Eastern Conference, Central Division: Season In Review
2011-12 Record: 50-16, 1st in Eastern Conference
2012 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 29
Needs: SG, SF, PF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Jimmy Butler (2011 - 30th overall)
Overview: Chicago was dealt a nagging injury to reigning-MVP Derrick Rose, but Tom Thibideau did a masterful job coaching and game-planning to put forth a team that was top-five in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiencies and tied for the best overall record.
The starting combination of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng, along with fiery backup Taj Gibson and the inexperienced Omer Asik is the league's best rotation, which topped all competitors in rebounding.
Rip Hamilton figured to be the missing piece that could get Chicago over the hump with his perimeter shooting, but he was healthy enough to play in less than half the games this season. And when combined with the injuries dealt to Derrick Rose, the expected starters played just a handful of games together.
Filling in at the point, CJ Watson was unexpectedly super, not only setting up teammates in transition and in the half court, but hitting some big shots of his own and applying pressure to opposing ball-handlers defensively. Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer started nearly 50 games combined and gave the team minimal production.
Needs: Bulls' management has its key cast of Rose, Boozer, Deng and Noah locked-up for the long-term, while the rest of the rotation is on board for at least one more season. There are not any glaring weaknesses on a team that has finished atop the Eastern Conference each of the last two seasons, but what will get them over the "hump" and to the next step of a championship?
Chicago has been filling the gap at shooting guard with several declining weapons over the years i.e. Rip Hamilton and Kyle Korver. It'd be in the team's best interest to pair Rose with a young, perhaps unpolished talent, that has a chance to develop behind the current shooting guard rotation.
Even though Boozer is signed until 2014-15, Chicago needs to look to drafting an offensive post-player to groom in the future. Boozer is again, dealing with injuries and likes to step away from the rim.
2011-12 Record: 42-24, 3rd in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 26
Needs: C, PG, SF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Lance Stephenson (2010 - 40th overall)
Overview: Indiana was blessed with a couple of things: talent, depth and health; the starting line of Roy Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger, Paul George and Darren Collison started nearly every game a year after the Pacers had 11 different players start a game last season. The addition of West in the frontcourt and a combination of Leandro Barbosa and George Hill as reserves in the backcourt were huge for this team. Indiana elevated themselves from the 22nd ranked offense in 2010-11 to 8th this season and jumped from 12th defensively into the top 10. With the exception of Collison at the point who truly struggled at times, Granger, Hibbert and George all showed significant improvement leading to five more wins in a 66-game season.
Despite not shooting the ball particularly well from the field, about .430 percent on the year, Indiana attacked the rim as a team, led by Granger and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench, to combine for the second-most free-throw makes in the league this season.
Needs: The Pacers have flexibility with their future as a significant portion of cash comes off their books this summer and the year after; the only potential key loss for this team would be Barbosa, who is somewhat expendable with the play of George Hill. But in the summer after the 2012-13 season, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West are all on the market. Hibbert should be made a priority as skilled 7-footers like him are a rare breed and is on the verge of an All-Star berth. West's production increased as the season went on, making this Indiana team quite capable of a trip to the Eastern Conference finals if the chemistry continues to improve.
There are rumors that Indiana is shopping Granger to give way to Paul George's promising play. Indiana would lose a prominent scorer, one that led the team in scoring each of the last five seasons, but at the same time, his scoring average and field-goal percentage have fallen every year dating back to 2008-09. If Indiana trades him, they need to get an aggressive wing in return with a better shot-selection and more consistent jumper. Davis Bertans, last season's second-round pick has plenty of talent as a perimeter shooter, but will play in Latvia for at least another year or two. There's potential to find Granger's eventual replacement with a raw and developing small forward late in the first-round of the 2012 Draft where there will still be plenty of talent.
2011-12 Record: 31-35, 9th in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 12, 42
Needs: SF, C, PF
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Tobias Harris (2011 - 19th overall), Jon Leuer (2011 - 40th), Ekpe Udoh (2010 - 6th), Larry Sanders (2010 - 15th), Darington Hobson (2010 - 37th)
Overview: Milwaukee changed their future drastically when management boiled over with cornerstone Andrew Bogut's injuries; as talented as he as was, he simply couldn't stay on the floor as he missed over 130 games in the past four seasons. In return, the Bucks acquired shot-heavy scoring of Monta Ellis, pairing him with an already-undersized, yet dynamic guard in Brandon Jennings. The pair combined to score about 36 points per game together, dolling out 11.5 assists combined, but both shot under 43 percent from the floor, including 33 percent from 3-point range. Needless to say with this kind of shooting, they were one of the least efficient offensive teams in the league last season and were right in the middle-of-the-pack defensively.
The trade of Andrew Bogut was sparked by the emergence of Turkish power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who averaged career-highs across the board last season. He's mobile at 6'10", serving as an excellent option in the pick-and-pop game. He's just 24 years old and a free agent, so he will command a nice chunk of change on the market, but should be a priority to re-sign him this off-season.
Needs: With Ellis and Jennings on the books for a couple more years, the backcourt looks secure and should be amongst the league leaders in points and assists per game as a duo. If Ilyasova can be re-signed for the long-term, he presents a great option to grow and play alongside these guards. If not, Drew Gooden offers interior toughness and rebounding, but not the same perimeter versatility that Ilyasova brings.
No matter what the future holds for this frontcourt, Milwaukee needs to bring in a center to replace the newly-departed Bogut- the Bucks placed fifth to last in the league in rebounding. Is Ekpe Udoh the answer? He's a long, athletic shot blocker who runs the floor well, but has a very limited offensive game. Former first-round pick Larry Sanders has an even less-developed offensive game after two years in the league.
And the Bucks need to get some sort of production from the small forward position. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a nice, versatile, defensive stopper, but Tobias Harris and Darington Hobson, who have not really been healthy enough to produce, are better offensive talents.
2011-12 Record: 25-41, 10th in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 9, 39, 44 (from Houston Rockets)
Needs: PF, SF, SG
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Brandon Knight (2011 - 8th overall), Vernon Macklin (2011 - 52nd), Greg Monroe (2010 - 7th)
Overview: The aging core of perennial conference powers Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace have moved on, leaving only Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince as mainstays in the lineup. But the Pistons have been unable to develop a similar quality team to the one of the early 2000s. What they need is direction. Huge free agent contracts were handed out to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva years ago, taking up a large chunk of the cap and just when you think management has it right- drafting Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and even Jonas Jerebko, they go and bring back Prince and Jason Maxiell to longer-term deals. What good does that do for the youth and rebuilding movement and it's not like Detroit was one or two veterans away from the ranks of the elite in the East.
In college, scouts wondered if Monroe would ever be able to take the next step as a player, developing a keen sense of aggressiveness. In his two seasons with Detroit, Monroe has taken that step, and then some; he is the best-passing big in the league, enabling him to create mismatches with his ability to play from 12-feet out or utilize a developing low-post game. He has a great nose for rebounds as he fell just shy of 10 per game this season. He gives the team a great option at either the 4 or the 5 moving forward.
Brandon Knight has a solid rookie campaign, splitting time with Rodney Stuckey at both guard spots, but neither excelled at either position. However, at just 20 years old, Knight has great size and is still developing his court-vision and pass-first instincts to run the offense. Stuckey has a bigger frame, using his size to his advantage to slash into the lane. He is a below-average shooter from the perimeter, but his ability to penetrate and kick would be better served if he has some perimeter shooters to kick it out to.
At small forward, Tayshaun Prince is on the wrong side of 30, which is why it's a head-scratcher that management signed him to a new four-year deal this winter; his length and basketball IQ make him a quality defender still, but his offensive game continues to nose dive. On a playoff team, Prince would be best served coming off the bench
Needs: To make this offense go, they need to upgrade their frontcourt giving Knight a shooter at small forward and a low-post banger if they want to keep Monroe at center. The days of Ben Wallace anchoring the defensive end are long gone, so even a defensive-minded power forward would do, especially since Monroe is just mediocre on that end of the floor. Detroit was so bad on offense this past season and so inefficient with their missed shots and turnovers, that it became difficult to stand; they get such little production from their small forward and power forward positions, especially with Charlie Villanueva being out most of the year, that these positions have to be the focal point of the draft.
It's concerning that Detroit essentially plays two point guards in Knight and Stuckey and Detroit still managed to finish in the bottom three of all 30 teams in assist and turnover ratios. Knight has a high ceiling, but we'll need him to take a big step next year to convince us. What's also concerning with these teammates is that neither are great shooters, accounting for most of the credit behind Detroit's meager 4.8 made 3s per game, 26th in the league.
2011-12 Record: 21-45, 13th in the Eastern Conference
2011-12 Draft Picks (Pre-Lottery): 3, 24 (from Los Angeles Lakers), 33 (from Charlotte Hornets), 34
Needs: SG, SF, C
Players Selected in Past Two Drafts on Roster: Kyrie Irving (2011 - 1st overall), Tristan Thompson (2011 - 4th), Donald Sloan (2010 - Undrafted), Samardo Samuels (2010 - Undrafted), Luke Harangody (2010 - Undrafted)
Overview: Cleveland has had some decent pickups in the past two drafts, but the franchise is still recovering from the mess that LeBron James left behind; even in the shortened season in 2011-12, the Cavaliers made an improvement in the win column and the future of Kyrie Irving looks bright. Tristan Thompson is still another year or two away offensively at least (shot under 44 percent from the field, 55 percent from the foul line), as he lacks any sort of scoring in the low post. Cleveland would have been better taking Jonas Valanciunas at No. 4 last year, a young, potentially dominant center in this league for many years to come.
Moving forward, Thompson and Irving, along with the starting "center", Anderson Varejao (injury) are the only players with multi-year contracts, leaving plenty of roster and cap space to build this team for the future. Antawn Jamison is surely done in Cleveland, heading to a contender. And all of the undrafted contributors that management has signed over the year are off the books, but most should re-sign.
The team is at least a year away at making a push for the playoffs- this year's draft will either make or break efforts with two first-round picks and two early-second round picks.
Needs: In the point guard driven league, Irving needs some options to spark his development; he was the team's leading scorer as a rookie with 18.5 points and topped the team in assists with 5.4 (1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio). And he did all that with the minimal talent around him. He could really use a sharp-shooting wing or two, certainly anyone would serve as an upgrade over Alonzo Gee (free agent), Omri Casspi, and Anthony Parker (expected to retire).
Tristan Thompson should overtake the power forward spot left behind by Jamison and a healthy Varejao would again start the season at center. An upgrade at center, giving Irving a true low-post scorer, something this roster is completely void of, should be had in this draft.