The Eastern Conference will be extremely interesting this season, especially the Central Division.
Although there was a lot of flux in the NBA with LeBron James and Anthony Davis going to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George suiting up for the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joining the Brooklyn Nets, the stars of the Central Division stayed put.
The Milwaukee Bucks still have reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo along with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez.
Victor Oladipo will miss the beginning of the season for the Indiana Pacers, but he will be back on the court this season after sustaining a knee injury. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond still have Detroit Pistons’ jerseys and for what it’s worth, Kevin Love is still in Cleveland.
The Bulls don’t have super studs yet, but Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are on a mission to become top players in the division.
Here is how each team should finish in the Eastern Conference Central Division with the roster as it is a few weeks out of the 2019-2020 NBA season.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Last year, the Bucks lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors. If everything works out as the paper reads, the Bucks should be in the Eastern Conference Finals and could represent the east in the NBA Finals.
The star power is back and the bench has been strengthened with Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, and Kyle Korver.
There is no reason the Bucks shouldn’t live up to ESPN’s No. 2 power ranking – only trailing the Clippers – heading into the season. Milwaukee finished 60-22 last season and they could pick up another five or six wins in this campaign.
2. Indiana Pacers
The only reason I have the Pacers at No. 2 is because of Oladipo. If he comes back and is half of the player he was before his injury, the Pacers could be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference.
We saw what Indiana (48-34 and a five seed) did without him and it can only get better with a bonafide NBA All-Star.
Myles Turner is probably looking to shake off a poor performance in the summer’s World Cup where Team USA was ousted by France in a quarterfinal, which may have been USA’s worst showing in summer ball.
Domantas Sabonis was a beast last season and was the kingpin of the Pacers’ run without Oladipo.
Indiana also did some retooling this summer and added depth with many capable players in T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott.
3. Chicago Bulls
LaVine and Markkanen are playing to be considered stars in not only the division but also the NBA.
Coby White wants to prove he is a legit NBA player and worth the No. 7 pick in the draft.
Thaddeus Young and Otto Porter are talented veterans who can lead the young squad and add space to the offense since they’re both big guys who can shoot the ball.
If injuries can leave Wendall Carter Jr. alone, he can be an All-Star candidate in the depleted Eastern Conference with LaVine and Markkanen.
The injury bug has been a real problem in Chicago in the last couple of seasons. If they can stay healthy, the Bulls should have a way better record than last year’s 22-60 and be in the playoffs.
4. Detroit Pistons
Griffin and Drummond make every opponent respect them in the paint.
However, Drummond isn’t effective out of the paint offensively and Griffin is pretty fragile. Detroit needs more than them.
Derrick Rose isn’t the Rose we know from the Bulls and is only going to give you 15-plus points for a short time before he falls off a little bit or gets hurt himself. He showed he still had a lot of talent left while he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves last year. And, then he got hurt.
The resurgence of Joe Johnson, 38, is a great story but will his play in the Big 3 carry over to the NBA where he is being guarded by younger players who don’t have the wear and tear on their legs like he does?
It will be interesting, but I think Detroit takes a step back from its 41-41 mark from a year ago.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
Although Love should play this season after being beaten up the last season or two, he isn’t a player who can steer a team into success by himself.
Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have any stars around him anymore like Irving or James. However, there are a few young pieces that could make the Cavs a fun team to watch even though viewers know they’re going to lose.
Collin Sexton can shoot a team out of the gym and Jordan Clarkson is a savvy player who always seems to make the right decision when he gets on the floor. Larry Nance Jr. has shown signs he could be impactful and Ante Zizic is a rebounding machine.
I don’t see Cleveland winning many more than the 19 games they won last year with the roster as it stands now, but they could be an NBA TV Thursday night game to tune into.