Thursday, October 25, 2007

WCBN NBA Preview: Central Division

WCBN sports covers everything Michigan in the world of sports, but we also cover national news as we come from all around the nation. So starting today until the start of the NBA season on Tuesday, we will have a preview of the NBA by one of our resident NBA (and Chicago Bulls fans) Amy Aimonovitch, broken down by division. Here's the preview!!

So the NBA season is just around the corner and there are a few here at the station who, like me, can’t wait for this season to start. So, without any further ado, I present to you a preview of the season to come, division by division:

Central Division

Well, since we’re quite close to Detroit, and because we have a Bulls fan and Cavs fan, I'll start with the Central division and the Eastern conference.

1. Detroit Pistons

Last season: The Pistons went 53-29, winning both the division and the conference. They also finished with the only winning road record in the East. As they have in past, Detroit continued running their slow, deliberate offense focusing on passing and manipulating the shot clock and as a result, they averaged only 11.7 turnovers per game, the lowest average in the league. Despite the fact that no one on the team shot better than 39% on 3 pointers and on average the team was out rebounded, the Pistons were a good offense team because of their meticulous style. On top of all this, too, the Pistons were an extremely good defensive team; they lead the league in blocks, averaging 5.76 per game despite the fact that only Rasheed Wallace and Amir Johnson averaged more than 1 block per game (although Johnson only played in 8 games, so he doesn’t particularly count). For the most part, Detroit didn’t really miss Ben Wallace, although they had less defensive rebounds and tend to foul more without him. Miraculously as well, the Pistons managed to avoid any major injuries; every key player on the team played at lest 70 games of the season.

This season: So while I can’t legitimately pick against the Pistons in the central, this team was more weaknesses then people really want to admit too. For one, the Pistons lead the league in technical fouls last year, and even if you take out Rasheed Wallace’s total, the Pistons would still finished third in the league. Rip Hamilton finished right behind Wallace with 15 T’s last year. On top of that, the Pistons have admitted that when they have a lead they have a tendency to back off and lose focus; that’s why they almost lost two years ago in the playoffs to the Cavs, and why they did lose to Cleveland this year. Plus, they are without Chris Webber this year.

Prediction: 1st in the Central until they prove otherwise and, as such, 1st in the Eastern conference.

2. Chicago Bulls

Last season: The Bulls has their best record since the Jordan years last season, going 49-33. It was also the first time since the Jordan years that the Bulls actually won a playoff series. Despite the improvements, though, the Bulls still have a lot to work on. While they get blown out very rarely (they lost by 15 or more only twice), the team has a tendency to play down to some of their opponents (case in point, the last regular season game against New Jersey that cost them the #2 seed in the East. In addition to that, the Bulls would play many of the top tier teams close for most of the game, and then proceed to give the game away at the very end (example: a January 2nd lose to the Suns by only one point). While the Bulls are known mostly as a defensive team, they had the second best 3-point shooting percentage, 38.8%, behind only Phoenix. It’s a good thing that Chicago was so good from behind the line, because they still didn’t have a post presence again this year. Overall, the offense was dependent mostly on jump shots, and therefore, it was the defense that saved the Bulls. They were one of the best teams in the league at forcing turnovers and, luckily for them, opponents only shot 73% from the charity stripe.

This season: Luckily, the Bulls are returning their entire young core instead of trading any of them Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett. This group has played together for three years now and they seem to have excellent chemistry. This team should be better than they were last year, what with the additions of Joakim Noah, JamesOn Curry, and Aaron Gray; if the Bulls can establish any kind of low post threat, they will be an extremely difficult team to beat.

Prediction: Until they can show that they can compete with the top tier teams in the league, I have the Bulls finishing 2nd in the Central and subsequently, because the Central is the best division in the East, 2nd in the conference.

3. Cavaliers

Last season: Despite Cleveland’s record of 50-32, they were frankly lucky to make it as far as they did into the playoffs; the Bulls blew the last game of the season and handed the Cavs the 2nd seed in the East, and in the first series they came up against a battered Wizards team that could barely put up a fight. And despite the perception of Cleveland as an outstanding offensive team, the team was actually anything but; the Cavs were 21st in the league in field goal percentage, 18th in 3-point percentage, and 29th in free throw percentage (Lebron’s 69.8% in the last category didn’t help). Actually the one thing that Cleveland really excelled at on the offense end was offensive rebounding, and this was due mostly to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Anderson Varejao, and Donyell Marshall. Those four helped make the Cavs the one of the top three offensive rebounding teams in the league. Of course, they were partially really good at offensive rebounding because they missed so many shots. Defensively, however, the team was superb. They forced turnovers and limited their opponent’s attempt from the 3-point line; their opponents shot only 32.9% from the field.

This season: Cleveland should be quite good again; the only off season move that could hurt them is if Anderson Varejao doesn’t return, or if he returns with any resent towards the Cavs. Currently, neither he nor Sasha Pavlovic have reached a deal with the team. The team should improve on offense as well this year, considering that Lebron James, Larry Hughes, and Ilgauskas all had down years last year. James averaged fewer points than he did the year before, and both his free throw and 3-point percentages went down. Ilgauskas average only 11.9 points per game and Hughes shot only 40% from the field and below 70% on free throws for the first time in his career.

Prediction: 3rd in the division and 5th in the conference, despite the fact that they’ll probably have a better record than the winners of the other two divisions in the East.

4. Pacers

Last season: Where to start with the Pacers? They went 35-47 last year, fired their coach, and all this after their season took a downturn with the 8 player trade with Golden State. After a very brief win streak following the trade, the Pacers feel apart in the second half of the season, capped off by a 2-14 record in March. Basically, the trade did in Indiana; for one, both Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy were underperforming in Oakland. Dunleavy, the third pick in the draft in 2002, started only 6 of the 39 games he played in for Golden State and Murphy averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds with the Warriors. Neither player excelled in Indiana either, though Dunleavy at least had the excuse that Pacers tried to play him at shooting guard. Despite their obvious lack of a shooting guard (Dunleavy, for the record, is 6’9”), the Pacers didn’t make any moves during the season to try to fill this hole. Relying heavily on Jermaine O’Neal, the Pacers offense was one of the worst in the league; they were last in the league in shooting percentage, at 43.8%. While the offensive was horrendous, the defensive was slightly better, though neither Murphy nor Dunleavy was particularly an assist on this side of the ball.

This season: The Pacers at least attempted to fill the hole at shooting guard this summer, although all they managed to get was Travis Diener (who is a decent 3 point shooter, but is small and has little experience in the NBA, barely playing for the Magic) and Kareem Rush (who wasn’t in the league last year). Either way, though, they’re looking a tough year, what with a new coach, little depth at shooting guard, and a forward who has alienated two of the three coaches he’s played under (yep, that would be Dunleavy again).

Prediction: 4th in the division, simply because I have no faith in Milwaukee to perform better than the Pacers.

5. Bucks

Last season: Last year, for the sixth straight year, the Bucks lost at least 40 games. They went 28-54 last year, good enough to finish next to last in the Eastern conference with the league’s third worse record. Surprisingly, though, the Bucks actually began the season decently, going 16-17, until Michael Redd went down with knee injury. Then Charlie Villanueva suffered an elbow injury and only played 39 games. Several other members of the Bucks missed time as well, and by the end, the team seemed to be throwing in the towel, announcing that Andrew Bogut and Villanueva would sit out the last month of the season. Overall, however, the Bucks were good offensively (they had the 7th best field goal percentage in the league), but they had trouble getting to the line and relied too heavily on jumpers, even the big men. The reason the Bucks were so bad record-wise was their defense; they ranked 29th in the league in field goal percentage allowed. They also had problems blocking the ball and defensive rebounding. And all this after the Bucks got a playoff berth the year before.

This season: First off, it probably doesn’t help the Bucks that this is their third coach in 6 years. Also, aside from finally managing to get their hands on their draft pick (Yi Jianlian), the Bucks didn’t do anything substantial to their roster. But, they will be getting back Bobby Simmons who had off-season heel surgery last summer and Villanueva and Redd will be back and healthy this year. I, however, am not really to write off last season simply because the Bucks had some key injuries. Every team deals with injuries in this league and it isn’t an excuse for a bad performance; if you want to avoid this problem, get a deeper bench, don’t just base your team around 1-2 players who make or break your team.

Prediction: 5th in the division, although they could battle the Pacers down the stretch for this spot.

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