Tuesday, October 23, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Central Division)

The NBA preview continues. But I'm also linking to a clip of George Carlin's appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night. Since Hunter S. Thompson is dead, this is pretty much as good as gets for me in the "personal heroes in one room" department.

Remember, statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game unless otherwise noted.

Chicago Bulls
2006-07: 49-33
Beat Miami 4-0 in first round
Lost to Detroit 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Scott Skiles
Starting lineup
PG Kirk Hinrich (16.6/3.4/6.3)
SG Ben Gordon (21.4/3.1/3.6)
SF Luol Deng (18.8/7.1/2.5)
PF Tyrus Thomas (5.2/3.7/0.6) or Joe Smith (8.5/6.2/0.8)
C Ben Wallace (6.4/10.7/2.4)
F/C Tyrus Thomas or Joe Smith
F Andres Nocioni (14.1/5.7/1.1)
G Chris Duhon (7.2/2.2/4.0)
C/F Aaron Gray (rookie, 49th pick)
PF Joakim Noah (rookie, 9th pick)
G/F Thabo Sefolosha (3.6/2.2/0.8)
G/F Adrian Griffin (2.5/2.0/1.1)

The team has improved, but so has its competition in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are a contender for the conference championship, but will have to find some source of post scoring if they are to win it. Joe Smith is a nice addition in this regard, but he's 32 years old and his best basketball is probably behind him. The team would likely be better served if Tyrus Thomas has developed his offensive game enough to win the starting power forward job. Luol Deng's consistent improvement bodes well, and the all-around talent could be the team's best player. The guards are a known quantity, with Ben Gordon providing the scoring punch and clutch shooting, Kirk Hinrich running the offense and making plays, and Chris Duhon as the defensive stopper and steadying influence off the bench. Much was made of the acquisition of four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace before last season, but he's not a factor on offense and his rebounding and defense slipped last year. They likely won't get any better for the 33-year-old center this year, but he still strikes fear into anyone who tries to drive to the basket. Sixth man Andres Nocioni was out for most of the second half last year, and his aggression and toughness was sorely missed. Rookies Joakim Noah (pictured, with commissioner David Stern), an athletic defender, and Aaron Gray, who has impressed in preseason, make the Bulls' power rotation one of the league's deepest.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Beat Washington 4-0 in first round
Beat New Jersey 4-2 in conference semifinals
Beat Detroit 4-2 in conference finals
Lost to San Antonio 4-0 in NBA Finals
Coach: Mike Brown
Starting lineup
PG Larry Hughes (14.9/3.8/3.7)
SG Sasha Pavlovic (9.0/2.4/1.6)*
SF LeBron James (27.3/6.7/6.0)
PF Drew Gooden (11.1/8.5/1.1)
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (11.9/7.7/1.6)
G Daniel Gibson (4.6/1.5/1.2)
C/F Anderson Varejao (6.8/6.7/0.9)*
F Donyell Marshall (7.0/4.0/0.6)
PF Cedric Simmons (2.9/2.5/0.3)
PF Dwayne Jones (0.8/1.5/0.0)
PG Eric Snow (4.2/2.3/4.0)
G Damon Jones (6.6/1.1/1.6)
*-contract holdout

LeBron James (pictured) staked his claim as the league's best all-around player when he put the team on his back and carried them to the Finals last year, but the Cavs did nothing to get LeBron James any help in the offseason. If anything, they're worse, as long as Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao continue their contract holdouts. That means playoff sensation Daniel "Boobie" Gibson brings his ability to light it up from behind the arc into the starting lineup, but leaves the cupboard bare on the bench. That doesn't bode well with a 32-year-old starting center with a history of foot problems in Zydrunas Ilgauskas. He must assert himself more on the dfensive end this year, and Drew Gooden will have to be at his best to replace Varejao's energy. If not, reserves Cedric Simmons and Dwayne Jones, both defensive specialists, will grab significant minutes. Donyell Marshall's long-range sharpshooting will be needed now more than ever off the bench. Larry Hughes still struggles as a point guard, but he, Gibson and James can split the responsibility of running the offense three ways. Backup point guard Eric Snow, a defensive option, and reserve Damon Jones, the choice for added scoring, will see minutes depending on the game situation.

Detroit Pistons
Beat Orlando 4-0 in first round
Beat Chicago 4-2 in conference semifinals
Lost to Cleveland 4-2 in conference finals
Coach: Flip Saunders
Starting lineup
PG Chauncey Billups (17.0/3.4/7.2)
SG Richard Hamilton (19.8/3.8/3.8)
SF Tayshaun Prince (14.3/5.2/2.8)
PF Rasheed Wallace (12.3/7.2/1.7)
C Antonio McDyess (8.1/6.0/0.9)
G Rodney Stuckey (rookie, 15th pick)
F/C Jason Maxiell (5.0/2.8/0.2)
G Flip Murray (6.7/1.6/2.7)
SF Jarvis Hayes (7.0/2.6/1.0)
F Amir Johnson (5.9/4.6/0.4)
C Nazr Mohammed (5.6/4.5/0.2)

The familiar foursome of Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups (pictured, in order from left to right), together since the middle of the 2003-04 season, are back for at least one more run at the championship. Antonio McDyess, who has been an energetic and tactful presence off the bench, should be able to comfortably slide into the starting lineup at center. More dramatic changes have taken place on the bench, where a youth movement should allow the Pistons to run with some of the league's up-tempo teams when necessary. Combo guard Rodney Stuckey, a slasher the Pistons have lacked, has played so well in the preseason some are calling the rookie, who was picked 15th, the steal of this year's draft. Amir Johnson, who impressed the team with his work in the D-League the past two years, missed seven of the team's first eight games with an ankle injury, but he's healthy again and should still wind up in the rotation, backing up at both forward spots. Jason Maxiell is only 6-foot-7, but has learned how to use his 260 pounds to become a physical force and skilled rebounder. His leaping ability and speed belie his girth. Nazr Mohammed, who cleans up the offensive glass and can score if needed, should get a chance to redeem himself after falling all the way from starting center to out of the rotation last year. Flip Murray and former Wizard Jarvis Hayes provide bench scoring at the wing positions.

Indiana Pacers
Coach: Jim O'Brien
Starting lineup
PG Jamaal Tinsley (12.8/3.3/6.9)
SG Danny Granger (13.9/4.6/1.4)
SF Mike Dunleavy (12.8/5.3/2.8)
PF Jermaine O'Neal (19.4/9.6/2.4)
C Troy Murphy (10.3/6.1/1.9)
G/F Marquis Daniels (7.1/1.8/1.3)
C Jeff Foster (4.3/8.1/0.8)
PF Ike Diogu (6.2/3.4/0.4)
SG Kareem Rush (10.1/2.2/1.1)
PG Travis Diener (3.8/0.7/1.3)
PG Andre Owens (last played in 2005-06: 3.0/0.9/0.3)
C David Harrison (3.0/1.8/0.3)

I can't believe this team didn't trade Jermaine O'Neal (pictured) during the offseason. Since they didn't, they're caught between mediocrity and rebuilding, and the franchise isn't going anywhere fast. O'Neal has established himself as a very good player, but not outstanding in any way, and far below the level of contemporary greats at his position like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. If third-year man Danny Granger's development continues he could be one of the league's better shooting guards. Aside from O'Neal and Granger, the rest of the team is mediocre at best. Jamaal Tinsley is capable of directing the offense, but little more. Mike Dunleavy knows what to do on the floor but lacks many of the physical gifts necessary to get it done, at least to the level required of an NBA starter. He'd be better off on the bench, but the Pacers have little other choice. His backup, Marquis Daniels is a versatile talent, but his lack of shooting touch keeps him on the bench, where his ability to play all three perimeter positions is more valuable anyway. It's a Faustian choice at center, where starter Troy Murphy can score but doesn't play defense, and backup Jeff Foster protects the basket but can't seem to put the ball inside of it.

Milwaukee Bucks
Coach: Larry Krystkowiak
Starting lineup
PG Maurice Williams (17.3/4.8/6.1)
SG Michael Redd (26.7/3.7/2.3)
SF Bobby Simmons (last played in 2005-06: 13.4/4.4/2.3)
PF Yi Jianlian (rookie, 6th pick)
C Andrew Bogut (12.3/8.8/3.0)
SF Desmond Mason (13.7/4.6/1.5)
PF Charlie Villanueva (11.8/5.8/0.9)
G Charlie Bell (13.5/2.9/3.0)
C Dan Gadzuric (4.8/4.6/0.5)
G Royal Ivey (3.0/1.0/0.8)

Shooting guard Michael Redd, the league's fifth leading scorer last season, got little recognition on a team that compiled the third worst record in the NBA. He may get his due this year, if a young roster can deliver on some of its promise and learn to play defense. Point guard Maurice Williams is a microcosm of the team, which gave up 112 points a game in 2006-07, second only to the league doormat Grizzlies. His court vision, ball-handling and ability to score are among the best in the league, but he's a poor defender. He'll be joined in the starting lineup by Yi Jianlian (pictured), who'll be getting plenty of minutes whether or not rumors he was promised playing time by Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., who moonlights as the team owner and made a special trip to China to secure the services of the sixth pick in this year's draft. Yi's quickness, agility and jump shot are his strengths, but he's not a great defender and has no low-post game, two reasons he's at power forward instead of center. Small forward Bobby Simmons, who missed last year after surgeries on his ankle and heel, also won a starting job in training camp, beating out Desmond Mason. Simmons' all-around game trumped the athleticism of Mason, who isn't an outside shooting threat and is undersized at 6-foot-5. Mason is a better fit with an athletic bench, which includes center Dan Gadzuric, a change of pace from the more offensively oriented starter Andrew Bogut.

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