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NBA Training Camp Questions: Central Division

How Derrick Rose looks in his return is just one of many huge questions hanging over the Central Division this preseason…

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Training camps start within the week for all NBA teams, which means there will finally be real basketball to digest after a long summer of rumors, anonymous sources and soap opera drama. The following are some questions that each team in the Central Division may face over the course of the preseason. The answers to these, many of which will be provided during October’s slate of warm-up games, should tell us a lot about what sorts of teams these organizations will actually be by the time the regular season finally rolls around.

Chicago Bulls

  • What kind of Derrick Rose will Chicago get this season?
  • It wasn’t a strong Team USA experience for Derrick Rose from a personal standpoint, as he looked a lot more like the guy who sloughed through ten games last season than the guy who won an MVP trophy in 2011. Everything Chicago is expected to do this season hinges not only on whether or not he can stay healthy, but on if he can still attack and create offense for this team the way he used to. The preseason will tell us a little about this, however last preseason Rose was utterly dominant throughout the warm-ups and by Game 1 of the regular season he seemed to regress. In any event, it will be interesting to get a good look at D-Rose playing NBA competition after two years of knee rehabs.
  • How much will Thibodeau use his talented rookies?
    While Thibodeau used Tony Snell out of necessity last season, he isn’t typically the kind of coach who enjoys playing rookies. Chicago, however, has two really good ones this year in Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, both of whom appear ready to contribute immediately. Neither is a typical NBA rookie, as McDermott is 22 years old coming off four years at Creighton, and 23-year-old Mirotic has been arguably Spain’s best player for a couple of years now. These are mature, offensively gifted players who the Bulls could really use, and the preseason will help us get a sense of just how much they might play, at least early on in the season.
  • How will the frontcourt minutes shake out?
    Part of Mirotic’s problem is that he’s the fourth man up in what some would say is the league’s best and deepest frontcourt. Mirotic, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah all are vying for minutes, and the preseason will help give a sense of what the pecking order is. Gasol and Noah are expected to start, but Gibson is accustomed to playing pretty big minutes and finishing games. Will that be the case this year? And how does Mirotic play into all of this? Thibodeau has a full preseason to figure it out.

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • How will LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love share offensive touches?
    Chances are that these guys will figure out how to share the ball eventually, but the preseason is sure to be an adjustment for them as they touch the ball less often than they’re accustomed to. James, for example, was fifth in the league last year with a usage rate of 29.1, but Irving (27.8) and Love (27.7) were both also in the top ten. That’s an 84.6 usage rate combined, which simply isn’t sustainable. All three are guys accustomed to having the ball in their hands, but at least two of them will have to figure out to be effective on that end without using as many possessions for themselves. Camp should show us how, exactly, that’s going to work.
  • Will the Cavaliers be as bad defensively as some think they will?
    LeBron James is one of the league’s best defensive players. Anderson Varejao is strong on that end as well, as is Shawn Marion. But beyond that? Cleveland looks like they’re going to have some issues. Early games should give a sense of how head coach David Blatt will mask Love’s deficiencies and construct a defense that can still be effective. With a lot of sieves on this roster, that may be easier said than done.
  • How will David Blatt handle his first NBA team as a head coach?
    People rave about Blatt, a championship coach on just about every level of basketball outside of the NBA, but even the most prized coaching candidates sometimes can fall flat on their faces. That doesn’t seem like it will be the case with Blatt, but it will be interesting to get a first glimpse of his coaching style after a few practices and a couple of preseason games. Can a man with no NBA coaching experience deal with the expectations of a championship season? We’ll get our first look at that during training camp.

Detroit Pistons

  • How big a difference does Stan Van Gundy make?
    The Pistons have been through more coaches than any other team in the NBA over the last five years, but Van Gundy is the kind of great mind that could actually stick around for a while. With Indiana hurting and most of the rest of the conference outside of Chicago, Washington and Cleveland pretty wide-open, this could be the year Detroit makes it back to the postseason. We should see changes under the Van Gundy regime almost immediately, but what those changes are remain a mystery until the start of the preseason.
  • Does the outside shooting look any better than it did a year ago?
    The first deal agreed to in this past summer’s massive free agency session was a bloated offer for Jodie Meeks, brought aboard exclusively to knock down three-pointers. The Pistons were 29th in the league last year in three-point field goal percentage and were 26th in three-pointers made. Adding Meeks (and D.J. Augustin and Caron Butler) was meant to remedy that, but will it actually translate to better on-court production? If so it should open up everything for Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. If not, we’re looking at the same frustrating, congested as offense as a year ago.
  • Does Andre Drummond have another level?
    Drummond wasn’t an All-Star last year, but he ate the freshmen and sophomores for dinner during the Saturday exhibition and showed enough growth during the regular season to establish himself as one of the brightest rising stars in the league. Will he come back playing older this year, scoring his points as consistently as he’s blocking shots and hauling in rebounds? Dominating the preseason will go a long way toward convincing everyone of that.

Indiana Pacers

  • Who’s going to score for these guys?
    Here’s a fun fact: With Paul George and Lance Stephenson both gone, the Pacers are losing about 35 points per game, which obviously won’t be easy to replace. While Indiana, who was 24th in the league with 96.7 PPG, isn’t going to start scoring only 60 points a night, their offense inevitably will suffer without those guys. How will players like David West and George Hill and Roy Hibbert respond to the need for more offensive assistance? Training camp should help answer that.
  • Will C.J. Miles or Rodney Stuckey end up starting at shooting guard?
    For now, it looks like Miles will be the starter, but Stuckey is good enough when healthy to score in bunches, and that may be more of what Frank Vogel needs out of his starting two-guard. While this is by no means the most epic of positional battles in the NBA this preseason, it is possible that both players prove themselves worthy to start. The question is about who will ultimately be given the job.
  • Which Roy Hibbert are we getting this year?
    We’ve all seen more than enough Hibbert to know that there’s a mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll version of him that can’t seem to grab six rebounds a night despite being one of the tallest players in the NBA, and then there’s a Mr. Hyde version that dunks on people and swats away four shots a game. When he’s confident, Hibbert is among the best centers in the game. When things aren’t going his way, however, he’s pretty brutal. He has his ups and downs during a season, but how he looks in the preseason will give his team a sense of how the new year will start for him.

Milwaukee Bucks

  • Are people expecting too much out of Giannis Antetokounmpo?
    Despite being incredibly young and incredibly raw, Giannis Alphabet had a great rookie season in Milwaukee, leading many people to predict a huge breakout campaign during which he places himself among the league’s elite players. It’s important to remember, however, that the Bucks will probably be pretty bad again this year, and that Antetokoumnpo is still only 19 years old. He’ll be no less exciting, but to expect him to be a star in Year 2 is probably unfair. Training camp will give us a sense of how much closer to that he actually is.
  • Will Jabari Parker immediately change the vibe here, or will it take time?
    Similarly, a lot of hope has been placed in Parker to revive the Bucks, which could realistically happen as long as Parker stays there long-term. He’s exactly the kind of player who does eventually turn a franchise around, but it doesn’t often happen in a rookie season. The overwhelming majority of teams with high lottery picks end up right back in the lottery the next season. The future is brighter for the Bucks than it was 18 months ago, but the present is still pretty bleak. Parker is NBA-ready, but all rookies need time to develop. Preseason games are just the start of that process.
  • Who does Jason Kidd value most in this crowded frontcourt?
    There’s plenty of talent in the Milwaukee frontcourt, with Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia all vying for minutes. It was up and down last season as to who got that playing time, but perhaps Kidd will come up with something more substantial and consistent during the preseason, though there’s no telling what will actually roll over to the regular season. Either way, someone in this frontcourt rotation is likely to end up with the short straw this year; there are only so many minutes to go around.

The preseason will be here before we know it, and when it does finally roll around we’ll be given access to the answers we’re looking for. In the meantime, all we have is the questions, and already, they’re all pretty loaded ones.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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