There is a good chance that Derrick Rose may not be ready to play until after the All-Star break, and this means the Central Division is up for grabs.
The Indiana Pacers — led by a young nucleus and a no-nonsense head coach — have the best shot at dethroning the Bulls as the kingpins of the division, but don’t count out the Detroit Pistons. Yes, I said it, the Pistons!
When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said “let Detroit go bankrupt” I don’t think he was referring to the auto industry. Obviously, Romney was talking about the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons have been in a recession since Joe Dumars made the mistake of selecting Darko Milicic in the 2003 draft and compounded that mistake by dumping Chauncey Billups and moving Rodney Stuckey as the team’s starting point guard.
OneManFastBreak.net predicts the order of finish in the Central Division:
1-INDIANA PACERS — The Pacers saw a glimpse of what they can be when they stretched the Miami Heat to the limit. Indiana has the talent, the depth, and the approach to be a power player not only in the Central but in the Eastern Conference. The X factor is third-year forward Paul George. If the former Fresno State standout continues to grow as a player the Pacers will could land the No. 2 spot in the East behind Miami.
2-CHICAGO BULLS — The Bulls were able to push through a difficult season last year and still ended up with the best record in the East. But the difference this time around is they know Rose won’t be back any time soon, which changes the entire plan of attack for head coach Tom Thibodeau. The team reacquired guard Kirk Hinrich during the offseason to help stem the loss of Rose. Hinrich is one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA but he’s nowhere near the caliber of Rose, who accounts for more than 30% of the Bulls’ offense. Thibodeau’s defense is good enough to keep the Bulls in the playoff hunt, but it won’t take them past the first round if Rose doesn’t come back.
3-DETROIT PISTONS — Not many casual fans know this but Greg Monroe is one of the most versatile big men in basketball. He scores in the low post, runs the floor, and passes the ball like a guard. Head coach Lawrence Frank finally ditched the Rodney Stuckey point guard experiment last season when he put the ball in the hands of Brandon Knight. Now that he has a year under his belt as the team’s playmaker, Knight is primed for a breakout season. Watch out for 6-foot-11 rookie center Andre Drummond. The 19-year-old is very raw, but extremely gifted. He has already become somewhat of a YouTube sensation with his devastating dunks in the preseason.
4-MILWAUKEE BUCKS — During their short time together, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings showed they could play together. We’ll see if that still holds in an 82-game schedule. In 21 games with the Bucks Ellis averaged 17.6 points, well below the numbers he put up in his last three years with Golden State. The fate of head coach Scott Skiles is tied to the Jennings-Ellis partnership. If it works, Skiles will stay. If it doesn’t, Skiles will be fired.
5-CLEVELAND CAVALIERS — Cavs fans had to hold their breath during the summer when star guard Kyrie Irving, the 2012 Rookie of the Year, injured his hand punching a padded wall in a Las Vegas gym. Reports say Irving has completely recovered from the painfully embarrassing episode and is ready to start in the season opener. That’s the good news. The bad news is rookie Dion Waiters is struggling mightily with his shot and the Cavs’ first-round selection in 2012 may not be as good as advertised.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.