 rebounds and a career high 5.4 assists. His defense took a step back but he should bounce back in that regard this year. Jrue Holiday produced 17.7 points per game on 50.3% shooting and 39.2% from three to go with 6.1 assists per game. When that is paired with Giannis’ 28.1 points per game on 56.9% shooting to go with 11 rebounds and a tied-career high 5.9 assists things are looking great. No one else in this division has what it takes to dethrone the Bucks as no one else in this division is a title contender. The competition is kind of a joke in comparison to the Bucks.
2. Chicago Bulls; Last season’s record and division finish: 31-41/3rd; Missed playoffs
This is where the room for debate begins, but I’m thinking the new-look Bulls with Billy Donovan will finish 2nd in this division and make the playoffs. Zach Lavine had a damn good year averaging 27.4 points per game on 50.7% shooting and 41.9% from three to go with 5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Before the trade deadline last season, they added Nikola Vucevic who put up 21.5 points per game on 47.1% shooting and grabbed 11.5 boards per game while with the Bulls.
These two already make a somewhat interesting duo, and then they added Demar DeRozan to the mix and Lonzo Ball. Last season DeRozan averaged 21.6 points per game on 49.5% shooting with a career-high 6.9 assists per game and 4.2 rebounds with the Spurs. Inside the arc, DeRozan will give the Bulls some needed punch. Ball averaged 14.6 points per game and 5.7 assists last season and will likely be a distributor for this team. As a team, the Bulls’ offense was 17th in points per 100 at 111.8 and their defense was 15th at 113.1. This upcoming season expect a better offense particularly inside the arc and a middle-of-the-pack defense again.
3. Indiana Pacers; Last season’s record and division finish: 34-38/2nd; Missed playoffs
The Rick Carlisle era begins in Indiana and he has pieces to work with. Domantas Sabonis is a star as he averaged 20.3 points per game on 53.5% shooting overall to go with 12 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game a year ago. Sabonis is paired with Malcolm Brogdon who put up 21.2 points per game to go with 5.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. The Pacers also have Caris LeVert who averaged 20.7 points per game along with 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. Myles Turner doesn’t do much offensively but his defense is huge for the Pacers. With these three as their core, they can make the playoffs but not do much else. They just don’t have that one star you need to be a title contender. Sabonis is nice and all but he should be more of a second piece, not the featured piece.
Last season the Pacers were 14th in offensive points per 100 at 112.5 and 14th defensively at 112.9. The Pacers do have issues getting to the free-throw line as they’re bottom 10 in free throw rate offensively and bottom 10 in regards to putting people at the line. The other big problem is this team doesn’t rebound outside of Sabonis and that will need to change if they want to hold off Chicago and make the playoffs.
4. Detroit Pistons; Last season’s record and division finish: 20-52/5th; Missed playoffs
The Pistons will get to see their new young star Cade Cunningham which is very much so worth being excited about. The final two spots in this division are between two shit teams and the Pistons look the least shitty. Jerami Grant was the top scorer a year ago averaging 22.3 points per game but he wasn’t very efficient as he only shot 42.9% from the field. That shows you how bad it was. Cade shot 40% from three last year in college so hopefully, that translates to the next level as more punch on offense is needed. The Pistons do have two young rising players in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. Bey averaged 12.2 points per game and can maybe become a bigger part of the offense this year if he can shoot the three Stewart wasn’t much of a scorer but he did the dirty work you like to see. As a team, the Pistons were 26th in points per 100 offensively at 108.4 and 18th on defense at 113.2. Maybe they’ll be better on offense but the defense should be similar and overall this team should suck again. The ceiling is a play-in game appearance.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers; Last season’s record and division finish: 22-50/4th; Missed playoffs
And then there are the Cavs. Outside of Collin Sexton and rookie Evan Mobley this team has nothing to be happy about. Sexton averaged 24.3 points per game on 47.5% shooting overall and 37.1% from three to go with 4.4. assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. Mobley likely won’t have a major impact offensively but overall he should help. As a team, the Cavs were 28th in offensive points per 100 at 106.3 and 25th in defensive points per 100 at 115.1. The bottom line for Cleveland is they fucking suck and it’s that simple.