Training camp is back, the pre-season is underway and the NBA is two weeks from starting up, as Basketball Insiders brings forth another division-by-division breakdown in preparation for the 2017-18 campaign.
Our “Most Important” series will take a look at the most vital piece of every team and how those players will make an impact in the upcoming year.
Today’s piece focuses on the Central Division. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the favorites to be crowned as champions for the fourth straight year, but they’ll surely have competition from a couple of hungry teams while the remaining two clubs focus on rebuilding.
Let’s dive into all five squads and their most valuable player.
Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James
James is the best player in the NBA until proven otherwise. As he gets older, he gets smarter. As the game changes, he adapts. When adversity rears its head, he responds. If new faces come into the picture, he makes them better in an instant.
Kyrie Irving’s request for a trade shocked everybody around the basketball world, but James was the most perplexed of all. Nobody knows what’s gone on behind the scenes, but it’s given a four-time MVP extra motivation to work harder and win another championship with the wine and gold before his contract expires.
Glancing at Cleveland’s roster on paper, this might be the deepest team James has ever been a part of entering his 15th year in the league. It remains to be seen how his minutes are handled, but with Jae Crowder and Jeff Green at Tyronn Lue’s disposal, this could be the freshest version of the king we’ve ever witnessed.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
At 22 years old, Antetokounmpo certainly lives up to his infamous “Greek Freak” nickname. In four seasons, there’s really only been an indication of how dangerous he can be on the floor, which should scare a lot of teams around the NBA.
Antetokounmpo took the leap last year. He went from “really good” to “elite.” The next step is going from “elite” to “superstar” with MVP consideration. Developing a consistent three-point jump shot is essential for him to do so.
He’s insanely gifted with a natural ability to affect the game in every possible way. Now Antetokounmpo needs to apply that versatility to his methods of scoring. He doesn’t need to change what he’s doing at all, but even knocking down 32 percent (give or take) of his perimeter attempts would really make it hard on defenders. The accomplishments are already ridiculous, but he’s only started to scratch the surface of his true potential.
Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
Stan Van Gundy is going to have a completely different man in the middle this year. Over the summer, Drummond has undergone a couple of major changes that will all but certainly improve his on-court performances.
What were those two things? Nose surgery and weight loss. It sounds kind of odd, but being able to breath is essential when your job is to run up and down a 94-foot court over a 48-minute span, right? That was troubling for Drummond starting in college and should help tremendously with his conditioning. Shedding 30 pounds in addition only furthers that case.
Drummond already admitted that both he and the team weren’t hungry enough last season on a nightly basis. The Pistons will change that this time around with his leadership at the helm. He’s already proven himself as one of the most dominant traditional big men in the entire league—in the post and on the glass—so expect a huge bounce back for the 24-year-old.
Indiana Pacers— Myles Turner
It’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old to be the face of a franchise, but Turner won’t shy away from the spotlight. Coming into his third year as a pro, he will have to shoulder the load for Nate McMillan as the Pacers enter a new era.
Turner is one of the brightest prospects the NBA has to offer. He perfectly fits the mold of today’s prototypical stretch big man—a paint presence with the ability to hit the deep ball, can run the floor and deters shots at the point of attack. As he continues to grow physically, so will his game. The only thing that could improve his body frame is adding more muscle, which he’s already started to do.
Indiana is already ahead of the curb when it comes to putting this thing back together because it has the perfect building block. With him as the go-to guy for the first time in his career, Turner will thrive as an individual. But unfortunately for the Pacers, that won’t be enough to get to the playoffs this year.
Chicago Bulls – Zach LaVine
Despite being sidelined with a nasty knee injury last year, LaVine is the crown jewel of the Jimmy Butler blockbuster trade back in June. The hopes of fans and the organization are riding on him to give Chicago a semblance of direction.
Before going down, LaVine was putting up career numbers in his third season. Known more for his athleticism and dunking, he was actually quite a confident scorer period. The then-21-year old was not bashful with the ball in his hands. He took 15 shots per game and converted on nearly 46 percent of his attempts. Almost seven of those were three-point tries, an area where he knocked down 37.8 percent of his shots.
The bad news is he’s expected to be out of action until mid-November. It’s clear that Fred Hoiberg has his work cut out for him with one of the more awkward rosters in the league, and the Bulls are going to be searching for answers for quite some time. A Butler-shaped hole won’t be an easy one to fill, but once LaVine returns maybe there will be a reason to think it can be done.
The best of the best in the Central Division are ready to lead their teams throughout a rigorous 82-game season. It should be a fun ride to see how these teams and their new talents mesh with one another.
But in the end, the most important players always have the most influence, and those are the ones that separate the good from the great.
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