Season Preview: Central Division
By Jay Cipoleti
Derrick Rose returns.
The Bulls were a very good defensive team last season. Their 100.3 Defensive Rating was better than all but four playoff teams. With Rose spearheading the Chicago D in 2011-12, the Bulls' 95.3 DefRtg was the best the League had seen since the 2003-04 Spurs strangled teams with a 91.6 DefRtg.
That's not to say he won't have an impact on the offensive end. He will, and the Bulls need him there just as much. Their 100.4 Offensive Rating was nearly five points per 100 possessions below the playoff team average, and well behind the Heat's NBA-best 110.3.
Without Rose attacking the rim and creating shots, the Bulls only managed to make 105 of the Eastern-Conference-low 293 Corner 3s they tried (the Heat MADE 309). They struggled to make shots everywhere else, too, shooting below the League average in the Restricted Area, In The Paint and from Mid-Range. From Above the Break, they managed to make 35.5% of their 961 attempts (third-fewest in League), a tick above the 35.4% made across the NBA.
How did they address both defensive concerns? By signing Andrew Bynum.
It is a matter of economics. The fewer resources needed to defend the Restricted Area, the more that are available to close out and contest or prevent Corner 3s. Length on the wings further limits opponents' C3 looks (as the Pacers 53.3% RA/33.2% C3 defense shows), something the Cavs also added in the offseason.
On the offensive end, top pick Anthony Bennett converted 73% of his chances at the rim last season at UNLV, a figure Cleveland is counting on to translate in his rookie campaign. With the addition of Jarrett Jack to the backcourt of Waiters and Irving, the Cavs will have no problem getting open looks.
Where they get them and how well they convert them (only 47.3% eFG last season, 27th in League) will largely determine their playoff chances.
Andre Drummond showcased his phenomenal potential at the Orlando Summer League. Josh Smith brings his 72% RA make rate (and frustratingly high take and miss rates everywhere else). Greg Monroe took more Restricted Area shots (660) than any other player.
The Pistons are built to attack and destroy the rim on one end, and defend it at all costs on the other.
If rookie marksman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can replicate his 37.3% 3-point accuracy and maintain his 70% make rate at the rim, the Pistons won't need incoming point guard Brandon Jennings to shoulder quite as much of the shooting duties.
Detroit looks likely to improve their Defensive Rating (105.6 in '12-'13) into League average territory (103.1 or below); the quality of shots they get on the offensive end will determine whether their offensive improves as well, moving them into playoff consideration.
Only four teams had a five-man lineup play more than 150 minutes in the playoffs. As you might expect, they were the four Conference Finalists; as you might not expect, the Pacers' Big 5 were the dominant lineup of the four.
|Conference Finalists Big 5||Minutes||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Margin|
Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill, David West and Lance Stephenson played well enough to run away with a title. That they did not speaks to the glaring need entering the 2013-14 campaign -- productive minutes off the bench.
In serviceable big man Luis Scola, second-year sharpshooter Chris Copeland (41.5% Corner 3s) and the return of injured All-Star Danny Granger, the Pacers have all the complementary pieces in place. A return to the Eastern Conference Finals is the expectation in Indianapolis ... another series beyond that is certainly within reach.
The Bucks took a lot of shots last year. More shots than any other team, in fact. Their 7,197 FGAs was the most by a large margin, only two other teams came within 180 shot attempts of Milwaukee (Denver and Phoenix).
That is not necessarily a good thing. They took, and missed, a lot of Restricted Area shots, their 56.6% mark was second-worst among playoff teams. They went to the line infrequently (0.236 FTA Rate), meaning more possessions ended with live shots than shooting fouls and free points. The positive is that they turned the ball over at a rate below the League average (14.4%) and they rebounded a higher percentage of their misses (27.9%).
How will they replace the 790 Mid-Range jumpers taken by Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings? Bucks fans should hope they don't.
Offseason acquisitions Carlos Delfino, Gary Neal and OJ Mayo give the Bucks something they lacked last season -- prolific 3-point shooting. Neal and Delfino were a combined 72-168 in the corners last season, while Mayo shot above 40% from all three 3-point zones. Reallocating a sizable portion of their 2,054 Mid-Range jumpers to behind the 3-point line should boost the Bucks' 100.9 Offensive Rating to somewhere in the vicinity of the 103.1 League average, moving them into positive Net Margin territory.