Next up on our list of NBA Divisions, is the Central Division that includes the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, and the Bucks. Let's get into it.
Grade : B-
The Chicago Bulls are coming off a season in which they went 22-43, finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference. The only bright spot of the team was Zach Lavine, who averaged 25.5 PPG, and was the reason the Bulls won 22 games. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. both missed time last season, and neither took the next step they were expected to take, and in Markkanen's case, took a step back. Their lottery pick from last season Coby White, played in all 65 games but only started in 1, averaged 13/3/3. Looking at that you might think White was one of the better rookies in the league last season, but then you look and see he shot under 40% from the field, and averaged 1.7 TO to his 2.7 assists.
The Bulls got lucky in the Draft Lottery, and landed a the 4th overall pick, and selected... Patrick Williams, F from FSU. Initially, the Bulls got a lot of hate for the pick as Williams didn't start a single game in college, and didn't average over 10 points. However, at FSU there isn't typically 1 star player as they player 10+ guys every night which is why Williams didn't score much. Williams offers great defense, and has the tools to be an elite defender for years to come, but I still don't like the pick from the Bulls when there were better forwards available like Issac Okoro, Obi Toppin, or Deni Avdija.
In free agency the Bulls lost G Kris Dunn to the Hawks, who played off the bench and was a great defender that averaged 2 steals in just 25 MPG. The Bulls did however manage to sign G Garrett Temple, and F/C Noah Vonleh each to 1 year contracts. Temple, a journeyman in his career having played for 9 teams before joining the Bulls, has the potential to be a solid 3&D wing for the Bulls. Vonleh, who played with the Nuggets last season didn't see much playing time, likely won't see a lot in Chicago either. The Bulls also brought in former Thunder HC Billy Dovovan to be their new HC. Donovan who is thought of to be one of the better coaches in the NBA, should be able to help this young Bulls team develop, and get better to be able to make a playoff run.
The Bulls have the potential to be on the ladder end of the Eastern Conference playoffs as an 8 seed, but with the other bottom teams seeing an increase in talent, it will be difficult for them to clinch a playoff spot. I don't think the Bulls did enought this season to be a playoff team, unless Markkanen and Carter Jr. take that next step they were expected to last season. Give this team 1 more season, and I'd consider them a lock for the playoffs.
Grade : C+ Next up, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers finished 19-46, their second consecutive season finishing with under 20 wins. They brought in former Michigan HC John Beilein to coach, and he was awful and made several iffy comments, including calling his players "thugs" when he had apparently meant to say "slugs". Now let's get into their off season.
Winning just 19 games, it's obvious that the Cavs would have a top pick, and ended up with the 5th pick. With that pick the Cavs selected F Issac Okoro from Auburn. Okoro is a slashing F that offers great athleticism and above average defense. Okoro has sound fundamentals and active hands on the defensive end which could transform him into an elite defender at some point in his career. A knack on Okoro is his 3 PT shooting, has he shot just 28% from 3 in his freshman season.
In free agency, the Cavs were limited with what they could do having Andre Drummond and Kevin Love under contract for 50+ million combined. They lost Tristan Thompson to the Celtics for 18 million over 2 years. The Cavs did resign Matthew Dellavedova to a 1 year contract. Thon Maker and Damyean Dotson were brought in likely for depth, although they may see some playing time to see if they can develop as they are both fairly young and 23 and 26.
A very lowkey off season for the Cavs, another team that didn't do anything to get better, but they might've gotten worse with the loss of the Tristan Thompson. I wasn't expecting much from the Cavs, especially since the competition at the bottom of the East got much better and the Cavs aren't ready for the playoffs.
Grade : B
Now we have the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons won just 20 games last season, and moved on from Andre Drummond's massive contract while trading for Brandon Knight and John Henson in return. The Pistons also bought out Reggie Jackson last season, he and Drummond had been there for several seasons and had been the 2 constants of the Pistons since 2014.
With winning 20 games, comes a top pick and the Pistons selected G Killian Hayes at pick 7 from France. In his first and only season in the EURO League, he averaged 13&6, and greatly improved his 3 PT shoot from the French league to the EURO League, from 19% to 39%. Hayes has struggled early in the NBA Pre Season, having 11 points in 2 games on 4-18 shooting, and 7 turnovers. They also selected Washington big man Isaiah Stewart at pick 16, F Saddiq Bey at 19 and G Saben Lee at 38. Several guys that should get minutes and have the potential to develop into solid players at the NBA level.
Free agency was high and low for the Pistons, as they lost the only bright spot of their season in Christian Wood who got paid by the Rockets, as well as losing Langston Galloway to the Suns, Thon Maker to the Cavs, and Derrick Walton to the 76ers. However, they added F Jerami Grant, who is very underrated and went under the radar last season with the Nuggets. They also stole C Mason Plumlee from the Nuggets. They added C Jahlil Okafor and F Josh Jackson, both former top 5 picks that haven't panned out at all. They added veteran 3&D G Wayne Ellington. A lot of lowkey signings that are low risk high reward, if they can pan out.
The Pistons off season went kind of under the radar, bringing in guys that should be able to help the team, while staying young and can develop into players that can be good when the Pistons are ready to compete.
Grade : D
The Indiana Pacers were a sleeper team coming into the season, and won 45 games managing the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. In the first round they took on the Miami Heat, who simply steamrolled them in 4 games, leading to the firing of then HC Nate McMillan. Now, into their off season we go.
The Pacers didn't have a first round pick, but did have a second rounder at 54. At 54 the Pacers selected G Cassius Stanley from Duke. Stanley is an athletic FREAK, who can really do a lot offensively, whether it being a lob threat, finishing off of 2 feet, being a spot up shooter, or creating for himself. Not a great passer or ball handler and needs to have a better IQ and be consistent. No big signings from the Pacers, brought back Justin Holiday and Jakarr Sampson to fill out the bench, as well as bringing in Kelan Martin who played for the Timberwolves last season and averaged 6.4 PPG and 3.1 RPG in 16 MPG over 31 games.
Overall the Pacers needed something big to push this team over the hump to be real championship contenders, and they didn't do it. They will be getting Jeremy Lamb back, who they didn't have in the bubble, as well as getting Victor Oladipo back 100%, who can hopefully return to his All Star ways.
Grade : A+
The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off a season in which they won 56 games and secured the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After an easy 5 game series win against the Magic the Bucks took on the Miami Heat and Jimmy Butler... And lost in 5 games. Giannis played hurt during that series which definitely hurt them, but nonetheless the Bucks season ended with disappointment.
In the NBA Draft the Bucks drafted Jordan Nwora, F from Louisville with pick 45. Nwora should fit in well with Giannis and provide floor spacing for him as Nwora shot 40% from 3 in his Junior season. Mr Irrelevant, G Sam Merrill was taken with the 60th pick, and traded to the Bucks. Merrill, a 4 year player at Utah State shot 42% through in 4 seasons there, and 41% in his senior season where he led Utah State in scoring averaging 20 PPG for the second season in a row. The Bucks wanted more shooting to space the floor for Giannis to work in the paint, and that's what they got, adding 2 snipers.
So the answer to the disappointment was to bring in another star, and the Bucks were apart of a 4 team trade in order to acquire G Jrue Holiday. The Bucks gave up G Eric Bledsoe, G George Hill and 2 future firsts, to get G Jrue Holiday and G Sam Merrill. The Bucks added several vets ; G Torrey Craig, G D.J. Augustin, G Bryn Forbes, and F/C Bobby Portis. Craig is a defensive first G, who was very good for the Nuggets, and always drew the toughest wing matchup against their opponents. Augustin was apart of the Magic, and was brought in to help the floor spacing more as D.J. Ausutin is a career 38% 3PT Shooter. Bryn Forbes played in Greg Popovich's system, and was brought in, you guessed it, because he can shoot the 3 ball. Bobby Portis, the biggest signing the Bucks had, is more of an offensive minded big, and does have the ability to stretch the floor which is the common theme of the Bucks pick ups this off season.
The Bucks needed 1 more star alongside Giannis and Khris Middleton ; and got Jrue Holiday. They needed shooting to help space the floor for Giannis to work the paint and to replace George Hill ; literally everyone they acquired can shoot the 3 ball very well. The Bucks made themselves the clear favorite in the East this off season, in my opinion, and should certainly bounce back and challenge the Lakers in the Finals.
This took a little longer than I anticipated, and for that I'm sorry. If you did enjoy the article, feel free to drop a follow and stay tuned for Part 3 of the Off Season Grades by division, that should be out tomorrow or Friday.