In Hoops Prospects’ continuing series of NBA previews, I take a look at the Central Division in the Eastern Conference, summarizing each teams’ key additions, key departures, and other developments. The teams are listed based on my predicted order of finish within the division.
The projected depth charts come directly from Hoops Prospects, and are based on who is likely to play the most minutes this season. We update the depth charts regularly throughout the year. Click here for an explanation of the various depth-chart notations.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
- Record last season: 51-31 (3rd in East)
- Offensive Rating: 114.3 (3rd)
- Defensive Rating: 111.1 (14th)
- Net Rating: 3.2 (8th)
Key Departures: none
Key Additions: Joe Ingles
Key Rookies: MarJon Beauchamp (pick 24)
Projected Depth Chart
|Jrue Holiday||Grayson Allen||Khris Middleton||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Bobby Portis|
|George Hill||Wesley Matthews||Pat Connaughton||Joe Ingles||Brook Lopez|
|Jevon Carter||MarJon Beauchamp||Jordan Nwora||Thanasis Antetokounmpo||Serge Ibaka|
|A.J. Green **||Sandro Mamukelashvili **|
There were no surprise moves for the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason, which should not be a surprise to anyone. The core of Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and 2-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has proven to be a recipe for success, winning the NBA championship in 2021. The Bucks are one of the best-run franchises in the NBA and showed their business savvy by signing veteran Joe Ingles in free agency. Ingles currently is recovering from a torn ACL, but he is due back in December and will give the Bucks more proven depth. The Bucks also drafted G-League Ignite wing Marjon Beauchamp, a young versatile defender who fits well with the identity of the Bucks. Two-way player Sandro Mamukelashvilli seems to be carving out a role for himself as well, and could be upgraded to a standard contract at some point this season.
The Bucks’ system relies on their length, spacing and interior defense. The team currently trusts the system that Coach Mike Budenholzer implemented. The question for the Bucks to consider is when will their core start declining. Middleton (31), Holiday (32), and Brook Lopez (34) are all past their prime, and the team has no up-and-coming players behind them. Because Antetokounmpo is at age 27, the current team does not correlate to his age, and there will be a point where the Bucks will have to make a tough decisions with their core — change up the roster to match Antetokounmpo or risk losing him due to a lack of talent. If players such as Middleton (injured) and Lopez have slow starts to the season, the Bucks could make a move for a disgruntled star at the trade deadline that better suits Antetokounmpo, who is coming into his prime.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
- Record last season: 44-38 (8th in East)
- Offensive Rating: 110.0 (20th)
- Defensive Rating: 108.9 (5th)
- Net Rating: 2.1 (13th)
Key Departures: Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen
Key Additions: Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio, Raul Neto, Robin Lopez
Key Rookies: Isaiah Mobley (two-way)
Projected Depth Chart
|Darius Garland||Donovan Mitchell||Isaac Okoro||Evan Mobley||Jarrett Allen|
|Ricky Rubio||Caris LeVert||Cedi Osman||Dean Wade||Kevin Love|
|Raul Neto||Dylan Windler||Lamar Stevens||Isaiah Mobley **||Robin Lopez|
|Mamadi Diakite **|
The Cleveland Cavaliers made some significant noise this offseason. Since LeBron James’ departure, the Cavaliers have had a couple of terrible years, which eventually landed the team their current core. The most notable acquisition was guard Donovan Mitchell; the Cavs traded Collin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, rookie Ochai Agbaji, and multiple first-round picks to acquire the former Utah Jazz All-Star. The Cavaliers also re-signed Ricky Rubio, who they traded away last year at the trade deadline due to his ACL injury.
Losing in the play-in last year, the Cavaliers expect to earn a playoff spot this year, at a minimum. On paper, they have one of the most talented teams in the East. Evan Mobley and Darius Garland have had another offseason to develop their games, Jarrett Allen is a blossoming rim protector, and a healthy Caris LeVert gives the team a proven scorer off the bench. There are concerns with the Cavs’ perimeter defense, however. Although the club ranked fifth in defensive rating last year (108.9), the Garland-Mitchell backcourt is not defensively inclined. There also will be a huge learning curve for the entire team as far as the offense with the addition of Mitchell, who is used to playing in a heliocentric offense that would have the ball in his hands on what seemed like every offensive possession. This preseason, Mitchell struggled with the adjustment, shooting 39 percent from the field. The Cavaliers might start off slow this season, trying to fit their acquisitions into their playstyle, but they are a young talented team that should make some noise in the East.
3. Chicago Bulls
- Record last season: 46-36 (6th in East)
- Offensive Rating: 112.7 (13th)
- Defensive Rating: 113.2 (23rd)
- Net Rating: -0.5 (20th)
Key Departures: Troy Brown, Tristan Thompson
Key Additions: Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic
Key Rookies: Dalen Terry (pick 18)
Projected Depth Chart
|Lonzo Ball||Ayo Dosunmu||Zach LaVine||DeMar DeRozan||Nikola Vucevic|
|Alex Caruso||Coby White||Javonte Green||Patrick Williams||Andre Drummond|
|Goran Dragic||Dalen Terry||Derrick Jones||Marko Simonovic||Tony Bradley|
|Malcolm Hill **||Kostas Antetokounmpo **|
The Chicago Bulls are in a predicament. After a couple of losing seasons, Zach Lavine and Demar DeRozan led the Bulls to the sixth seed in the East last season. They were defeated in six games by the Milwaukee Bucks. Given that the team was injury riddled — guards Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Coby White plus forward Patrick Williams all missed more than 20 games — the 2021-22 season had to be considered a successful one. However, coming into this season, it seems as if nothing has changed. Ball, one of their big free-agent acquisitions last year, was injured mid-season and remains out with knee issues, while Lavine will also not be ready for the season opener with knee issues of his own. On the plus side, the Bulls signed Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond from the Brooklyn Nets for more depth, but it might not be enough if Ball and/or Lavine miss a significant portion of the season.
The Eastern Conference has become significantly better, all while the Bulls stayed relatively stagnant. The team’s lack of size was exposed by the Bucks in the playoffs, and while Drummond helps with this aspect, he is not enough to compensate for the club’s lack of proven power forward. Ball having knee issues already hurts the Bulls more than publicized. His ability to defend elite guards and shoot three-pointers, cannot be replaced within the current roster. Ayo Dossumu will be getting more minutes to replace Ball’s production; the second-year pro was named the opening night starting point guard, but that leaves less depth for an already stretched-out guard rotation. A surprise development is Drummond making three 3 point shots in a preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which got social media’s attention. Drummond has attempted extending his range before, and if the Bulls are giving him the green light to diversify their offense, their season might be worse than expected. The Bulls will need to adjust or make a trade if they hope for a postseason appearance.
4. Detroit Pistons
- Record last season: 23-59 (14th in East)
- Offensive Rating: 105.6 (28th)
- Defensive Rating: 113.3 (24th)
- Net Rating: -7.7 (26th)
Key Departures: Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk, Frank Jackson, Saben Lee
Key Additions: Bojan Bogdonovic, Alec Burks, Nerles Noel, Kevin Knox
Key rookies: Jaden Ivey (pick 5), Jalen Duren (pick 13)
Projected Depth Chart
|Cade Cunningham||Jaden Ivey||Saddiq Bey||Bojan Bogdanovic||Isaiah Stewart|
|Killian Hayes||Alec Burks||Isaiah Livers||Marvin Bagley||Nerlens Noel|
|Cory Joseph||Hamidou Diallo||Rodney McGruder||Kevin Knox||Jalen Duren|
|Buddy Boeheim **||Braxton Key **|
The Detroit Pistons had a solid offseason, adding young talent and veterans to fill out their roster. The Pistons traded for Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic, a proven scorer and floor spacer. They also made a draft day trade which landed lottery pick Jalen Duren, adding more to their already loaded young assets. The Pistons did trade away a key contributor, Jerami Grant, to the Portland Trail Blazers, which should be no surprise, as Grant was in trade rumors throughout last year.
The Pistons might not win many games again this year, but they will be a competitive and fast-paced team that will be exciting to watch. The backcourt of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey will provide many highlights for social media to rave over. Coach Dwayne Casey will need to ensure the development of both Cunningham and Ivey by giving them equal opportunities. It has already proven to be an adjustment for Cunningham, as he shot just 31 percent from the field and 22 percent from three in the preseason. Both players need the ball to be most effective, and Coach Casey will have the task of growing both young guards individually and as a dynamic duo. The Pistons will finish low in their division, but will be a great NBA League Pass team to tune into.
5. Indiana Pacers
- Record last season: 25-57 (13th in East)
- Offensive Rating: 111.9 (18th)
- Defensive Rating: 115.5 (28th)
- Net Rating: -3.6 (24th)
Key Departures: Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Ricky Rubio, Duane Washington
Key Additions: Daniel Theis, Aaron Nesmith
Key rookies: Benedict Mathurin (pick 6), Andrew Nembhard (pick 31)
Projected Depth Chart
|Tyrese Haliburton||Buddy Hield||Chris Duarte||Daniel Theis||Myles Turner|
|T.J. McConnell||Ben Mathurin||Aaron Nesmith||Jalen Smith||Isaiah Jackson|
|Andrew Nembhard||Terry Taylor||James Johnson||Oshae Brissett||Goga Bitadze|
|Trevelin Queen **||Kendall Brown **|
The Indiana Pacers started their rebuild last year at the trade deadline, acquiring young Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton. The Pacers finished last season with 25 wins and selected versatile wing, Bennedict Mathurin with the seventh overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft . Mathurin was impressive during preseason, averaging 20 points while shooting 48 percent from the field, though he did struggle from deep (15%).
This year will not be any different with the direction of the team, though there are some development opportunities the Pacers should focus on. Haliburton and Jalen Smith will have a full offseason with the team after being acquired at the trade deadline, Chris Duarte will look to build on his strong rookie year, and offseason acquisition Aaron Nesmith will finally get an opportunity to showcase his talent.
It is no secret Myles Turner and Buddy Hield are on the Pacers’ trade block. Both players are on the roster and expected to start the season with Indiana. Considering the Malcolm Brogdon trade, the Pacers will be looking for draft assets to help accelerate their rebuild. Turner and Heild will likely be gone after the trade deadline, putting the Pacers in a great position to lose as many games as possible to get a top pick in the 2023 draft. Haliburton, Mathurin and Duarte are young pieces that will have plenty of opportunity to grow together in Coach Rick Carlise’s infamous three-guard lineups. This will be Halliburton’s first full season as a lead guard in the NBA, and he will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his passing and shot creation that were on display during his 26 games in Indiana last season.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements
Statistics used in our scouting reports come from RealGM.com (international and NBA stats), Sports-Reference.com (NCAA and NBA stats), and Synergy Sports Technology (special analytics). Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. Click here to see the statistical abbreviation key.