2016-17 NBA Expectations Meter: Central Division

Continuing our expectations meter for every NBA team heading into the 2016-17 season, we now take a look at the Central Division. Rather than simply previewing each team, we analyzed them and created what a successful season would look like for each franchise. Obviously, the bar is much lower for some than others (spoiler alert: the 76ers and Warriors do not have the same expectations), but each team has goals to work toward.

We continue our journey now to the Central Division, home of the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers and Bucks. Three out of these five teams reached the postseason in 2015-16, and some may have a tough task getting back. The Cavaliers return a largely intact roster, while the Bulls made wholesale changes, adding Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo while parting ways with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, two prominent franchise players. The Pacers look to get back into the playoffs behind Paul George, while the Bucks are going to need to pray that Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokoumpo carry the team on their shoulders (oh, yeah side note: they brought in Jason Terry too. He’s still in the league? Crazy right?) Oh. Right. There’s also the Pistons, led by Stan Van Gundy, who also had the hottest mixtape of 2015.

Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of drama as to who will win this division, not when Cleveland is coming off an NBA Championship. Much like when James won in 2012 with Miami, you can expect this title momentum to carry him well into the next postseason run. However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be interesting watching James and Wade square off in the same division. Plus, the dynamic of the Bulls with Wade, Butler and Rondo fighting for leadership will be mighty interesting.

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Cleveland Cavaliers             

            2015-16                 2016-17
              57-25                   59-23
 Beat GSW in Finals (7 games) Back-to-Back NBA Champs
   1st in Central Division      1st in Central Division

This year, the Cleveland Cavaliers face a unique challenge. For the first time, perhaps, in NBA History, nobody is talking about LeBron James and the pressure he is facing. Nobody is talking on TV about how long ago Cleveland won their last title, or how he is 2-4 in the NBA Finals. That pressure was placed squarely on the Golden State Warriors after signing Kevin Durant. No, the challenge this year for the Cleveland Cavaliers isn’t the pressure; it’s staying focused and motivated.

The competition that the Cavaliers will face in the Eastern Conference is going to be far less strenuous than their likely rematch with the Golden State Warriors. Even the Raptors or Celtics, two teams predicted to finish directly behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference, offer little more than a tough game. If Cleveland sinks down to the level of the Chicago Bulls, for instance, they will immediately be behind the 8-ball in their task of winning another title. Golden State will be more ready than ever by the time June rolls around. The big question is: will Cleveland?

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Chicago Bulls            

            2015-16                 2016-17
              42-40                   48-34
  9th in Eastern Conference       Conference Semifinals
    4th in Central Division      2nd in Central Division

 

The 2016-17 Chicago Bulls will be a strange, strange team. Of course, you have Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo replacing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and many will argue whether or not that is an upgrade. The Knicks and Bulls basically had a good old-fashioned swap, and who knows, maybe both teams will come out of it with something to show. Wade has shown that he can still play at a productive level on most nights, while outperforming expectations on others. Rondo is still Rondo; an occasional distraction, occasional pest, but also, an occasionally good player to have on your team. This is without a doubt still Jimmy Butler’s team, but he has friends now.

Wade has also said that his signing with Chicago is “bigger than basketball” after his cousin was fatally shot in Chicago over the summer, so expect him to do what he always does and continue to fight for social causes while making great plays on the court.

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Indiana Pacers

            2015-16                 2016-17
               45-37                    48-34
 7th in East (Lost in 1st round)       Conference Semifinals
   2nd in Central Division      3rd in Central Division

The 2015-16 season began with a lot of promise for the Indiana Pacers. Paul George was finally returning from his long injury, and the Pacers finished as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They lost a hard-fought series to the Toronto Raptors in the first round, costing head coach Frank Vogel his job.

This year, the Pacers look to further their playoff success, and if not, Larry Bird might have to kill someone on the spot to make an example out of them. This guy wants to win, and bringing in the old assistant coach Nate McMillan after a decent season shows that. Expect the Pacers to play with intensity and have a decently hot start, but fade a little bit toward the end of the season.

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Detroit Pistons

            2015-16                 2016-17
              44-38                   46-36
 8th in East (Swept in 1st round)        Make the Playoffs
   3rd in Central Division      4rd in Central Division

Last year was big for the Detroit Pistons, there’s no doubt about that. They made the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season, but were swept by the Cavaliers. Andre Drummond made some significant leaps, and they return with an ample amount of youth.

The Pistons may have been swept by the Cavaliers in the first round, but they didn’t go down without a fight. The Pistons showed that they were a gritty team, and this mentality could bode well for them this season. Joining them will be 18th overall pick Henry Ellenson, a big man out of Marquette. The Pistons will need to make the playoffs, however, to continue their progress, and that could be tough in this year’s Eastern Conference.

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Milwaukee Bucks

            2015-16                 2016-17
               33-49                   42-40
 12th in Eastern Conference    10th in Eastern Conference
   5th in Central Division      5th in Central Division

As a 76ers fan, it is borderline depressing that the worst team in this division last year still had 23 more wins than the Sixers. All joking aside, the Milwaukee Bucks weren’t that good by any measure, but they did see some positive signs. In December, they ended the Golden State Warriors’ 28-game win streak, a feat some might say was assisted by the Boston Celtics. They saw decent improvement from 22-year old Giannis Antetokounmpo (for the purposes of this article, we will just refer to him as ‘G-man’) and 21-year old Jabari Parker, two players they will have to rely on going forward.

Last year, a big reason why the Bucks had trouble capitalizing on their momentum was their youth. Only 5 players last season were born before 1990, and an additional 5 on the roster were born in 1994 or later. Those numbers haven’t changed much this season, but they did add the ancient treasure Jason Terry to potentially provide some leadership qualities to young players such as Thon Maker and Rashad Vaughn. It most likely won’t be a playoff season for Milwaukee, but they need to continue to develop their young talent – it’s their only hope for a future playoff run.

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