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NBA Central Division Offseason Grades

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I have looked at the Atlantic and Pacific divisions’ offseason moves. This week I examine the Central division.

The NBA Central was arguably the worst division in the league last year. The Milwaukee Bucks could have conceivably made a run at back-to-back NBA championships had Khris Middleton not gotten hurt. It was also nice to see the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers have a little bit of a resurgence. However, Indiana and Detroit were two of the worst teams in the league.

Milwaukee Bucks Offseason Grade A

Additions: Serge Ibaka (re-signed), Pat Connaughton (veteran extension), MarJon Beauchamp (1st round), Bobby Portis (re-signed), Joe Ingles (free agent), Wesley Matthews (re-signed), Jevon Carter (re-signed), and AJ Green (2-way)

Analysis: The Milwaukee Bucks have one roster spot remaining with restricted free agent Jordan Nwora hanging in the balance. Nwora is very versatile – he has the ability to play all five positions, although he is most suited for the 3 or 4 – as he possesses excellent NBA athleticism and length. He is a good scorer, but the 6-8 forward falls in love with 3-pointer too much and is a liability on the defensive end.

More importantly, Milwaukee made the right decision in keeping Bobby Portis to a four-year deal $48.54 million contract following a career season by the 27-year-old. I also like the NBA free agent signing of Joe Ingles as he gives the Bucks a versatile playmaker off the bench who is still one of the best 3-point marksmen in the league.

The re-signing of Ibaka, Matthews, and Carter allows the Bucks to maintain a great amount of NBA depth and veteran leadership off the bench in their pursuit of a second NBA finals appearance in three years. The Bucks also assured to have the services of Pat Connaughton, who had opted in (player option) in June for 2022-23, for the next couple of years with the contract extension. Connaughton has developed into an above-average 3-point shooter the past two seasons.

Chicago Bulls Offseason Grade: A+

Additions: Goran Dragic (free agent), Justin Lewis (2-way), Dalen Terry (1st round), Zach LaVine (re-signed), Derrick Jones (re-signed), and Andre Drummond (free agent).

Analysis: Chicago made a huge jump in year two under Billy Donovan. The Bulls improved their win total by 15 games and winning percentage by 13% percentage points over the previous season despite being without Zach LaVine for 15 games and Lonzo Ball for more than half the season. The Bulls also reached the postseason for the first time in four years, and their 46 victories were the most since 2014-15.

Chicago looks to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since their seven-year run ended in 2014-15. Signing LaVine to a max contract was obviously huge for the franchise as the two-time all-star is just entering the prime of his career.

I also like the Bulls bringing in Drummond to back up Nikola Vucevic as he brings the team much-needed rebounding prowess. The 29-year-old, 7-footer produced 18 double-doubles and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in 29 of his 73 appearances while averaging 9.3 boards in less than 20 minutes a contest. The Bulls were 28th in offensive rebounding and 22nd in defensive rebounding in 2021.

Jones provides frontcourt depth. Granted, Dragic is in the twilight of his career, he is a good mentor for the Bulls’ young guards and comes with a cheap price tag. I am not sure exactly how Terry fits in with the team this year, however, he will be a valuable contributor for years to come. Lewis will likely miss the entire season after suffering an ACL tear during off-season workouts away from the team.

Cleveland Cavaliers Offseason Grade B+

Additions: Darius Garland (re-signed), Robin Lopez (free agent), Ricky Rubio (free agent), Raul Neto (free agent), Isaiah Mobley (2-way), and Ochai Agbaji (1st round).

Analysis: While the Cavaliers just missed out on the playoffs, Cleveland did record its best NBA campaign since LeBron James departed for the second time. The 44 victories are the franchises, most without James on the team, since the late 1990s.

Cleveland had a year to extend Garland’s contract after the point guard opted in, but why wait? Garland has improved each year and is coming off a tremendous season where he was one of just seven players to produce 20 points, seven assists, and three rebounds last season.

By re-signing Rubio, who canned a career-best 1.7 treys a game last season, the Cavs have a reliable backup point guard behind Garland. Neto and Lopez provide deep depth for the Cavs as well as the ability to spot start.

Agbaji will aid the Cavs in scoring and 3-point shooting but will likely be eased into the rotation as the Cavaliers are pretty deep on the wing. This is unless they don’t re-sign restricted free agent Colin Sexton, who appeared in 11 games with last season before tearing his meniscus.

Indiana Pacers Offseason Grade D

Additions: Andrew Nembhard (draft pick), Daniel Theis (trade), Juwon Morgan (trade), Aaron Nesmith (trade), Jalen Smith (re-signed), Benedict Mathurin (draft pick), and Kendall Brown (2-way).

Additions: The Pacers were a disaster this past season, finishing with a 25-57 record, which was the franchise’s worst since the mid-1980s. Indiana has made several trades of the last 15 months, including dealing Malcolm Brogdon to Boston this offseason for five players align with a 2023 draft pick.

The NBA 2023 first pick was the gem of the trade for the Pacers, although it may end of being in the high 20s. Theis and Nesmith are the only two players that are still on the roster that came over from the Celtics. Mathurin will get lots of playing time, as will Nembhard and Smith, as Indiana goes with its NBA youth.

Detroit Pistons Off-season Grade B+

Additions: Rodney McGruder (free agent), Kevin Knox (free agent), Alec Burks (trade), Nerlens Noel (trade), Marvin Bagley III (re-signed), Buddy Boeheim (2-way), Jalen Duran (trade) and Jaden Ivey (Draft pick).

Analysis: I liked what the Pistons did in the draft, picking up two young studs with Duran and Ivey. Both players will get plenty of run, with Ivey being an NBA ROY contender. Bagley was a nice late-season NBA addition, and it made sense to re-sign him.

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