In the 2019 NBA Preview of the Central Division, all you have to know is that the Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks are -750 money line favorites to win the Central crown this year, with the Indiana Pacers their sole competition in a division that includes a trio of awful teams.
Unless Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo gets involved in a freak accident, the Bucks have a unified goal in mind: win the NBA championship.
The first step in their journey, which the Milwaukee Bucks achieved last season, is to win another Central Division title. The next step, which they missed last year, is to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. The top-seeded Bucks were knocked out in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals by Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors.
After a sensational regular season that included the most wins in the NBA with 60, the Greek Freak faded in last year’s postseason. Some of that had to do with his playoff inexperience, but he also couldn’t keep up with Kawhi Leonard, who had previously won a title with the San Antonio Spurs.
With his nemesis Leonard no longer in Toronto, the Greek Freak has a chance to lead the Bucks to the top seed in the Eastern Conference once again. The Bucks don’t have much competition in the Central division, once again, with their biggest challengers coming out of the Atlantic division.
2019 CENTRAL DIVISION ODDS:
Milwaukee Bucks -750
Indiana Pacers +500
Detroit Pistons +5000
Chicago Bulls +10000
Cleveland Cavs +50000
If basketball writers could have scripted the 2018-19 NBA playoffs, the Greek Freak would have been in the NBA Finals against Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors would have achieved their three-peat, and KD could’ve skipped town with one more championship. Alas, Kawhi Leonard had other ideas, and guided the Raptors all the way to the championship.
This year, the NBA writer’s room working on the Central Division Preview is recycling the script from last season, with the Greek Freak as the dominant force in the Eastern Conference. He’s the next huge star, but he won’t truly earn all the accolades he deserves until he leads the Bucks to a berth in the NBA Finals.
According to William Hill, the Milwaukee Bucks are 5/1 odds to win the 2020 NBA championship.
Seven-Year Freak Itch for Bucks
Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks won the Central Division title for the first time since the turn of the century. With a 60-22 record, the Bucks locked up the #1 seed in the East with a balanced team that cranks out offense, but can also hunker down and play hard-nosed defense.
According to the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the current win total for the Bucks this season is 57.5 wins.
After six seasons in Milwaukee, the Greek Freak is ready to take the Bucks to the promised land. His offensive output has been steadily increasing every season since the Bucks drafted him back in 2012.
GREEK FREAK SCORING AVERAGE:
2014: 12.7 ppg
2015: 16.9 ppg
2016: 22.9 ppg
2017: 26.9 ppg
2018: 27.7 ppg
Khris Middleton saw his scoring dip a bit from 20.1 points per game to 18.3 ppg, but he’s Robin to the Greek Freak’s Batman.
The Bucks lost point guard Malcolm Brogdon, but they added Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver to help with perimeter shooting. Eric Bledsode had a couple big games when Brogdon missed time with a foot injury.
The Raptors reserves outplayed the Bucks bench in the Eastern Conference Finals, so the Bucks added Robin Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova to bolster their bench. Factor in Milwaukee veterans George Hill and Pat Connaughton, and it’s safe to say that the Bucks have the best bench in the Central division.
Projection: Milwaukee 60-22
Patient Pacers Waiting on Oladipo
The Indiana Pacers can’t wait to get Victory Oladipo back into the mix (sometime in early 2020) after a gruesome knee injury prematurely ended his 2018-19 season. Even without Oladipo, the Pacers (48-34) advanced to the playoffs, where they were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round.
This year’s Pacers have a bunch of fresh faces, including PG Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, TJ Warren, and Justin Holiday. They also still have Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and TJ Leaf. During the 2019 NBA Draft, the Pacers drafted a big man from Europe named Goga Bitadaze, who they hope will be their version of Nikola Jokic.
The Pacers are 5/1 odds to win the Central division, but they’re essentially playing for second place.
Projection: Indiana 46-36
Every Rose Has Its Thorn in Detroit
The Detroit Pistons (41-41) went on a tear in the final weeks of the season and barely made the playoffs. The Pistons ran out of gas when the postseason began, and were swept by the Bucks in the opening round.
The Pistons are projected to win 38 games this season during another rebuilding year around Blake Griffin (24.5 ppg), Reggie Jackson (15.4 ppg), and Andre Drummond (17.3 ppg). The front office enlisted Derrick Rose, Markeiff Morris, Tony Snell, and Joe Johnson to help Blake return to the playoffs.
If Rose stays healthy and can contribute, the Pistons could venture north of .500. Otherwise, it’s going to be another long, cold winter in the Big D.
Projection: Detroit 40-44
Coby White Era Begins in Chitown
The Chicago Bulls (22-60) got off to a horrendous start last season and fired head coach Fred Hoiberg. With the Mayor gone, the team loathed Jim Boylen’s Draconian coaching tactics. That schtick doesn’t work with millennials, but at least the Bulls are better this year, and expected to win 10-12 more games then last season.
Shooting guard Zach LaVine emerged as the Bulls top player last season, averaging 23.7 points per game. Power forward Lauri Markkenen (18.7 ppg, 9 rebounds) is a great player when he’s not injured. Rookie center Wendell Carter, Jr. (10.3 ppg) slowly fell into his own as the season progressed. The Bulls acquired Otto Porter through a late-season trade. In the offseason, the Bulls acquired Thaddeus Young, Luke Kornet, and Tomas Satoransky.
The Bulls drafted point guard Coby White from North Carolina. The Bulls have good history drafting guards from UNC (e.g. Michael Jordan). White is an exciting player with a highly recognizable hair style. The Bulls will suck once again, but at least LaVine and White in the same backcourt will be fun to watch.
Projection: Chicago 33-49
— HeelsUpdates (@HeelsUpdates) July 8, 2019
Life After LeBron 2.0, Year 2
Will the Cleveland Cavs (19-63) punt on another season? Derp.
Can Kevin Love play a full season without an injury? Double derp.
The oddsmakers projected the Cavs to win 23 games. That’s being generous with a rookie coach at the helm. Pretty much every bookie in America thinks the Cavs are the worst team in the NBA once again. NBA fantasy writers are all picking the Cavs to finish dead last in their Central Division preview pieces.
The poor Cavs. They were burned by LeBron James twice. The Cavs picked up the pieces both times he skipped Cleveland for sunnier climates, but Kevin Love can barely play a full month without an injury. At least Love’s panic attacks subsided once King James bolted for Hollywood.
Ex-Michigan head coach, John Beilein walked away from his cushy job in Ann Arbor to coach the worst team in the NBA. At least, he’ll have a young team at his disposal. Point guard Collin Sexton showed promise during his rookie season. During the 2.0 version of LBJ rebuild mode, the Cavs drafted Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, and Kevin Porter, Jr. The Cavs are in for another long and arduous season as the NBA Central’s doormat.
Projection: Cleveland 26-56
If you enjoyed this NBA Central Preview, check out more 2019 NBA divisional previews.