In the second part of our NBA Season Preview, we take a look at the key players in the Central Division, where the current Champions Cleveland reside. Can anyone match LeBron and co. in this division? Matt Pegg takes a look…
Chicago Bulls – Dwyane Wade
He is back home. In one of the more surprising moves of the off-season, Dwyane Wade, who had spent the last decade in Miami, returned to his hometown to help lead a new era in Chicago.
Joining Wade in the Windy City is Rajon Rondo, who five years ago was a fully-fledged all-star. However, since leaving Boston the Point Guard has failed to find his past form, despite leading the league in assists last season.
With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah both leaving for New York, it will fall to Rondo and Wade to re-ignite a team that underperformed in the East in 2015-16.
Jimmy Butler, who is turning out to be one of the NBA’s most promising players will take some of the scoring weight off of Wade’s aging shoulders. However, Chicago needs a superstar; someone to generate excitement amongst the fans. Jordan did that in the 90’s, Rose did this in 2011 and Wade must do this in 2017.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Kyrie Irving
Never has the importance of an in-form Kyrie Irving been more noticeable for Cleveland than in last season’s finals against Golden State. Irving outplayed Steph Curry through all seven games; some feat considering just how good the Warriors guard has been during the past two years.
While LeBron James will again see much of the ball this season and will likely continue to dominate the league, Irving is just as essential to success in Cleveland.
The guard is virtually impossible to stop 1-on-1, a clutch shooter and a totally unselfish team player. Irving is the future of this franchise and, if he stays healthy and maximises his individual talents, could be an outside bet for MVP.
Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
At just 23 years old, it is hard to believe that Andre Drummond is already the man whom the Pistons roster is centred around. But this is validation for the big man’s growing influence in the NBA.
It has been a frustrating transitional period in Detroit but with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, they have steadily improved and now look ready for a full scale assault on the Eastern Conference.
While Reggie Jackson, the go-to man for points in Detroit last season, is out until December, the Pistons have enough fire power to see that they will still be in the running come the turn of the year. New arrival Ish Smith will be holding down the fort at Point Guard in Jackson’s absence.
However, all eyes will be on Drummond, who controls the boards with assurance at both ends of the court and is maturing into his role as a key offensive target and the leader of a franchise that is so desperate for success.
Indiana Pacers – Paul George
Who else? The man who holds the hope of Indiana in his hands almost every season is once again set to be the focal point of the Pacers.
After a horrific injury kept Paul George out for almost an entire year in 2014, he returned with much fanfare last season and was back to his brilliant best almost immediately.
This season, George will have offensive help from Jeff Teague, a fast, exciting guard acquired from Atlanta. Too often last season, the forward carried too much of the scoring weight on his shoulders, especially with a 31-year-old Monta Ellis showing his age, and Teague will remedy that.
If new coach Nate McMillan can sort out some dire defensive habits within the team, and George plays at his 100% best, Indiana could be real contenders in the East this season.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
If there are any lesser-known NBA players whose highlights are worth searching for on YouTube, then Giannis Antetokounmpo has to be at the top of that list.
‘The Greek Freak’ has a shockingly impressive wingspan, leaps like a gazelle and, more importantly, has the talents to help Milwaukee become a dominant force in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the most interesting develop that will occur this season is the experiment that saw Antetokounmpo moved to Point Guard by Busk coach Jason Kidd. The Greek youngster was producing triple-doubles on a nightly basis with the ball on his hands at the point.
While the rest of the Bucks roster isn’t laden with veterans or superstars, expect the young talents of Jabari Parker and the efficient outside shooting of Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic to help Milwaukee climb the East.
While fans in Wisconsin shouldn’t anticipate a deep play-off run, expect Giannis and co. to battle hard for their legendary coach.