In the years since the Bucks had last been a legitimate championship contender way back in 2001, the Central Division has been dominated by three franchises: The mid-early 2000s Pistons, LeBron and the Bronettes and now the resurgent Chicago Bulls. While it is great to see other teams improve over the past decade, it’s also very depressing to see rise to division foes while the Bucks seemingly stay in the same place year after year. Could this be the season the Bucks take over in the Central?
After bringing in solid veteran players like Sam Dalembert and promising rookies like John Henson, this year could be different … right? Just where do the Bucks stand in the Central Division as of now. Let’s take a look at the Bucks’ chances against the division.
CAVALIERS versus BUCKS
Cleveland is a team with some talented players. Key word there is “some.” They are just … not so loaded on experience and will need time to grow before they are anything resembling a contender, or even a division champ.
Kyrie Irving is a rare talent and could be a star in this league. The problem here is that he lacks much of a supporting cast. Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson could only get you so far. In terms of depth, this team is shallower than a back yard blow up pool. I like the Cavs, they definitely are moving forward but they have to get some more guys if they want to get better. The Bucks are definitely better than Cleveland. Better scorers, better defenders and more depth. Sorry Drew Carey.
PISTONS versus BUCKS
The once mighty Detroit Pistons of this basketball generation are gone. Richard Hamilton is gone. Chauncey Billups, Ben & Rasheed Wallace, gone. Impulsive and/or expensive experiments with veterans like Ben Gordon, Allen Iverson and Charlie Villanueva have or are looking to be on the verge of potential failure. Last season, they began the season with a 4-20 record en-route to a fourth place finish. The Pistons are likely to finish at or near the bottom of this division this year.
The Bucks are and will be a better basketball team than the Pistons without a doubt THIS year. The thing is, but for how long? The Pistons have really good young players like Andre Drummond, Austin Daye and Greg Monroe. Johnny Flynn should also help Pistons offense that averaged a pedestrian 90 points per game last year. The Pistons are a young, overlooked team that could rise in due time. At the moment, the Bucks manhandled the Pistons 108-91 on Oct. 13 showing what the current state of this rivalry is.
If the Pistons continue to develop their young players correctly and that offense improves, the Motown players will be alright. As far as where the Bucks stand in the division today, I think it is safe to say that it is somewhere ahead of Detroit.
PACERS versus BUCKS
When I actually got a chance to sit down and ask myself if the Bucks could be the best team in the division, I’ll admit, I said yes. Then I broke down and wrote this. Now, not so much.
Indiana has steadily improved over the years, mainly because they are a team with players who know and play their roles well. Danny Granger is the unquestioned leader of the bunch. There are the stars that can go off on any given night in David West and Roy Hibbert. The depth is incredible here! Paul George, D.J. Augustin, Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough and George Hill are all very serviceable and have proven themselves at their respective positions.
Last season, the Bucks were a smaller team and they have gotten some size and depth this year. The question is are they in the same ballpark as the Pacers who were 10th in points allowed and the fourth best rebounding team in the league a year ago. Probably not, but it’s not unfathomable. The key to the Bucks being near, at or above the level of the Pacers will depend on how they match up with depth and size down low. The Bucks could possibly jump Indy in the division but I wouldn’t bet a steak dinner on it. (See: Buenning, Eric)
BULLS versus BUCKS
Allow me to elaborate. No Rose, no problem for the Chicago Bulls. Many Bucks optimists see the absence of the Bulls’ star Derrick Rose as the shining opportunity for their team to usurp the Central, but it’s really not.
Without Rose, many expect the offense to dip from last year. Even if it does, it wasn’t the best anyways. Last season, Chicago averaged a modest 96 points a night, 18th in the NBA. The real key to Chicago’s success was its stingy defense, top in the league.
Like the Bucks, the Bulls are loaded. Just in a different way. At the guard position, Nate Robinson will do just fine making up for the absence of Rose. He has already lit up on the Bucks in the preseason. On the defensive end, expect high energy players like Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich to hold up their end of the bargain. Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng will be enough to anchor the Bulls until the return of the leader. My concern about the Bucks versus the Bulls is the size of the guards. One of the opportunities that I see opponents seizing against the Bucks is the small guard problems. Hinrich, Hamilton, Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler are all bigger guards and will make things hectic for the smaller Bucks guards.
The Bulls will not be as good this season without Rose, but they still are the class of this division. If the Bucks want to be the team to beat this season, they will have to prove they will be better than Chicago. I haven’t seen that yet.
THE BURNING ANSWER
It’s still the preseason, so one must be able to control and temper their optimism for the Bucks this year. Same goes for pessimism. Will the Bucks win the division? It isn’t likely, but it isn’t a far cry either. The Bucks are built the same way as the front-runners Chicago and Indiana. They have multiple big men, they have depth, they have scoring and they have a chance.
The other question raised is where exactly the Bucks stand in the division. I have the Bulls winning it becuase of their depth and tenacious defense. I also have the Pacers and Bucks in a tight race for second with a slight edge going to Indiana, the Pistons in fourth due to their young talent and the Cavs in fifth due to their lack of depth and loss of veteran leadership in players like Antawn Jamison.
What do you think? Where do the Bucks stand in this division?