StatFox continues its run of previewing all six NBA divisions in the next six weeks before the regular season tips off on Oct. 29. Next up is the Central Division, which the Indiana Pacers won by 4.5 games last season.
Once the NBA season begins, check out NBA Best Bets for all the Expert picks both Against the Spread and Over/Under Totals. StatFox Scott was 57% (130-99-5) in Totals last season (including 58% in playoffs) and 52.4% ATS (122-111-2) on his regular season Best Bets. StatFox Gary was 59.4% (19-13-1) on Totals in the postseason, while StatFox Dave was 53% ATS (10-9) Best Bets for the NBA Playoffs and StatFox Brian was 52.1% ATS (25-23) Best Bets in the postseason.
CENTRAL DIVISIONCHICAGO BULLS
2012-13 SU record: 50-44 SU (53.2%), 12th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 41-52-1 ATS (44.1%), 26th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Central Division: 83-to-100
Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 9-to-2
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 10-to-1
After playing it very safe and sitting out all of last spring, DERRICK ROSE should pretty much be his old self. Of course, he’ll have to knock some rust off early in the year . . . JIMMY BUTLER was an iron man during last year’s playoffs, and his role will only grow this season. His defense and energy, as well as ability to get to the line, could make Luol Deng expendable . . . MIKE DUNLEAVY is in line for the sixth man role, primarily as a long-range threat . . . With Rose’s return, KIRK HINRICH slides back to the bench. His playing time will be especially limited with Dunleavy taking up minutes at the two . . . MARQUIS TEAGUE will continue to be used only in garbage time unless Hinrich ends up getting hurt or traded.
LUOL DENG is back on the trading block, as the Bulls learned life isn’t so bad without him now that Jimmy Butler has emerged. His offensive role could be slightly reduced . . . CARLOS BOOZER will likely be amnestied next summer, so for all intents and purposes this is a contract year. He’s likely to still be a disaster defensively, which means he’s a part-time player under defensive-minded head coach Tom Thibodeau . . . TAJ GIBSON will finish games and likely take over Boozer’s spot a year from now. He’s a superior defender and, while he doesn’t have Boozer’s range, he’s a capable finisher around the rim . . . Rookie TONY SNELL is a Thibodeau kind of player, a long-armed, athletic perimeter defender. He’s unlikely to ever do much on offense though.
JOAKIM NOAH may be consistently banged up, but he’s capable of playing through the pain. Depending on the Bulls’ playoff position, he might sit some games late in the year, but Thibodeau isn’t shy about playing him 35 minutes per night . . . NAZR MOHAMMED is back as a designated screener on offense and hacker on defense.
StatFox Take: Derrick Rose never saw the floor last season as he hadn't fully recovered from a torn ACL. But all sides point to him being fully healthy come opening night on Oct. 29 in Miami. The Bulls made the playoffs without Rose and added Mike Dunleavy, who can provide some much needed offense off the bench. Miami ran away with the Eastern Conference last season, but with Rose back, they have a legitimate shot to reclaim the spot atop the East standings.
2012-13 SU record: 24-58 SU (29.3%), 28th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 40-41-1 ATS (49.4%), T-17th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Central Division: 18-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 100-to-1
There are some durability concerns, but KYRIE IRVING is on the verge of stardom. He should benefit from the arrival of Anthony Bennett, the kind of pick-and-roll weapon Cleveland has lacked . . . DION WAITERS is still a work-in-progress defensively, and this will likely be another developmental year. He might end up settling in as the leader of the second unit . . . JARRETT JACK seems likely to close out games, even if he doesn’t technically start. He’s a creative shot-maker who will play close to starter’s minutes . . . C.J. MILES is more of a situational three-point threat. SERGEY KARASEV, a polished Euro import, could push him for that role . . . CARRICK FELIX doesn’t figure to crack this rotation.
No. 1 overall pick ANTHONY BENNETT will see time at both forward spots, and he’ll be a pick-and-pop weapon no matter where he’s playing. The question is whether he’ll defend well enough to stay on the court for 30 minutes . . . There should also be enough minutes for TRISTAN THOMPSON, who hasn’t quite put it together. The 22-year-old has upside though, and is a bigger part of Cleveland’s future than Anderson Varejao . . . EARL CLARK gives the Cavs a quality second unit player who can play extended minutes if Bennett is overmatched defensively . . . A starter last year, ALONZO GEE figures to be a second-unit glue guy, but might be looking at a lot of DNP-CDs.
ANDERSON VAREJAO is once again healthy and once again trade bait. No matter what the starting lineup looks like, he’ll play major minutes at the four and five . . . The Cavs are taking a flier on ANDREW BYNUM. With his knee problems, it’d be surprising if he could give them 20-plus good minutes per night . . . TYLER ZELLER is likely the odd man out until Varejao is dealt or Bynum gets injured.
StatFox Take: Cleveland stole the No.1 draft pick with the NBA’s flawed lottery system and now appears to be heading towards a playoff berth. Kyrie Irving is set to become one of basketball’s elite point guards and he now has a talented supporting cast to help him win games. Anthony Bennett, the first pick in the draft, was a surprising choice for the Cavaliers but he is an absolute force on offense and should be a mismatch nightmare right out of the gate.
2012-13 SU record: 29-53 SU (35.4%), T-23rd in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 41-41 ATS (50.0%), 15th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Central Division: 20-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 100-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 100-to-1
BRANDON JENNINGS got a three-year deal to prove himself as a capable point guard, not just a flashy scorer. He’ll have plenty of talent surrounding him in Detroit . . . RODNEY STUCKEY is in a contract year and has plenty of motivation. The question is whether his decision-making will ever allow him to play full-time . . . CHAUNCEY BILLUPS could beat out Stuckey for the two-guard role. He can play both backcourt spots and should see plenty of minutes . . . KENTAVIOUS CALDWELL-POPE scored through a lot of double-teams in college. We’ll see if the late-bloomer is able to be as effective against NBA athletes. With the depth in Detroit, he’s looking at strictly second-unit minutes this year . . . WILL BYNUM is locked into a second-unit spot.
JOSH SMITH is Detroit’s new alpha dog. Offensively, he’s a boom-or-bust player now that he’ll spend more time on the perimeter . . . KYLE SINGLER was a steadying presence last year, and with his ability to play multiple spots, he should continue to get solid minutes off the bench . . . Italian League MVP LUIGI DATOME gives them a Swiss army knife type off the bench . . . It’s back to square one for JONAS JEREBKO, who fell out of favor under Lawrence Frank. He has the kind of positional flexibility and versatility GM Joe Dumars has talked up, but he’ll have to earn second-unit minutes . . . Second-rounder TONY MITCHELL is an NBA athlete who can break this rotation if the effort is there . . . CHARLIE VILLANUEVA gets paid a lot of money to do very little.
GREG MONROE will give up some touches with Josh Smith coming in, but being surrounded by athletes like Smith and Andre Drummond will cover up his defensive flaws . . . ANDRE DRUMMOND will log close to full-time minutes with Monroe playing primarily the four. His offensive game may never come, but he’s a defensive and rebounding monster. JOSH HARRELLSON will be a fan favorite who plays hard in the rare occasions he sees the floor.
StatFox Take: After signing Josh Smith and trading for Brandon Jennings, there is no doubt the Pistons are a more talented team. The question however lies in how these players will mesh. There are a lot of characters on this team now, but this is nothing that new head coach Maurice Cheeks hasn’t seen before. The experienced Cheeks has his work cut out for him to put this Detroit team back in the playoffs, but the overall skill is there.
2012-13 SU record: 60-40 SU (60.0%), 8th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 54-46 ATS (54.0%), 9th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Central Division: 13-to-10
Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 13-to-2
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 14-to-1
GEORGE HILL is less of a creator and more of a game-manager/scorer, which fits fine in this starting five . . . LANCE STEPHENSON continues to be an enigma. His speed pushing the ball in transition is an asset, but his terrible shooting and bizarre decision-making often makes him a liability in the half court . . . C.J. WATSON has proven to be a capable second-unit point guard, but he’s on his third team in three years because he’s managed to give away two playoff games with monumentally bad moments . . . ORLANDO JOHNSON is unlikely to see meaningful minutes, but his role should grow slightly now that Gerald Green is gone.
This is PAUL GEORGE’S team. Once a do-it-all role player, he’s now polished enough to create his own offense . . . As expected, DAVID WEST bounced back in his second season off a torn ACL. He’s still deadly as a mid-range shooter, a savvy passer and a strong rebounder . . . LUIS SCOLA slides into Tyler Hansbrough’s old role as a second-unit banger, and insurance for West and Roy Hibbert . . . DANNY GRANGER is in no-man’s land. He’s not better than Paul George, and probably no longer an upgrade over Lance Stephenson. His best asset may be his expiring deal . . . CHRIS COPELAND can’t defend, but gives the Pacers a three-point threat . . . SOLOMON HILL doesn’t figure to contribute this season.
ROY HIBBERT proved capable of handling more minutes last season, but Indy will likely still be cautious with their asthmatic 7-foot-2 center during the regular season . . . IAN MAHINMI is back to give his six fouls and move some bodies out of the paint.
StatFox Take: The Pacers got to the Eastern Conference Finals last season but came up short of reaching their ultimate goal at the hands of the Miami Heat. This season they’ll get back Danny Granger who, if healthy, provides another scorer capable of taking over games with his shooting ability. Indiana also made another sneaky good move this offseason by swapping out Tyler Hansbrough for Luis Scola. Although he's 33 years old, Scola is a hard-nosed player who fits the theme of this Pacers team. If Paul George can remain consistent, the Pacers are a real threat to win the East.
2012-13 SU record: 38-48 SU (44.2%), 18th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 37-48-1 ATS (43.5%), 27th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Central Division: 100-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 60-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 125-to-1
BRANDON KNIGHT slides into Brandon Jennings’ point guard slot, but he’s a much different player. Knight hasn’t proven capable of running the point, and may eventually settle in as an undersized shooter . . . O.J. MAYO will be the focal point of this offense. He should build on his career-best year in Dallas . . . GARY NEAL will give them some instant offense as a sixth man . . . LUKE RIDNOUR provides Knight insurance, and the ability to play either guard spot. He should fit nicely alongside Mayo for stretches . . . KHRIS MIDDLETON could crack the rotation as a capable defender with upside as a shooter . . . Second-rounder NATE WOLTERS must knock down jumpers if he’s going to get off the bench.
ERSAN ILYASOVA will once again have to earn his starter’s minutes, as the Bucks have loaded up on quality frontcourt depth. He provides more offense than anyone else on the front line . . . CARON BUTLER should start at small forward for this team after freeing himself before ever having to play in Phoenix . . . CARLOS DELFINO will play a key role scoring off the bench. He’s a streaky long-range gunner, but defends well enough to stay on the court . . . JOHN HENSON is on the verge of a breakout as an elite rebounder and shot-blocker. He’s still a bit behind offensively, which could hold him back in a crowded post rotation . . . GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO was the most intriguing project in a weak draft, but the teenager is nowhere near ready for NBA action. He’ll likely see time in the D-League until the second half of the season.
We’ve loved LARRY SANDERS for years, and last year showed why. He’s a Defensive POY candidate with a budding offensive game . . . ZAZA PACHULIA reunites with head coach Larry Drew as muscle off the bench . . . EKPE UDOH is likely on the outside looking in for this rotation.
StatFox Take: The Bucks had a mess of a backcourt last year with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, two players who were only concerned with getting their own shots up. They now got a little bit younger, but they are still too much of a longshot to earn a playoff berth in the East. This Bucks team is good enough to stay competitive, but they either need to rebuild or build themselves a winner fast.
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SOUTHEAST Division - Wed, Oct. 2
NORTHWEST Division - Wed, Oct. 9
PACIFIC Division - Wed, Oct. 16
SOUTHWEST Division - Wed, Oct. 23