To start things off I chose my personal favorite division — the Central. I refer to this division as Midwest Money because it is a gamble. The division could send anywhere from two to four teams to the playoffs depending on what version of each team shows up on a nightly basis. I will start with the top and work my way down.
1. Detroit Pistons
I have little doubt the Pistons will remain the kings of the midwest. They are the deepest team in the central, followed by the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers respectively. They can score from the outside and they will absolutely punish teams in the post — something no other team in the central can come close to doing. The starters are aging, which can be a little scary at times, but the young guns are more than promising. New coach Michael Curry should keep the team focused and energized most of the way through. Will they finally get that second ring they have been good enough to get the last few years? I would say no, but there is a chance.
Team MVP: Tayshaun Prince - The scorer, defender, shooter and slasher. He is everything.
The Rising Star: Amir Johnson - How does a blocked shot every nine minutes sound? That's what Johnson did last year and I expect even more this year. I love Jason Maxiell, but I think Johnson is the heir to McDyess' throne.
The Falling Star: Chauncey Billups - "Big Shot" Billups has started to lose a step and it is beginning to show. He knows at 32 time is running out for him, so he could be even more focused on getting a ring this season. The Pistons wont have to lose too much sleep as the great Rodney Stuckey and defensive stalwart Arron Afflalo wait in the wings.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
There are only two reasons why Cleveland will get second place. LeBron and James. He is the best player in the Eastern Conference and is great enough to get event the most mediocre teams to the top. The addition of former Buck Mo Williams will help space the floor and I expect Wally World and Big Z to give enough effort to keep the team in second. They have nice role players with Delonte West, Booby Gibson and Anderson Varejao. If you don't watch the Cavs because of King James, than watch them for Varejao's hair, it's awesome.
Team MVP: LeBron James - This one is self-explanatory
Rising Star: Delonte West - He could sneak up on a lot of teams this year if they don't pay attention. He only averaged a little more than 8 points per game, but I expect around 12 from him this year with 4 or 5 assists per game as well.
Falling Star: Ben Wallace - Remember when I said Billups could use his age as motivation? Yeah, well that isn't going to happen with Big Ben. The once dominant defender is done...I mean totally done. He is worse on offense (which I thought was impossible) and he is slower and he doesn't defend as well. He is not much help at all.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
So here is one of those bold predictions I was talking about. Let me just say, the Milwaukee Bucks are my favorite sports franchise so I am somewhat biased, but this team has talent. Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and Charlie V are all offensive weapons. No other front court in the central has the ball handling or passing touch of Charlie V and Bogut. There are HUGE questions on defense but the addition of Scott Skiles along with Malik Allen and Luc Richard Mbah-A-Moute should help.
Team MVP: Richard Jefferson - This is a tight call with Bogut being a close second, but I expect Jefferson to bring speed and defense to the perimeter. His willingness and desire to throw down should be of great help since Michael Redd has never been a slasher.
Rising Star: Ramon Sessions - No doubt about it this kid is going to be really good. He reminds me a lot of Andre Miller and his final four games all ended with double-digit assists including a 24-assist game. Keep an eye out for him, he will surprise you.
Falling Star: Dan Gadzuric - The once solid defender and rebounder has become a shadow of his former self. He was never great, but he used to give you an honest night's work every time out, but the athleticism of today's game has passed him. He did have a tremendous block against the Utah Jazz in a game at the Bradley Center I went to last year though.
4. Chicago Bulls
I had to be talked into this one, but at the end of the day, I believe it too. The fact is they are deeper and have a better front court than the Indiana Pacers. Derrick Rose of course will the be the face of the team all season, but the other players will be the ones deciding the fate of the team. Can Tyrus Thomas reach his potential? Can Luol Deng reach his potential? Can Thabo Sefolosha reach his potential? You see the pattern here. If they can all click, then watch out, but I have my concerns about Vinny Del Negro leading this team.
Team MVP: Luol Deng - This has to be the year for the highly-touted forward because, A) If it's not, then the Bulls wont go very far. B) If he doesn't lead this team, then he will have proven to be overrated and a strong mid-level player, but not the star as expected.
Rising Star: Thabo Sefolosha - I am a sucker for defense and this guy plays it very well. Aside from that, he is one of the only backcourt players on the Bulls with any size, save Rose. I expect him to be the "seventh man," which is really the sixth man on this team since Air Gordon puts up starter minutes.
Falling Star: Larry Hughes - Honestly he is just along for the ride. I am sure he thinks he still can be a vital part of this team, but with Rose, Hinrich, Gordon and Sefolosha all expected to get big minutes, he will probably ride the bench for the majority of the time.
5. Indiana Pacers
Let me just say I really like this team's front court. I think Danny Granger is awesome, Mike Dunleavy is good and TJ Ford is a highly intelligent point guard. Then you have the addition of Jarrett Jack and Brandon Rush and this team is ready for some perimeter damage. The front court is beyond terrible. Jeff Foster, Troy Murphy, Rasho Nesterovic, Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert combine for a whole bunch of nothing. This team does not have depth either and does anyone even know who the coach is? Oh yeah, Jim O'Brien.
Team MVP: Danny Granger - He came out of nowhere the past two seasons and has just kept flying under the radar. Without this guy, the Pacers suffer tremendously. He can fill it up and he can take it to the rim. If he continues to improve defensively he will be a legit star.
Rising Star: Brandon Rush - As you can see I must resort to a rookie because this team simply doesn't have good, young players. I know Rush will continue to be better and should be great. He has already shown real leadership and coolness in the exhibition games.
Falling Star: Rasho Nesterovic - I'm not saying he was ever a star but he is being paid $7.8 million this season. Huge waste of money for someone who will do a good job of blocking some shots but that is it.
This should be an interesting division to watch this season and if I am right in my predictions I think I will be the only one as many people don't have Milwaukee and Indiana where I have them. But like I said, TBDS is offering you the gospel of basketball so make sure to check out the next division...the southeast.