Since there is absolutely no offseason in the NBA, this summer’s trade deadline and free agency period may have been the most talked about and most important in the history of the league. A whopping 8 (!!) All Stars from last year have changed teams, including maybe 4 of the top 10 players in the league in AD, PG, Kawhi and KD. All this movement has resulted in the 2019–20 season being considered as the most wide-open we’ve seen in years. On June 25, Caesars Sportsbook posted 2019-20 season win totals for all 30 NBA teams, so I’m going to do a breakdown of all six divisions. I’ll be giving a season outlook and an over/under prediction for each team, as well as sleepers and favorites to win each division. For my fourth article of the series, I’ll be looking at the Central Division.
Central Division Win Totals (Odds Courtesy of Odds Shark)
Milwaukee Bucks (2018–19 Season: 60–22, Finished 1st in Central Division, Lost Eastern Conference Finals 4–2)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 56.5 Wins (+105) / UNDER 56.5 Wins (-125)
As you can see above, the Bucks are projected to follow up their league-leading 60 wins in 2018–19 (the first time they’ve hit 60 wins since 1980–81) with a league-leading 57 wins during the 2019–20 season. Most of that success will have to do with the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
What more can be said about Giannis? He’s the reigning MVP, coming off a season where he averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists, with the 21st-highest offensive rating and 6th-highest defensive rating. Did I mention he’s only 24 years old? The sky is the limit for Giannis and it’s already close to impossible to stop him. If he can develop a more efficient jump shot, he has a chance to run the East for his entire career and take a similar career trajectory to that of LeBron.
Milwaukee was able to re-sign Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and George Hill, and add Brook’s brother, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver, in what has to be one of the more under-the-radar moves of the offseason.
The Bucks were clearly the best team in the league last season, ranking 1st in scoring, 11th in scoring defense, 4th in offensive rating, and 1st in defensive rating.
But they did lose a vital part of their defense and a solid, young two-way player in Malcolm Brogdon, who put up 15.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds, while leading the team in 3PT % and FT %. His decision-making and limited turnovers also played a huge role in Milwaukee’s offensive success.
On the other end, Brogdon was one of the best defensive guards (3rd-highest defensive rating among guards who played at least 60 games) in the league last season. It will be interesting to see how the Bucks replace Brogdon’s production on both ends, especially with how they utilize Sterling Brown, George Hill and Kyle Korver.
The Bucks will still be the clear-cut favorites to come out of the East, but they should have some fairly stiff competition at the top with the 76ers just behind them, the Celtics in a somewhat distant third place and the Nets improving with the addition of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (Durant won’t have any effect on this season’s outcome, obviously). There’s really no reason for the Bucks to regress too much, although replacing Brogdon will not be an easy task.
Indiana Pacers (2018-19 Season: 48-34, Finished 2nd in Central Division, Lost Eastern Conference 1st Round 4-0)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 48.5 Wins (-105) / UNDER 48.5 Wins (-115)
The Pacers’ total may be one of the toughest to bet on for the 2019-20 season. Indiana has finished 48-34 and suffered first round playoff exits as the 5-seed in back-to-back years, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to reach 48 wins again, despite the shifting landscape of the Eastern Conference.
As a team, the Pacers finished the 2018-19 season 1st in scoring defense and 3rd in defensive rating, and 22nd in scoring offense and 18th in offensive rating. So, it’s fairly clear what the main focus for their offseason should have been: adding more scoring threats.
The acquisition of Malcolm Brogdon is obviously the most important move they made this offseason, considering that he was an extremely productive and reliable two-way player last season. Brogdon had the 11th-highest defensive rating and 29th-highest offensive rating (among players that played 60 or more games) in the 2018-19 campaign. For context, his former teammate, and last season’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was the only player in the league that was ranked higher in both categories.
Now, Brogdon did come with a fairly high price tag at 4 years, $85 million. But, if you look at that deal as stealing a major contributor from a divisional opponent, it starts to look prettay, prettay, prettay good. (S/o Larry David)
Despite Victor Oladipo’s early season absence and Darren Collison’s shocking retirement this offseason, they should still have a solid backcourt this year, thanks to the additions of Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, and TJ McConnell.
Their addition of Brogdon was the most publicized move the Pacers made this offseason, but their signing of Jeremy Lamb may make just as much of a difference. Indiana signed the 27-year-old guard to a 3-year, $31.5 million deal, which seems to be an absolute steal right now, considering that Terry Rozier got almost $19 million per year.
Lamb’s 3-point shooting is what the Pacers should be most excited about, considering he has improved his percentage and has been willing to shoot more. Despite a seemingly ever-changing role with the Hornets last season, Lamb was able to finish as their second-highest scorer, while knocking down 35% of his 3’s on a career-high 330 attempts.
Their frontcourt should be strong with TJ Warren, Domantas Sabonis, who finished with the 10th-highest defensive rating in the league last season, and Myles Turner, who led the NBA in blocks and finished with the 5th-highest defensive rating in the league in 2018-19.
The largest question mark for the Pacers this season will be whether or not they can build enough chemistry on offense, while maintaining, or even improving upon, last season’s impressive defensive performance. I think their additions of Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremy Lamb should help them immediately and mitigate some of the early-season hiccups they were likely to face without Victor Oladipo.
I’m a big fan of the moves the Pacers made this offseason, but I’m just not sure it pushes them to the brink of being a 50-win team. I can see them finishing with between 42 and 46 wins, so I would take the under.
Detroit Pistons (2018-19 Season: 41-41, Finished 3rd in Central Division, Lost Eastern Conference 1st Round 4-0)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 37.5 Wins (-110) / UNDER 37.5 Wins (-110)
In the 2019-20 season, Detroit’s total is another one that I would shy away from if I were you.
Last season, the Detroit Pistons were just average. Literally. They finished with a record of 41-41. That’s really the last place you want to be in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Pistons right now, the roadmap out of mediocrity is a tricky one.
The NBA and Adam Silver are obviously hoping teams will be less inclined to tank due to the change in lottery odds, but I don’t think it’ll have nearly as much of an impact as they expected it to. However, if you’re the Pistons, and one of Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, or even Derrick Rose goes down, you’re going to have to seriously consider tanking.
Even the most optimistic Pistons fans would say their ceiling is around 46 or 47 wins, but the main problem with the Pistons may be their first unit’s inability to stay healthy. I don’t think the Pistons’ have enough depth to keep them around .500 without one or more of Griffin, Jackson and Rose.
Reaching 46 or 47 wins would require near-perfect health for Blake Griffin, and despite playing 75 games last season, history suggests counting on a healthy Griffin in back-to-back seasons may not be a great idea. Last season was the first time he had played more than 67 games since 2013-14. Reggie Jackson played 82 games last season but missed a combined 67 games the two seasons prior. Derrick Rose, who had quite a resurgence in 2018-19, still managed to play just 51 games last year and 25 games the season before. The most games he’s played in a season since tearing his ACL in 2012 is 66.
In summary, asking Griffin, Jackson, and Rose to play close to 70 games in 2019-20 seems like a recipe for disaster.
On a somewhat positive note, the Pistons didn’t make any moves that made them significantly worse, despite having limited money to spend this summer. Adding Markieff Morris and Tony Snell in the frontcourt won’t have much of an impact, but they’ll have to give Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond some time to rest every now and then.
Overall, free agency may have been a net-zero, which is not good news.
I hate to sound like a pessimist, but the Pistons have a very small window for a breakthrough in the Eastern Conference and, unfortunately for them, I don’t see that happening this season.They most likely won’t be legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference, but it’s also difficult to see them bottoming out, barring an injury to Blake Griffin or Reggie Jackson. That purgatory is the worst possible place to be in the NBA, and I am not a fan of either the over or the under here. But, if I was forced to pick, which I am, obviously, I’d take the under. I don’t think the present or the future is looking too bright in Detroit.
Chicago Bulls (2018-19 Season: 22-60, Finished 4th in Central Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 30.5 Wins (-125) / UNDER 30.5 Wins (+105)
Wait a minute…the Bulls actually improved this offseason?! I can’t believe it.
Despite the thousands of “#FireGarPax” tweets that have been sent over the past few years, I’m a fan of what they’ve done. From their decision to trade Jimmy Butler to their acquisitions of Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young, and even Tomas Satoransky, the Bulls finally have a clear direction and a way to get back towards being competitive.
The 2018-19 season didn’t have many bright spots, as the Bulls finished 22-60, good for the 4th-worst record in the NBA. On offense, they finished 27th in scoring and 29th in offensive rating. Their defense wasn’t much better, finishing 20th in scoring and 25th in defensive rating.
But this offseason should give Bulls fans hope. The addition of veteran PF Thaddeus Young isn’t a move that really shakes anything up league-wide, but it should be a solid move for the Bulls. Young should provide some quality leadership and a defensive presence that Chicago is in dire need of. Some have questioned the move, considering they already have Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. as young, potential-filled frontcourt pieces, but I think Young can provide valuable minutes in relief for Markkanen and Carter Jr.
Tomas Satoransky proved himself to be a solid replacement for the Wizards in John Wall’s absence last year, so the 27-year-old combo guard seems worth taking a chance on. At 6 feet, 7 inches tall, Satoransky provides scoring from the guard position and the ability to change up their lineup and play more “tall ball”.
In the draft, the Bulls added PG Coby White, who has the potential to be a top point guard from this year’s class. It’ll be interesting to see him develop during the season, and, more importantly, it’s a great sign that the franchise has finally moved on from the idea of Kris Dunn being their point guard of the future.
Overall, it wasn’t an overwhelmingly positive offseason for Chicago, but it could have gone much worse. If Zach Lavine and Lauri Markkanen can stay healthy and continue to improve, the Bulls should be able to make significant strides during the 2019-20 season and make a push towards the playoffs. I’m taking the over for the Bulls and I think their future is brighter than many people think.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2018-19 Season: 19-63, Finished 5th in Central Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 24.5 Wins (+105) / UNDER 24.5 Wins (-125)
The Cavaliers finished 19-63 last season, good for a bottom 3 finish in the NBA. And it only gets worse from there. Cleveland was the only team in the league that failed to win at least 5 games in any month of the season. And the future doesn’t look too much brighter.
The 2018-19 Cavaliers were a team with so much promise and young talent, but they still wound up near the bottom of the league. They ranked 29th in scoring offense, 25th in offensive rating, 24th in scoring defense, and dead last in defensive efficiency.
On a positive note, Collin Sexton was able to emerge as a dynamic scoring threat and knock-down 3-point shooter, shooting 40.2% on 296 attempts, which is good for 18th in the NBA, among qualified players.
But it was a very different story on the other end of the floor for Sexton, and the Cavs as a team. The rookie PG was second-to-last in defensive rating, with his teammate, Cedi Osman, as the only player with a worse rating, among those qualified.
That very noticeable difference between Collin Sexton’s offensive and defensive performance should serve as a microcosm of the Cavaliers’ struggles during the 2018-19 campaign.
Obviously, it’s not fair to write Collin Sexton off on the defensive end after just one season, but he certainly could’ve gotten off to a better start. I would argue Sexton’s play style fits better alongside a true point guard, since he looked more comfortable attacking the basket and creating his own shots. Playing alongside rookie PG Darius Garland, who shares the same score-first approach, may not seem ideal for right now, but we’ll have to see how it plays out this year.
The biggest move the Cavaliers made in the offseason was their hiring of former Michigan head coach, John Beilein. Beilein spent 27 years coaching college basketball, most notably at Michigan, where he led the Wolverines to 9 NCAA Tournament appearances and 2 Final Fours in 12 seasons.
Obviously, at 66 years old, Beilein’s tenure with the Cavaliers may not last very long. The average head coach lasts just over 2 years in the NBA. But, Cleveland has made it clear that they’re willing to take a chance on him and hope his coaching style can translate to their younger roster. Adding a new, inexperienced coach into the mix with a young, inexperienced team seems like it could be a recipe for disaster, especially after not adding any significant talent through free agency or trades. I don’t love the Cavaliers’ makeup for next season and I don’t see them making any marked improvements in 2019-20, so I would take the under.