Team Needs: Central Division

Wed, 06/18/2008 - 2:54pm

Milwaukee Bucks
2007-08 Record: 26-56
Head Coach: Scott Skiles

The Milwaukee Bucks, another team with plenty of lottery picks and talent on the roster that hasn't been able to get over the hump. There's talk that the team is considering an overhaul, beginning with lead two guard Michael Redd, but given Redd's expensive contract, a move could be difficult to pull. Plus the pressure to win now will likely keep it from happening.

Fresh off his new six year deal, Mo Williams played even better this past season, shooting a better percentage from the field and from beyond the arc while also decreasing his turnovers. At the ripe old age of 25, Williams seems to have the point guard spot locked down. Reserves Royal Ivey, a big point guard devoid of offense but plenty of defense, and Ramon Sessions, another big point guard who showed very positive signs late in the season, could stand to offer more production. The Bucks may look to free agency to add depth behind Williams.

Michael Redd is the starting 2 guard who is a remarkable offensive player but is coming off a bit of an off year, ending his streak of five consecutive seasons increasing his scoring average. A career 38% three point shooter, his deadly accuracy from anywhere on the floor gives his teammates more room to operate. With that said, Redd is not a franchise type player. A great player, sure, without a doubt, but his skill set would be better suited as a number two guy.

Backing up Redd are Charlie Bell, the former MSU Spartan — turned European star — turned NBA backup, and Awvee Storey, the man famous for roughing up teammate Martynas Andriuskevicius, thus getting himself kicked out of the D-league. Bell is a nice back up because he can also provide minutes at point guard and is a streaky scorer who is capable of going on big runs. Storey apparently has a nice wingspan to be able to knockout the 7'2" beanstalk Andriuskevicius.

The 3/4 spot is where the roster gets a little murky. Last year the Bucks drafted Yi Jianlian with the intention of playing him at 3 next to Charlie Villanueva at the 4. Since crossing the border, Villanueva has yet to expand upon his rookie season, producing eerily similar numbers each of the last three seasons leaving the 4 spot in a state of flux. It's too early to pass judgment on Yi yet, given he has only played one year against top-tier competition, but Villanueva standing still the past couple seasons is reason for concern. 07-08 would seemingly be a make or break season for CV. If he can finally expand upon his game and give the Bucks better production, then that should be a big step forward for the franchise. What doesn't bode well for Villanueva or Jianlian though is the arrival of Scott Skiles, a coach who will demand more of them defensively, a part of the game that neither player truly embraces.

Bobby Simmons was brought into Milwaukee to act as the glue of this team, to be the final piece to make the Bucks a cohesive bunch. Simmons' final year in Los Angeles showed the rest of the league his valuable skill set, i.e. stifling defense and deadly outside shooting. Unfortunately, Simmons has been a shell of his former self since arriving in the cheese state. His ability to stay healthy and play meaningful minutes has disappeared, as has his once strong shooting percentages. Coupled with his contract (over nine million next year with three years remaining), Simmons is leeching the Bucks out of contention. Had he been able to produce similarly to his Los Angeles days then he would be a nice complement to the bigs on this team, as well as being the defensive star of the team. Given the hiring of Scott Skiles, a coach who Simmons should play very well under, I would say that Simmons has one more shot at redemption, if he can stay healthy.

Desmond Mason is listed as the other small forward on the team. While he is an excellent athlete and can defend fairly well, he is too one-dimensional, relying solely on drives to the basket and fast breaks. He is a terrible free throw shooter and has a sub par jump shot that he has completely abandoned from long range, attempting exactly zero three pointers last season.

Closing out the front court along side Villanueva and Yi are centers Andrew Bogut, Jake Voskuhl, Dan Ganzuric and PF Michael Ruffin. Bogut tops the list of centers and rightly so, being the number one pick three years ago, ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Bogut is serviceable and has steadily improved each of his three years. And everyone knew that his potential wasn't quite up to snuff, compared to say Marvin Williams or Chris Paul. But he had size, produced well in college and on the international scene and filled arguably the hardest position to fill in the NBA. But as far as going number 1 overall, Bogut has been a disappointment. Ruffin is nothing more than a space filler on this team and really doesn't do anything worth mentioning. The same can be said for Voskuhl. While he nearly did average a double-double this past year, I'm sure Bucks fans would have liked to have seen more out of him by now.

Gadzuric, like Simmons, is another player who played well as an underpaid bench player, got paid, and then seemed to regress. Gadzuric brings a level of athleticism to the position that is rarely seen, and coupled with his length is a formidable defender. But once he signed his new contract, his trademark hustle seemed to wane. Expect Skiles to light a fire under his reserve big man to return him to his previous defensive ways.

With the number eight pick in this year's draft, there is talk the Bucks are interested in Joe Alexander and Russell Westbrook.

Chicago Bulls
2007-08 Record: 33-49
Head Coach: Vinny Del Negro

From Scott Skiles new team to his old team, the Chicago Bulls were a trendy pick to win the Central this year and contend for an Eastern Conference title. People figured at some point all those young players would erupt at once and push the Bulls into the upper echelon of NBA teams. Well, it didn't quite work out that way and changes were made. Skiles was fired mid-season amidst reports that the players had staged a mutiny. Skiles tough love philosophy had worn thin and the players shut him out. Ben Wallace, the prized free agent acquisition from two years ago, was shipped out for Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden.

But things didn't get any better. As if the Bulls season couldn't go any worse, the coach they had been courting and thought was all but theirs, former Phoenix head man Mike D'Antoni, bolted to New York, dashing any hopes that the young studs in Chi-town would be able to play at the break neck pace they obviously would like to. Fast forward to the lottery. The Bulls hit the jackpot, much to the chagrin of D'Antoni and now must decide between Rose and Beasley.

On to the players, beginning at point guard. After signing a big contract extension, Hinrich had a disappointing season dropping his value below where it should be. Therefore trading him now would not field the proper value for him in return. However, with the first pick in the draft it is seemingly more and more likely that the Bulls will go with Rose, thus creating a logjam at point guard, and all but assuring that Hinrich and his new contract will be on his way out.

There were reports coming out of Chicago that many of the players felt that Chris Duhon was the best point guard on the team and that this is where much of the contention in the locker room was coming from. Well, I'm not seeing it to be honest. Duhon is a good defender and an alright three point shooter, but so is Hinrich. Duhon doesn't get to the lane and create more than Hinrich, and he isn't a better defender than Hinrich. Duhon is a nice backup point guard who can stick the long ball and his defensive assignment.

The primary two guards are Ben Gordon and Larry Hughes, with Thabo Sefolosha playing some two guard as well. If you could somehow combine Hughes's size and defensive prowess and Gordon's shooting ability, then you'd have a two guard worth starting. As it stands right now, I actually like Sefolosha the most of the three players. Hughes can run the floor and play defense, but can't shoot consistently. Gordon can shoot, but is small and all he can do is shoot. Sefolosha can shoot a little, is big, can play defense and give minutes at the three spot as well. Had D'Antoni been brought in then I could see the value of Gordon, but outside of a "seven seconds or less" system, Gordon just doesn't add up.

Once again, logjam is the key word for the Bulls situation at small forward with Andres Nocioni and Luol Deng competing for a majority of the minutes, with Sefolosha also in the mix. Nocioni is the type of gritty forward we have seen come out of Argentina in recent years (Oberto, Herrmann, Scola). He's a bull who plays good team defense and has developed a three point shot in recent seasons. He also has a propensity for drawing offensive fouls, exemplifying his defensive intensity and hustle. Nocioni can also play some power forward when the Bulls want to play small. Deng is the supposed star of the team, but his numbers took a little bit of a dip in 2007-08. Deng offers great size and athleticism at the small forward spot. He is able to get to the rim consistently and can also kill a team from mid-range with his smooth jumper. Expect teams to open their checkbooks for Deng and Chicago to match any offer.

At power forward the Bulls line up three former lottery picks: Drew Gooden, Tyrus Thomas and Cedric Simmons. Gooden is the starter for now and seems to fit in well with the Chicago lineup. For the longest time, the Bulls have lacked post scoring and Gooden, while not perfect, does give them just enough on the blocks to make everyone else's job easier. His jumper is odd looking, but from fifteen feet, its pretty reliable. Thomas, though, is the man the Bulls want to step up and take over the spot. He's got world class athletic ability, but can that translate into being a standout NBA player, or will he follow the same career path as fellow LSU alum Stromile Swift? Thomas is capable of making highlight reel plays as often as he makes bone headed plays. He was drafted to play the four and maybe even some three down the road, ala Shawn Marion, but first and foremost he has to turn into a reliable player. Simmons has defensive potential down the road, but that's about it at this point, he's still considered a project after logging two seasons.

With Ben Wallace no longer on the team, the starting center position is Joakim Noah's to lose. While the big man doesn't bring much in terms of scoring, he brings plenty of hustle, defense, rebounding and attitude. He also poses some problems with his athleticism and dribbling ability. If he could ever polish his O-game, he could be handful. Behind Noah is Aaron Gray, the antithesis of Noah. Gray is a huge lumbering true center with very little mobility but some solid post skills. Had Gray been born about twenty years earlier, he would have been a top 10 pick.

So I'm going to play GM for a minute with the Bulls roster and make the changes that I would like to see happen in the windy city. First I draft Rose. I love Hinrich, but Rose is the type of point guard that comes around every 15-20 years. I have no doubt that he'll be able improve his jumper and when you get the opportunity to take a hometown kid of his kind of talent, you jump at it. Then, I package a combination of Hinrich, Deng and Gordon for a young, rising big man (Lakers for Bynum), or a young, up and coming shooting guard. Even when you lose two of those players you still have a nucleus of Rose, Hughes, Nocioni, Sefolosha, Gooden, Thomas and Noah to build around, plus whoever else comes back in the deal. The Bulls would still be deep and if Rose develops like people think he will, then they will be the elite team of the East within 2-3 years.

Indiana Pacers
2007-08 Record: 36-46
Coach: Jim O'Brien

Rarely does the loss of a GM mean as much as it has in Indiana. Donnie Walsh is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best GMs in the NBA. Which is why New York went after him, knowing they needed a man of exceptional skill to turn around their desperate franchise. As it stands right now, you may be looking at the worst team in the NBA come this time next year. Seriously, this team is so far away from contending, even in the Eastern Conference, that the only move that makes any sense is to completely blow the team up and start from scratch. Trade everything of value for youth, picks and cap space.

Starting at the top, Travis Diener is listed atop the depth chart, followed by Jamaal Tinsley and Andre Owens. Yikes. Diener is a decent backup, but asking any more than that is a stretch. He is simply too small and not athletic enough to be a starting PG in the league. Jamaal Tinsley is not nearly consistent enough for a coach to have confidence in him each and every night. The Pacers appear to be targeting a point guard in this year's draft, with their eyes on D.J. Augustin, who could certainly add some needed stability to this team.

It doesn't get any better at shooting guard with Mike Dunleavy starting. While Dunleavy did enjoy his best season as a pro this past season, he isn't a two guard and I don't see him holding up there. Someone has to score on losing teams, and stats can often be misleading. Defensively speaking, he simply can't stay in front of anyone at that position. Marquis Daniels has continued to regress after a promising rookie season. While he is still young, it appears that he may be nothing more than a role player for the rest of his career. Kareem Rush is a situational player who brings a decent outside shot, and Flip Murray's usefulness in the league may be running out. He is a volume scorer who requires a lot of shots to get going. So help at shooting guard is a need for the Pacers going into next season.

The one position of promise for Indiana is small forward with recent first round picks Danny Granger and Shawne Williams. What is curious though is they essentially have three small forwards (Dunleavy is better suited to small forward), making the selection of Williams one year after they selected Granger odd. Granger should be the only player on the roster that Indiana isn't looking to move. He is big small forward who plays quality defense on the league's other big small forwards (which is important when you have Lebron James in your division), while also being the team's best offensive weapon. Williams is a long, wiry small forward who relies on shooting jumpers over smaller defenders. He can't really rebound or defend given his lack of bulk, but he is only 22 years old so he's got time to grow, and needs to put some muscle on his thin frame.

At power forward is basketball player formerly known as Jermaine O'Neal, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu. O'Neal, the subject of trade rumors for the past few seasons, should be shipped out of Indy yesterday. At this point in his career, O'Neal is simply too weathered and beat up, which is sad because he is only 29. But he is still an exceptional defender and can still make offensive plays. Just don't ask him to carry a team. What's keeping him from being moved is his huge contract, nearly 20 million dollars. He has an early termination option, but there is no way he's going to let 20 million sit on the table. Moving O'Neal would make more room for Diogu and Murphy in the post. Neither is a good defender, which is a problem in O'Brien's system, but each plays a very different game. Murphy is a bulls-eye mid-range shooter who has range out to the land of plenty, while Diogu is a crafty, undersized power player who relies on nifty moves around the basket.

And finally at center are Jeff Foster and David Harrison. Foster has good value on the market because of his rebounding numbers (especially offensive), defense and manageable contract. He plays very quick for a center, quick enough to defend some threes even. Indy is expected to move Foster during the off-season. Harrison is a big body who can score from the blocks when he's not on the bench in foul trouble. He is slow, and is a poor rebounder given his considerable size.

As for this off-season, the Pacers need to get their front office squared away. They are looking at the eleventh overall pick. As mentioned before, point guard D.J. Augustin appears to be a logical choice in Indy right now, whether or not he has the size to translate and have the same success at the next level is the question. The Pacers need to overhaul this entire team, but unlading O'Neal could prove difficult.

Cleveland Cavaliers
2007-08 Record: 45-37
Head Coach: Mike Brown

With every misstep Danny Ferry makes, Lebron James imminent departure becomes a little more likely.

Let's look at the newest pieces to the Cavs roster, the major players brought in during Ferry's trade deadline frenzy, and see how they fit on this current roster. We'll start with Delonte West, the combo guard brought over from Seattle. West is a lefty guard with good size at the point but substandard size to be a shooting guard, which is his natural position. He has decent quickness, but his forte is shooting from the mid and long range.

Wally Szczerbiak was supposed to be the piece that Lebron really needed: a spot up shooter to receive kick outs from the driving James. While Wally is a very good shooter from the mid and long range, he is very one dimensional. What quickness he had at one point has now been deteriorated by nagging injuries. His lack of quickness makes him a less than stellar one-on-one defender and also limits his ability to get to the rack. Lebron needs someone who can keep defenses honest at all times, not just a player who keeps them honest when they are wide open.

Next is Big Ben Wallace. Wallace is no longer the terrorizing defender he once was. He's still a good defender, but certainly not a $15 million dollar defender. His rebounds are down, his steals are down, his blocks are down, his minutes are down. His free thrown percentage is as bad as its ever been. He can still defend to a degree, but he can't be asked to anchor a defense anymore. I'm still puzzled as to why the Cavs would ship out Drew Gooden, one of the leagues better rebounders and without a doubt a better scorer than Wallace, for Big Ben and his gnarly contract.

So those were the major pieces in the deal, now lets look at the rest of this "one foot in the coffin" team. The other point guards on the team are Daniel Gibson, Damon Jones and Eric Snow. Gibson is a clutch player but the team went away from him during the playoffs. Damon Jones was brought over as a three point savior, an important piece to Miami's championship run, but (like Szczerbiak) he struggles to do anything but shoot when left open. Point guard has been a concern for the Cavs for quite some time and the acquisition of West doesn't change that.

At shooting guard Cleveland has Devin Brown, and Sasha Pavlovic. Brown gives modest production in all facets of the game, and his big body allows him to play defense on the league's bigger guards and small forwards. As for Sasha Pavlovic, he, along with Anderson Varejao, just couldn't seem to duplicate what he accomplished last season.

At SF Lebron James requires no explanation. He is the most physically gifted player in the game and without him, this is a lottery team. Its that simple.

Behind Ben Wallace at PF is Joe Smith, the former number one overall pick. Smith is long and has a developed a crafty, veteran approach to the game, knowing how to score from multiple spots on the court. But once again, quite old. Lance Allred doesn't play enough to mention here. (If you couldn't already tell, the overriding theme of the Cavaliers roster is surround your young, gifted, once-in-a-lifetime superstar with old, retread players. Great philosophy.)

And finally, we have the longest tenured Cavalier, big Zydrunas Ilgauskas. This guy epitomizes the word lumbering. He was hampered earlier in his career by nagging foot injuries, but seems to have found a way to play without getting injured, making his living from mid-range. Ilgauskas is very skilled for someone his size, but is far too slow and soft to have a major impact on a game. His only defensive asset is his size as he can't get in the air to challenge many shots anymore. Anderson Varejao is a nice complementary player, and would be an excellent sixth man. He rebounds well, plays good defense, frustrates opponents with his hustle, athleticism and size. But once again, he just isn't a great starter since he doesn't command respect in the paint offensively.

All along its been said that Lebron needs shooters to complement his drives, someone to stretch the floor for him. Well, they have good shooters (combined D. Jones, Szczerbiak and D. Gibson shot nearly 43% from beyond the arc last season). What they need are players. Well rounded players too, not an overabundance of specialists. As far as this year's draft goes there are enough holes in the roster that taking the best player available makes the most sense (I honestly don't think I've suggested anything other than taking the best player available in each of these articles. How odd...). Players that stand to be at Cleveland's 19th pick are big men Javale McGee, the incredibly long, but raw, center that is creating buzz with his athleticism and potential, and PF Jason Thompson out of Rider University.

Detroit Pistons
2007-08 Record: 59-23
Head Coach: Michael Curry

Being the head coach of the Detroit Pistons is not an easy job. Getting to the Conference Finals has become commonplace, so much so that Flip Saunders was fired for getting there in each of his three season as head coach. Dumars seems intent on getting back to the finals, publicly stating that no one on the team is safe.

Starting at point guard is the late blooming Chauncey Billups. the former Colorado Buffalo, taken third overall in the 1997 draft, bounced around the league for a few years before solidifying himself as a premier point guard in Detroit. He is getting a little long in the tooth, but as ESPN columnist John Hollinger noted, big point guards who can shoot the ball tend to age better than those who are small and rely upon quickness and athleticism. It makes a ton of sense. Billups is a really big guard that uses his body well to shield the ball and absorb contact on drives. He can also drain the long ball, hitting 40% this past season. If Billups is indeed included in the "no one is safe" discussions (and people seem to think that he is), then there should be a number of teams interested in adding his services.

Rodney Stuckey, last year's first round pick, is not a true point guard, even though he is listed there. He is more of a combo guard, more adept at scoring buckets than delivering to his teammates. Nevertheless he is a player, already demonstrating that he is a clutch performer in just his rookie season. He averaged respectable numbers, but looks for his numbers to jump next season after another year in the league and playing under new coach Michael Curry. Lindsey Hunter has been in the league longer than I can remember, entirely on the merit of his locker room influence and defense. I look for him to join the Detroit coaching staff in the near future.

Richard Hamilton is about as consistent a shooting guard you're going to find. He's consistently good for about 18 points, 3 boards and 3 assists, numbers he has kept up since his second year in the league. He assaults defenses with a constant barrage of mid-range jumpers and is excellent at wearing down defenses with his seemingly constant movement. On D, he is quick and long and uses his length well in guarding quicker players. Overall a quality player that it's hard to imagine Detroit letting go of.

Behind Hamilton are Arron Afflalo and Juan Dixon. Afflalo has yet to impress in Detroit, as his supposed great shooting failed to show up last year, but as a late first round rookie nothing was really expected of him this season. As for Juan Dixon, he's an undersized SG with a decent shot and defense. As a backup, he's fairly effective.

Tayshaun Prince, the young gun of this starting lineup at 28, is yet another player you could set a clock to. He's almost always good for 13 points, 5 boards and 3 dimes. Offensively he has an unorthodox shot, but he knocks down a good amount of them, shooting 44% from the field and 36% from three. But where he really excels is on defense where he forces opponents to shot over his incredibly long arms which have earned him four straight appearances on the NBA's second team all-defense. Like most of the Detroit core, he knows where he fits in within the Detroit team concept and excels at his assignment. Along with Billups and Hamilton, if he is made available, teams will be clamoring over themselves to add Prince.

After Prince at small forward is Jarvis Hayes, the former first round pick out of Georgia. At 6'7", he brings good size to the position, but is often injured and is considered a specialist, jump shots being his soup de jour. But he isn't even that great of a shooter and is a terrible rebounder given his size, bringing in only two boards a game last season. Look for his minutes to diminish with the emergence of Afflalo as he gets more accustomed to the NBA.

Walter Herrman provides depth at the 3 and 4. The Argentinean fits the same mold as fellow countryman Andres Nocioni: big, hustling small forward with a body that's better equipped to play power forward. He has a nice three point shot but is a terrible rebounder, which is strange for player of his size. He had a nice rookie season in Charlotte, then was traded to Detroit where he had trouble finding minutes on their deep bench. Maybe with the Curry hiring we will see more of the romance novel cover boy. Otherwise maybe the team will trade him, as his talents appear to be being wasted.

The big name coming up in regards to the Detroit house cleaning is starting power forward Rasheed Wallace. His antics on the floor have been well documented and may have finally agitated GM Dumars enough to explore other options. Wallace is getting up there in years (he's 33 right now), but is so skilled that he has seen little decline to his game. His points per game have dipped slightly, but the rest of his numbers are right there with his career averages, including assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and shooting percentages. His contract is quite manageable, so it wouldn't surprise me to see a team look to add his services in the off season. Charlotte makes sense with the UNC connection with Brown and Jordan and their need for help in the frontcourt.

Trading away Wallace would free up minutes for Detroit's young studs in the post, Jason Maxiell and more importantly Amir Johnson. Johnson is poised to become the next star of the team, but it remains to be seen if he's up to the challenge. This was supposed to be the season we saw the emergence of Johnson, the year we got to see this former high schooler turned pro deliver on all the stories we had heard about his playing days in the D-League, and in Pistons's practices. Johnson projects as a good shot blocker and a quick combo forward who will rely on his speed to blow by slower big men. Maxiell is just the opposite, a burly, bull of a power forward with a one track mind: decimate the opposition. His long arms, physical demeanor and explosive athleticism make up for his lack of height (6'7"). The 2007-08 season saw an increase to his playing time, where he also improved his once poor rebounding numbers. The Johnson-Maxiell tandem looks to be quite formidable for the foreseeable future.

Center is the most glaring weakness for the Pistons. Starting at 5 is Antonio McDyess, while Wallace also sees minutes at the 5 spot. McDyess's best days are behind him, but he is still a reliable player who is capable of turning in some quality games. This past season he posted his best rebounding numbers since the 2000-01 season he played with the Denver Nuggets (the pinnacle of his career), likely a result of his increased playing time and being made a starter. Offensively he relies solely on turnaround and spot up jumpers, which he has gotten quite good at. His contract is reasonable as long as he stays healthy (obviously). Given his newfound style of play, i.e. less aggressiveness, smarter play, more jumpers, I'd say the likelihood of his getting injured has decreased considerably.

Behind Wallace are Theo Ratliff and Cheick Samb, but these are merely contractual technicalities at this point. Ratliff only played around 13 minutes a game this past season and didn't really bring much to the table: three points, three boards. Once a frightening defensive center known for his shot blocking, his numerous injuries have effectively ended his career. As for Cheick Samb, maybe one day he could be a player in the mold of a young Theo Ratliff, but that is a big if. Samb is a project who the Pistons drafted in the second round a few years back and left to stew in Europe for two years. They brought him over this past season to play in the D-League and all indications are that he is at least another year away from receiving NBA playing time. His intrigue is rooted in his height, length and athleticism, like almost all NBA projects.

So what to make of Dumars' warning and the upcoming off season. Honestly, I don't think much happens. Dumars hired Michael Curry because he already has the ears of the current players. Why change up the lineup now then? This is still an elite team in the East and if Johnson gets more playing time next year and emerges as a true player, then that puts them more ahead of the game. Is it enough to contend with Boston? Maybe not, but a healthy season from the Boston Three Party is no sure bet. Detroit is close enough that they should not panic and blow things up. I expect the roster to see minimal changes and an increase of playing time for Johnson and Stuckey, the two cornerstones for the future. As far as this year's draft goes, the Pistons are sitting with the 29th pick right now. They could either draft someone who could pay immediate dividends, someone like Cal's Ryan Anderson, or take another project player, in the mold of Amir Johnson. Someone like J.J. Hickson or Serge Ibaka.

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