CENTRAL DIVISION: The Central is home of the young and upcoming point guards of the L, even with 2011 MVP Derrick Rose on the chilling list until further notice. Kyrie Irving, Brandon Jennings and Brandon Knight are all 23 and under, and all want the crown. But in the words of the homie Omar, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
NYQUIL (DON’T SLEEP): It’s easy to sleep on the Pistons’ Greg Monroe. He’s low-key, chill and even his game (16 points, 10 boards) doesn’t make a lot of noise. And he’s playing in Detroit, rebuilding from the glory years of Body, Sheed and Big Shot. Even the best of basketball America is comatose to the big fella. Btw, do names like Lance Thomas and Greg Stiemsma ring a bell? If you didn’t have to google them, two points for you. They were chosen by Coach K for the U.S. Select Team over Monroe. The brotha hasn’t forgotten that slight and chances are he’s headed to his first “Duncan”, a 20-10 season. You know what they say, “Bad Boys move in silence.”
1 PLUS 1 EQUALS 2 (IT’S INEVITABLE): A Rose isn’t as sweet as Sugar Hill (Grant) or as shiny as a Penny named Anfernee but Derrick will work his limbs off in the effort to get back to the House that 23 Built. Y’all remember the tears in his adidas presser. He feels like the city won’t be right till he gets back, breaking ankles, darting through the lane. But have we learned from the books that came before us? It was written that coming back too quick could mean the premature end to a promising career. Wait till Oct. 2013? Maybe. Before rushing D-Rose back, let him heal before asking Thibs to let him cook.
SLOW BURN (OH IT’S COMING): The future of Bucks guard Brandon Jennings will be up in the air all season, along with his coach Scott Skiles and GM John Hammond who are all on the last year of deals. Jennings’ scoring and FG percentage has gone up every season and he fancies himself as a guard who deserves the bright lights, which means we’ll hear about how he belongs in a big city/market at every stop—“I’d love to play (insert city)”. It’s like Nick Van Exel spit him out in every way, but the constant talk could get annoying…after two weeks of the season.
THE WACKNESS: If Da Bulls start out better than people expect (and with Booz, Deng, Noah and Rip) as they should, we’ll hear how they’re better off with Rose on the bench when we KNOW it ain’t so. If they start out slow, the rush to rush him back will be on. A lose-lose.
ALL DIVISION SQUAD
Roy Hibbert, Pacers C: Nimble feet and long arms lead the backline of a defense and a team ready to take the next step after giving the Heat a scare in Rd. 2.
Greg Monroe, F-C, Pistons: If Detroit is to get out of the lottery anytime soon, Monroe will be the one to lead them. He’s on the doorstep of the elite; Year 3 could be the one where your neighbors know his name.
Danny Granger, F, Pacers: Did you know Granger is approaching 30? Did you know, did you know that Mars? Still with a smooth scoring feel (19 per last year), still out to prove he can be the No. 1 option on a contender.
Kyrie Irving, G, Cavs: He’s not looking at D-Rose, he’s looking past him and to the King of PG’s, Mr. CP3. His rookie year was so good you couldn't turn away from League Pass when the Cavs were on the your screen. Year 2, must see TV.
Monta Ellis, G, Bucks: Is he a one or a two? Doesn’t matter. The man from Jackson, Mississippi puts the ball in the hoop. One of only four to average 20 and 6 dimes last season. Can he be more than a stat-stuffer this year?
DIVISION NAME MVP: Derrick Rose. Can he be the MVP and not play a game this season? Yup, word to Peyton Manning. He single-handedly transformed the Bulls into a contender and without him, assuming he won’t play for 75 percent of the season. If he doesn’t play, Kyrie Irving is announcing his candidacy to put himself in a different class, whether Rose is healthy or not.
HOOD PLATINUM: (50 words on a player that, for whatever reason, resonates in the “barbershops” so to speak) Paul George, G-F, Pacers: It’s like he’s been here before, like he’s following down the path of a McGrady, his dunk contest exploits of last year put him on the map and he has a complete game that will only grow. Like weeds (Drake voice)
They’re young, hungry and buoyed from last spring’s surprising run in the playoffs that brought the fans back to Conseco and had D-Wade barking at his coach when the Heat was on. Dr. Hibbert is one of the best bigs in the East. David West played enforcer like his last name was “Oakley”. Paul George is ready for prime time and unlike all-star weekend, his biggest plays won’t be made in the dark. Quietly, the Pacers have the best collection of athletic wings this side of South Beach with George, Danny Granger, the newly-solid Gerald Green (The author of this dunk) and Lance Stephenson. How ready are they to take the perceived opening D-Rose’s injury has left in the division? To paraphrase the late great Bernie Mac, “We ain’t scared of you!” But they have to be better than sneaking up on folks during a lockout year. They’re on the radar now and it’s different when you’ve become the target rather than the hunter. The backcourt could be a question, as well as where Hibbert’s game grows from here, if at all. They’re one hit away…but there’s no guarantees.
Projected Record: 51-31
Chicago Bulls (46-36)—They were never a one-man team like it’s been widely reported, and they’ve gone stretches with D-Rose on the sidelines. They still play the best 48-minute, 82-game defense in the L, and that counts for something. In honor of Chi-town’s own Jesse, they’ll keep hope alive until D-Rose returns.
Projected Record: 46-36
One of the most talented, if not mismatched, backcourts in the L with Monta and Young Money. Not a lot of great swingmen but a load of shot blockers on the backside. The only problem? A combustible coach in Scott Skiles.
Projected Record: 39-43
Greg Monroe is the mainstay, Brandon Knight is the best shooting point in the division and rookie Andre Drummond is the wild card. If the comparison to Amare Stoudemire holds true then they’ll be higher on this list and rise up quicker than anyone could foresee. This is the set-up year, cap space and one more pick, they could be on their way.
Projected Record: 37-45
The best player (Kyrie Irving) on the worst team in the division isn’t enough to pull them out the basement. Still without an identity, still reeling from the departure of the King. Dion Waiters over Harrison Barnes in the draft? The countdown to Uncle Drew’s free agency is on.
Around the league:
Don’t sleep on the Spurs, but take a nap on J-Lin and the Beard in the Southwest.
The Thunder will be fine without Harden, but small markets rule the Northwest which could see four playoff teams.
The Heat are the top dog in the Southeast. Then there's everyone else.
Get ready for more Manhattan whining from the Atlantic, while the Celts and Nets steal the show.
The Lakers will reign supreme in the Pacific, and the league's biggest beta-male may be the MVP.