The Central Division is, at this early stage, looking like it will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the upcoming NBA season. The best divisions always produce two top-tier teams, like the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs battling in the Southwest or the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns fighting for the Pacific (long time ago, I know). This year, the Central could produce two of the top teams in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers.
In this series, we break down who will be the best player, by position, in each division: a “divisional All-Star team” in other words. I have been tasked at constructing the team for the Central, so, without further ado, let’s put together a team for the most old-school division in the league.
Point Guard – Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
And off the bat, we have our first pickle! In the time since Rose last played a meaningful game, Kyrie Irving, his competition for this spot, has rocketed through the ranks and become one of the most exciting, explosive, and popular players in the NBA. Irving has an unstoppable handle, unlimited shooting range, quickness for days, and can finish around the basket. What really excited NBA fans last year, though, was his killer instinct.
After just two seasons, Irving is already considered in those polls that ask “Which player do you want taking the last shot?” (you know, the ones Kobe usually wins and LeBron used to finish like eighth in).
Irving’s line last year, per 36 minutes: 23.3 points, 6.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 3.4 turnovers, 45% from the field and a fantastic 39% from 3-point range.
For comparison, Rose’s best season, per 36 minutes: 24.1 points, 7.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 3.4 turnovers 45% from the field, and 33% from 3-point range.
(And one MVP)
So, Irving’s best season is remarkably similar to Rose’s best season.
On top of all that, Rose hasn’t played in a year and a half. So why did I choose Rose?
Because I watched Rose in the first two preseason games, and this won’t be Derrick Rose minus the athleticism. It’s Derrick Rose with all the athleticism he had before. And that is the trump card that Rose has over Irving; his incredible quickness, speed, agility and jumping.
Irving is no slouch and is one of the quickest and fastest players in the league too. But Rose is just on another level, with the combo of speed and running back-like strength he has. Honestly, this was a very close choice. Irving may start off the season better, but once Rose shakes off the rust, it’s his spot to lose.
Shooting Guard – Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Paul George is so versatile that not only can he handle the ball, shoot the three, post up smaller defenders, guard positions 1-3, rebound, pass, and deflect passes and shots, he can also allow aspiring sportswriters the liberty of moving him to either shooting guard or small forward depending on how said sportswriter wants to construct his all-division team. What a player!
George’s main competition at this spot is probably Jimmy Butler of the Bulls. But Butler has just a little over half a season of good work, so he isn’t proven yet. George has taken major steps each season in the league, and took a quantum leap during the year last season. It’s hard to remember, but George was nowhere near the All-Star radar at the beginning of last season. But by season’s end, he was an All-Star giving LeBron James everything he could handle in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Whether George is really as good as he played in the ECF last season, or if that was just an elite display of what he is capable of, remains to be seen. As well as he played last year, he still has room for another jump. That is what should scare opposing NBA teams. What is known, though, is that he is an incredible defender with the tools to do a little bit (or sometimes a lot) of literally everything on the court.
Whoa, there are actually other teams in the Central Division?
The Pacers and Bulls are really way ahead of the Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks. But at the small forward spot, Detroit landed probably the most talented player at the spot in the division. Danny Granger of the Pacers and Luol Deng of the Bulls give Smith very tough competition here. But the fact is, neither is as talented as Smith.
Now, both are probably smarter players than Smith, especially Deng and his non-stop motor. But Deng may be breaking down, and Granger may not have anything left in his knees. Smith brings what Paul George brings in some ways, which is a big, incredibly athletic and very versatile game that can fit multiple spots. Like George, he can handle, drive to the basket, dunk (this he does quite well), defend multiple spots, and in general overwhelm opponents with his athleticism. If someone on this vast Earth could convince him to stop shooting outside shots, he would go up the list of best forwards in the NBA.
Regardless, he is one of the best. His demeanor and body language often puts people off, and that can be a problem. But in Detroit, with a new start and talented teammates, I think we will see a very good Josh Smith.
Want to hear something crazy? Josh Smith is STILL only 27 years old. It seems like he’s been in the league forever (9 years), yet he still has years left of his prime.
Power Forward– David West, Indiana Pacers
This was a tough call. I ranked West first, ahead of Greg Monroe of the Pistons and Carlos Boozer of the Bulls. Monroe is the youngest, and may even have the most talent. Boozer is the biggest name.
But West just brings it. I really don’t know a better way to put it succinctly. I would take David West on my team any day for his steadiness, leadership, and toughness. In terms of actual play on the court, West has a great blend of low-post brute force and perimeter range on his jumper. His ability to make the mid-range shot opens up the offense and is a good change up against defenders expecting him to post up and throw his ‘bows. He hits clutch shots. Every Pacers fan hopes he gets the ball, tied or down, with a chance to tie.
Monroe will be the best player out of the three in a few years, simply because West and Boozer are aging. But right now, David West is still a rock, and a fantastic player.
Center – Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
This choice was as tough as the point guard spot, and maybe even tougher given the rise of a third option; Andre Drummond of the Pistons. Drummond has the freakish talent and athleticism to be the best center in the NBA one day. But right now, Hibbert and Joakim Noah of the Bulls are better players.
I detailed this matchup, between Hibbert and Noah, earlier in the summer for my Bulls vs. Pacers preview. They could not play the center position more differently, but they use different means to come to a similar end: two of the best centers in the NBA.
My choice then, as it is now, is Hibbert. To start, Hibbert has stayed healthy. Noah, each season, seems to have some nagging injury that follows him. Not a knock on Noah, and he plays through injuries and pain more than anyone else. I would never question Noah’s motor. The biggest reason for choosing Hibbert is that, in this day of undersized big-men, Hibbert has resisted the pitfalls that have made the 7-footer a dinosaur in the NBA, and instead embraced and improved on the advantages it brings.
He is the biggest guy on the court, every night, bar none. There’s still something to be said about that. He has improved his conditioning and balance so much that he can basically walk into post position against anyone. But defensively, he raises the entire team to another level.
Noah’s defensive energy is infectious and surely is a driving force for the Bulls’ elite defense. But Big Roy is, literally, a one man defense. His defensive presence makes the opponent question whether it’s even a good idea to drive into the lane. That, right there, is one HUGE advantage. His ability to protect the rim allows Paul George, George Hill, and the other perimeter defenders to press up and take away any space offensive player has, knowing that Hibby is waiting behind them if they get beat. He is just too good defensively to not have as the starter.
Sixth Man – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
Irving might be the second or third best player in the division, but for the format of this exercise, he is selected to be the Central Division’s sixth man.
Honestly, he might be the perfect sixth man. He can score no matter which four teammates are on the court with him, or which five defenders are watching him. If Irving wasn’t as good as he is, he could be the Sixth Man of the Year every year (maybe I’ll run this idea past him). It will be tons of fun finally seeing Irving battle with Rose , and we get to see it four times a year (if they both stay healthy…). He is one of the most electrifying players in the NBA, and an easy choice to lead the bench.
Coach – Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Coach Thibs is one of the best coaches in the NBA.
The Pacers’ Frank Vogel helped get the Pacers from a franchise treading water to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavaliers re-hired Mike Brown. Don’t laugh.
The Pistons hired Maurice Cheeks. Yawn.
I don’t know who the Bucks’ head coach is.
Larry Drew! Great hire. It’s going to be a long year, Milwaukee fans.