For the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at each division here on Basketball Insiders. The rankings were first up, and then we covered the best moves each team made this offseason. This time around, we focus on the players, coaches and even executives that will make a jump to the next level by their impact within their respective divisions.
The Central is the up first. As mentioned in the past, the state of the division has vastly changed over the summer, but there are still two teams who can make some noise aside from the defending division champions.
Here are six names to be on the lookout for next season in that group.
Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers
With, or most likely without Kyrie Irving as a part of the Cavaliers next year, the tertiary member of the infamous big three will take his game to another level. Last season was easily his best thus far with the wine and gold. The body language was much more confident and it proved true on the floor.
Love was playing physical and looking like his Minnesota self underneath, battling for rebounds and loose balls every possession. Tyronn Lue made it imperative to get the ball to the All-Star big man in the first quarter. Not only did it establish his presence on the block and underneath, but it also got him engaged early.
Lue’s strategy was brilliant as it resulted in Love’s most efficient and productive efforts since landing in Cleveland three summers ago. Now, with Irving potentially gone, he’ll have to step it up as a secondary scoring option next to LeBron James. Some may question if he can consistently put up more than 20-point, 12-rebound numbers, but this is a chance he’s been waiting for and he won’t take it for granted.
As long as he can go through the rigors of an 82-game season without suffering a significant injury, you can count on that.
Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers
Say hello to the new face of the Pacers. We’ve already been through the Paul George discussion and future of the franchise over the past couple of weeks, so let’s focus solely on the positives here with a young man who possesses a special mix of talent.
2016-17 was a breakout season in its own right for Turner, who joined an elite list of names because of his improvements. Averaging over 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game on above 51 percent from the field in his second year as a pro, the Texas alum was the seventh player in the history of the NBA to do so. Only David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Bob McAdoo, Larry Nance, Hakeem Olajuwon and current All-Star Anthony Davis can say they’ve accomplished the same.
As he continues to mature and develop as a rim protector and stretch big, Turner is going to be scary for other teams to play against. It may not result in the win column too often over the next couple of years for Indiana, but rest assured, as that new young core learns to mesh together, things will be different down the road. The third year for him specifically will be a big change as the focal point.
Oh, and a friendly reminder on Turner: He’s only 21 years old.
Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks
Continuing the center of attention on frontcourt players, Maker is another name in the Central Division who will be worth watching. It’s a shame to see Jabari Parker starting the season out recovering from yet another knee injury, but when somebody goes down, it’s next man up.
The world saw what Maker could do in a crucial spot in the Bucks’ playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. As a dual threat offensively and a skilled defender with size and length, he’s got the tools to really impact the game.
Over the offseason, he’s been working out with Giannis Antetokounmpo to get stronger and establish even more chemistry together. That commitment on its own should help push him to the next step in Milwaukee.
Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons
After a confident and impressive rookie year playing for Stan Van Gundy, the dreaded sophomore slump reared its ugly head for Johnson. Less playing time resulted in a drop in efficiency and a tougher time shooting the ball with consistency.
What was most apparent was how hesitant he was. The shot attempts were nearly cut in half and it clearly affected him. Luckily for the Pistons, the 21-year-old wing didn’t lose any ground defensively and it looks like that part of his game will always be there.
Adding Avery Bradley to the ball club benefits Johnson tremendously. Not only does he get a hands-on, two-way veteran as a mentor on the floor, but he also gets to soak up his knowledge and advice off the floor. Couple that with the fact that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is no longer in Detroit and it’s fair to expect a big bounce back for him.
Jason Kidd – Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll keep this simple. Kidd has the longest roster in the NBA. He’s got a ton of talent that now has valuable experience, but remains young with plenty of room to grow.
As Indiana and Chicago will descend to the floor of the division, there is no reason why the Bucks can’t launch themselves to a four seed or higher in the Eastern Conference. If those expectations are met and things go as planned, Kidd could field some recognition as potential Coach of the Year. Look out for this ball club, which is on the rise.
Koby Altman – Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Irving sweepstakes continue throughout the league, Altman is the man in charge as the Cavaliers try to land something meaningful in return for the enigmatic All-Star point guard.
Opposing general managers have already offered praise for his “poise” and that’s a good sign for an organization that is in a questionable state up top. If he can finagle a deal that sees Cleveland get three assets in return—a win-now piece, a young talent for the future and a first-round draft pick—that’s already a victory for him. Let’s not forget he may have to maneuver the roster if things go awry with LeBron’s impending free agent choice approaching next summer.
The Central Division will offer up plenty of new roles and fits for both fresh and familiar faces. The opportunities will be there, so it’s all about taking advantage. Whether they can step up to the occasion, we won’t find out until next season.
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