clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is the Central now the toughest division in the East?

New, comments

The division is getting tougher for the Bulls.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Remember this, kids: it's never too late in the offseason for a #WojBomb. When Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Detroit Pistons were set to complete a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire point guard Brandon Jennings, the Twitter jokes came fast and hard. I'm pretty sure the Seinfeld music played as soon as you pressed retweet the button. I assume someone's already made a "Bad shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!" remix. I want to set a bunch of bad Pistons turnovers to a video soundtracked by Tim Allen grunting. For a few minutes, we all had our fun.

And then the rest of the details came out. The Pistons essentially swapped Brandon Knight for Jennings, and signed Jennings to a reasonable three-year, $25 million contract. As Tom Ziller pointed out today, the Pistons' first round pick goes to the Bobcats if it isn't in the top eight, so Detroit figured there's no point in being 'kinda bad' if they weren't going to be really bad. Instead, they pulled what amounts to an all-in for Joe Dumars by signing Smith for $56 million and acquiring Jennings.

So far as all-ins go, this might seem like pocket deuces. But just because the Pistons aren't a threat to come out of the East, much less crack the four (or five) of the conference doesn't mean they haven't really improved the team this offseason. I actually like what Detroit has done a lot, no laughtrack required.

Yes, Jennings and Smith share a common thread: both are exciting to watch but terribly inefficient. Jennings shot 39.9 percent from the field last season, and turned it over too much. Smith is infamous for his poor shot selection despite being pretty good at everything else. What makes this team seem like a nightmare for Mo Cheeks to coach is the same thing that makes you want to buy League Pass to watch their random Wednesday night games. Detroit will produce plenty of highlights this season, probably as many bad ones as good ones.

Mock the Pistons at your own peril, though, because I think they'll be pretty good. If the name of the game is acquiring front court talent, you won't find a middling team with better bigs than Detroit. Smith will be miscast playing the three instead of the four, but the Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond combination makes up for everything.

Drummond, in particular, could really break out this season. I don't think it's a reach to think he could one day become one of the top 10 or 20 players in the league, just because his combination of size (6'10, 270) and incredible agility is nearly unparalleled. The man doesn't turn 20 years old until August. Sure, he shot 37 percent from the foul line last season, and that is an issue, but he has all the tools to be one of the best centers in the league for a long time.

Drummond and Monroe didn't play a ton together last year (only 453 minutes all season), but there's reason to believe it should work out. Monroe is a terrific passer for a man his size, and should be able to facilitate from the high post similar to what we saw Joakim Noah do for the Bulls so much last season. If Smith is a weak side slasher cutting off the ball, if Drummond is camped in the paint where he's bigger, stronger and more athletic than anyone else, if Jennings and rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are spacing the floor....

Am I crazy for thinking this might work?

The challenge will be getting into halfcourt sets without Smith or Jennings doing something dumb, but Jennings in particular has never played with this many other offensive threats. He took shots in Milwaukee partly because he felt like he had to. There's other options in Detroit, and the Pistons are banking on that being a net positive for the young point guard mentally.

If the race for the No. 6 seed is between the Pistons, Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards, I kind of like Detroit's chances. Their biggest competition might come from Cleveland, which opens another door: is the Central now the toughest conference in the East?

This is particularly relevant because seeds 2-4 in the East may very well be bunched together this season, and home court advantage in the playoffs will be at a premium. The Pacers have Danny Granger back and improved their bench immensely. The Nets are going to be good if they can stay healthy. The Bulls have been able to rattle off the most regular season wins in the conference the two years they were (mostly) healthy under Tom Thibodeau, but a strengthening of the division could very well affect that.

It's something to worry about, these games against Detroit and Cleveland no longer being gimmies. I'm not one to count on Andrew Bynum for anything other than having hilarious hair, but even if he doesn't contribute the Cavs could still be formidable. Kyrie Iriving might be every bit as good as Derrick Rose, Anthony Bennett has the offensive repertoire to average 18-20 a game as a rookie if he gets the minutes, Tristian Thompson and Dion Waiters were each selected No. 4 overall in the draft not long ago, and are young bros who would seem to stand a good chance of improving significantly. If Anderson Varejao can finally stay healthy, Cleveland will be no cupcake.

I'm optimistic about the Bulls' chances next season, but the fact that Indiana, Detroit and Cleveland have all so clearly improved is something to consider. The Bulls need regular season wins next season for the inevitable final four showdown in the East playoffs, but they also have to get those wins without running players like Noah and Deng into the ground. It'll be hard to beat Cleveland and Detroit with Nazr Mohammed logging any more than 10-15 minutes this year.

Does any of this worry you, Bulls fans?