by user Cpchrist
2005-2006 Season Review: Central Division
My season review continues today with the Central Division. As with the Atlantic Division, I will look back on what we have learned about each team this past season. I will not be able to look ahead to next season, however, because every team in the division made the playoffs.
What We’ve Learned: More than any other coach in the league, Scott Skiles imposes his personality on this team. A hard-nosed group of overachievers, the Bulls are the most irritating team to watch, and I’m sure it is no fun playing them, either. While he may not be their best player, no Bull personifies this team like Andres Nocioni, who gets under the skin of opponents and succeeds in the league by doing the little things and occasionally knocking down a three. Kirk Hinrich is the go-to guy on offense, but that promises to change as soon as Luol Deng develops more of a scoring mentality. Ben Gordon has proven to be nothing more than a streaky gunner, a John Starks minus the D. Like Brian Scalebrine gets paid to set picks, Tyson Chandler gets paid to block shots and rebound. Chris Duhon wouldn’t play half as many minutes on any other team in the league, and Jannero Pargo is one of the more underrated clutch players in the league. Darius Songalia is an above-average offensive player who contributes nil on the defensive end, like a Bizarro Tyson Chandler. The Bulls stay in the playoffs figures to be a short one regardless of whoever they end up meeting (they’re slated to face Detroit as of April 18). They might steal one and will probably hang tough in a few more, but this team simply doesn’t have the talent of any of the East’s top four. In bigger news, the Bulls signed their answer to Scalebrine in the form of Luke Schenscher, but instead of a six-year multimillion dollar deal, the Bulls only pay Schenscher $141,000 for one year. In a perfect world, the event of the upcoming summer would be a pay-per-view game of one-on-one between Scalebrine and Schenscher with hype on par with Charles Barkley vs. Godzilla. My prediction would be Schenscher over Scalebrine 1-0 after a 5 hour marathon of Schenscher constantly having the fruits of his surprisingly effective-yet-goofy post game waved off by Scalebrine constantly drawing charging calls. Scalebrine’s offensive attack would consist entirely of throwing the ball to no one on the wing and setting a pick on Schenscher. Schenscher would finally win when he breaks Scalebrine’s ankle—literally—with the slowest, sloppiest crossover dribble in history. Of course, in a perfect world, I would be getting paid to write this from my office at the Playboy Mansion.
What We’ve Learned: LeBron James is the second best player in the league—behind Kobe—and just may be the MVP. Flip Murray may be the best trade pick-up of the year, although if you argued for Ron Artest I’d have to agree with you. Larry Hughes is injury-prone, but I guess we actually already knew that. Signing Zydrunas Ilgauskas, my favorite player in the league, to a 4-year deal may prove to be a mistake, as the Cavs looked much more effective after he went down with an ankle sprain late in the season. Eric Snow is perhaps the most worthless player in the league (he doesn’t even set picks!) who gets over 30 minutes a game. Drew Gooden has proven that he can get the quietest double-double in the league, and I mean that in the worst possible way. Anderson Varejao is a joy to watch, and he gets double-doubles in the loudest possible way. He’s also the Cavs’ best interior defender. Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall can be found camping out in the corners, just beyond the three-point arc, acting as if the rim has a restraining order against them that mandates they remain 23 feet and 9 inches away at all times. The Cavs should handle Indiana, Chicago, or Milwaukee with relative ease, but Washington could give them problems. LeBron should still be able to beat them, but I could see that series going seven and being the best of the first round. Detroit will absolutely embarrass the Cavs in the second round, but the Pistons did that to MJ, as well.
What We’ve Learned: Larry Brown shouldn’t have gotten as much—or any—of the credit for the Pistons’ success the past two seasons. If anything, it seems Coach Brown was only holding this team back with his overbearing personality and constant reigning in of the offense. Flip Saunders, the most adaptable coach in the league, quickly turned Chauncey Billups loose, and he and the Pistons exploded on offense while maintaining their stinginess on defense, outscoring opponents by a league best 7 points per game. You know about the starting unit, and you may note that the Pistons lack depth, but you shouldn’t note that if you really know about the starting unit. While they fell short of 70 wins, the Pistons can make an argument that they are the best team ever if by best team you mean best collective effort. Every other great team (’96 Bulls, ’86 Celtics, ’80-something Lakers, early-eighties Sixers, ’71 Knicks, ’69 Lakers) had at least one superstar, while the Pistons have none. The closest they have is Rasheed Wallace, who has always had top-10 talent but has always lacked the mentality to take games over. The Pistons should steamroll through the East playoffs before facing stiff competition from either the Spurs or Mavericks. This team will not be denied, however, and should celebrate the greatest team season in history.
What We’ve Learned: Ron Artest screwed the Pacers worse than everyone thought when he punched the wrong guy in Detroit. Most people forget that the Pacers absolutely crushed the Pistons that night, and were the prohibitive favorites at that point to win it all. Following the brawl, the Pacers rallied to make the playoffs behind one of the better coaching jobs ever by probably the best coach in the league in Rick Carlisle. With everyone returning this year, the Pacers were supposed to pick up where they left off that night in Detroit. So what happened? Ron Artest went loony again, eventually forcing his way out of town in exchange for Peja Stojakovic. Jermaine O’Neal battled injuries all year and was a shell of his former self. I don’t even know if Jamaal Tinsley played this year, and if he did, it was sparingly. Stephen Jackson played like Stephen Jackson, which is to say selfishly. Reggie Miller’s absence was noticed, even if no one ever talked about it. Anthony Johnson became one of the more underrated point guards in the league, and constantly made me bitter that the Cavs cut him a few seasons back. Danny Granger slowly developed into an Artest-lite, minus the insanity. The biggest problem for this team, though, is that they’ve just had too much to deal with the past two seasons. I think they’re just sick of each other, just as people stranded on an island together would eventually get sick of each other. While I still think Carlisle is the best coach in the league, I don’t think that even he can get this team out of the first round. This team just wants to go home and get the hell away from each other.
What We’ve Learned: Jamaal Magloire is not the fit everyone thought that he would be. He’s a black hole on offense, completely disrupting what would otherwise be one of the freest-flowing offenses in the league. Bobby Simmons has lost a bit of his Clippers mojo, but is a good guy so no one really talks about it. Michael Redd is becoming a better version of Ray Allen in that while Redd’s skill set is very similar to Allen’s, Redd actually has played better after cashing in on his big payday. TJ Ford is an inspiration, but his lack of a jumper is killing him. Andrew Bogut is an intriguing prospect who rebounds better than anyone thought and passes as good as any big man since Toni Kukoc, whose corpse watches from the bench. Mo Williams must have Jazz fans burning Keith MacLeod jerseys in the streets as he’s developed into a deadly clutch player. Charlie Bell has tripled Mateen Cleeves’s NBA production this season alone. Also, Ervin Johnson is still on their roster. Honestly, the Bucks have one of the oddest collections of talent in the league, and the fact that Terry Stots is now a playoff coach is even odder. The Bucks should be the most fun team to watch get swept this year.
I’ll be back with the Southeast Review later.
Mon 04/17/06, 10:10 pm EST