Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

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Bucks or Bulls? 2010-11 Central Division prediction

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
11:10 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

17. How will the Central Division race play out?

Over the past few months, a lot has changed in the Central Division. Obviously the departure of LeBron James from Cleveland shook things up a bit, but offseason moves by the Bulls, Milwaukee and, to lesser degrees, even Indiana and Detroit, have also had some influence.

By acquiring Carlos Boozer and bringing in six other new additions, Chicago completely re-shaped its roster, while keeping the core of forwards Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, center Joakim Noah and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose intact. Add to that an expected emphasis on defense from new head coach Tom Thibodeau and it's easy to see why many observers expect the Bulls to be an upper-echelon Eastern Conference team.

But their neighbor to the north, the Bucks, also had a busy summer. After a surprising regular season that resulted in a playoff berth in which they took favored Atlanta to seven games in the first round, things were already looking up for Milwaukee. Australian center Andrew Bogut had a breakout season--albeit abbreviated, as a horrific season-ending injury sidelined him for the team's stretch run and postseason--and point guard Brandon Jennings was one of the league's top rookies, first gaining attention for a remarkable early-season 55-point outing, then gaining accolades, as he showed his game had some substance to go along with the flash.

Of course, the Bulls had something to do with Milwaukee's success. Not only was former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles responsible for the team's grittier mentality, but a trade-deadline deal that shipped former Bulls swingman John Salmons to the Bucks was a big reason for their success, as Salmons flourished in his role as a go-to scorer.

Milwaukee made Salmons an offseason priority, re-signing him in free agency, then making shrewd deals to acquire scoring swingman Corey Maggette, banger Jon Brockman and promising young wing Chris Douglas-Roberts from Golden State, Sacramento and New Jersey, respectively. Another wing player, Carlos Delfino, also re-signed with the team, well-traveled power forward Drew Gooden and veteran backup point guard Keyon Dooling were picked up in free agency, and high-upside power forward Larry Sanders--who subsequently justified his status as a potential rookie sleeper with his summer-league play in Las Vegas--was then selected in the draft (with a pick acquired from Chicago in the Salmons trade). With low-profile yet valuable role players like versatile forward Ersan Ilyasova and defensive stopper Luc Richard Mbah a Moute still in the fold, there's no reason the Bucks can't surpass what they achieved a season ago.

The Pacers, who seemingly still have yet to recover from the notorious "Malice in the Palace"--despite having no players on the roster who were active participants (longtime Pacer Jeff Foster took a peace-making approach) in the infamous brawl--were also active this summer.

A late-offseason four-team trade that netted Indiana young point guard Darren Collison and veteran small forward James Posey, with starting power forward Troy Murphy sent to New Jersey, was the source of optimism for fans in the Hoosier State. Collison, who had an outstanding rookie campaign in New Orleans with Chris Paul injured for much of the season, is regarded as the team's point guard of the future, a position at which Indiana has had much turnover in recent seasons. The team also drafted two promising youngsters in unheralded athletic swingman Paul George and scoring guard Lance Stephenson.

The loss of Murphy hurts--the organization hopes Tyler Hansborough, who showed signs of potential as a rookie, is fully recovered from a debilitating bout with vertigo last season--but along with center Roy Hibbert has improved every season he's been in the league. Although star forward Danny Granger appeared to regress last year, it's hoped that a humbling USA Basketball experience will result in a motivated, productive and better all-around season.

It's a been a steep decline in Detroit, as the former perennial-contending Pistons have been reduced to a shell of their former selves. Yes, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace are still on the team, but the latter two look to be on the downside of brilliant careers, while Prince has struggled with health issues.

The Pistons were mostly quiet in the offseason--with the exception of acquiring former All-Star Tracy McGrady in free agency. Regardless of whether "T-Mac" can recapture his past form, he joins a crowded wing rotation with the aforementioned Prince and Hamilton, along with former Bull Ben Gordon and the super-slender Austin Daye, who showed flashes of promise as a rookie.

Forward Charlie Villanueva, like Gordon, was regarded as a disappointment in his first year in Motown, after coming over as a free agent the previous summer. Villaneuva will share frontcourt minutes with Wallace, holdover Jason Maxiell, first-round pick Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko, who was one of the team's bright spots as a rookie. In the backcourt, Rodney Stuckey, Chicago native Will Bynum and sleeper second-round pick Terrico White provide some youth.

As for the reeling Cavaliers, James wasn't the only player to leave Cleveland, as veteran centers Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also left in free agency. That could turn into a bright spot, as minutes in the post are freed up for defensive specialist Anderson Varejao and highly-regarded youngster J.J. Hickson.

Perhaps the team's biggest offseason move was the acquisition of guard Ramon Sessions, which says it all about the state of affairs for the Cavs. Veteran scorers Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams are back, but this will clearly be a rebuilding season, with new head coach Byron Scott patrolling the sidelines and a new front office in place.

Central Division predicted finish:

1. Milwaukee: The Bucks' combination of experience, chemistry built over last season and savvy offseason moves make them the front-runner.
2. Chicago: It will take time to build chemistry and adapt to a new system, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially if Thibodeau's Bulls jell by the playoffs.

3. Indiana: If Granger is focused, Hibbert continues to make progress and Collison is truly the answer at point guard, things will be looking up.

4. Detroit: Figuring out a set rotation and solidifying post and point-guard play could be issues.
5. Cleveland: Little reason for optimism.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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