Central Division Preseason Takeaways
Coby White has a big future (maybe)
The Chicago Bulls young roster is about to embark on an important season which will allow their new front office to determine who the franchise cornerstones are moving forward. The franchise showed great faith in Coby White by drafting Patrick Williams with the fourth pick instead of taking another lead guard like Killian Hayes or Tyrese Haliburton.
White finished last season strong and has started this pre-season even stronger, in his first three preseason games he averaged 20.7 points while shooting 53% from the floor and a scorching 58% from three, while these numbers aren't sustainable it could be an indicator of what is to come. Perhaps most importantly, the former UNC guard has a new coach in Billy Donovan who has had plenty of experience elevating lead guards in the past like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook - playing through White may be an emphasis point this year.
Much has been about who will stand to benefit from the change in coaching in the windy city - mainly in regards to the usage of talented bigs like Wendell Carter Jnr and Lauri Markkanen, however, perhaps a more cohesive offense stands to benefit Coby White. It makes sense given he will be the one initiating the offense.
Giannis might have a new contract and new teammates but the same issues are still there
When two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo put pen to paper on his five-year $228 million contract extension Milwaukee Bucks fans rejoiced and yet on some level, the hardest work is still ahead for the franchise. The Bucks made big moves in securing the future of their homegrown superstar and trading for Jrue Holiday (a player who has been called underrated so many times he may now somehow be overrated) and despite this, there is minimal assurance about the success at the highest level in Wisconsin.
While preseason basketball is mostly irrelevant at the superstar level it was disheartening to watch Giannis airball three-pointers in the warm-up games and it served as a reminder of what he will face in the playoffs. The spotlight is on Giannis to be able to make long-distance jump shots to keep the defense honest and if he can't then the Bucks will be relying on Jrue Holiday and Khris Middelton to be 'the guy' down the stretch at the pointy end of the season which is less than ideal.
The Bucks have shown a willingness to part ways with draft assets at the deadline to improve the roster but when they traded for Holiday most of their real draft assets went to the Pelicans which means that now more than ever the title hopes in Milwaukee rest on the very jacked shoulders of Giannis.
Isaac Okoro may make the Cavs interesting
As a prospect, Isaac Okoro may not be overly box office; he isn't a high-level scorer or playmaker, he isn't a highlight dunker or an off the dribble flamethrower and yet his presence on the roster finally starts to provide some shape towards the Cavaliers future.
As a big fan of niche lineups, I will miss the strangely respectable plus-minus of Larry Nance Jr at the 3 lineups but as someone who likes palatable basketball, Okoro fills some crucial voids on the Cavs roster. As a versatile, strong and capable defender he may be able to compensate for the defensive deficiencies of the young backcourt trio of Colin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jnr. Additionally, he allows Koby Altman to start building around something resembling a young core.
In his first few preseason games Okoro has proven to be every bit the defender he was in college as well as showing an improved offensive game averaging 14 points on 62% shooting including 5/8 from beyond the arc, pairing this with his glimpses of pick and roll playmaking (2.3 assists a game) and he should complement the score first mindset of the young Cavs guards with spot-up offense and athleticism. Okoro isn't enough to make the Cavs a playoff team but what he does do is give shape to their post LeBron roster which is something they desperately needed.
Detroit might be even worse but in a good way.
There is no doubt Detroit made some unusual signings in free agency. Overpaying the Nuggets 2019 second unit frontcourt was a sideways move at best and bringing Jahlil Okafor in to get destroyed by bench guards is less than palatable. However, for the most part they achieved two important goals by getting younger and getting less competent.
Pistons fans should be grateful that they spent more time this off season evaluating young talent than they did sharing videos of Andre Drummond jacking ugly three pointers in an empty gym. In the draft they acquired a talented young guard in Killian Hayes, a centre in Isaiah Stewart (hint I didn't love this pick) and a versatile wing in Sadiq Bey who shows real competency and they carry over the very young and raw Sekou Doumbouya from the 2019 draft.
Looking at the early signs in preseason Hayes is in for a rough rookie year filled with finding his NBA range and lots of turnovers, which is very normal for a young lead guard. Any offense that calls for high usage Jerami Grant is not an offense worth watching. Despite all this Pistons fans should rejoice because in a year where The Palace will likely be empty they can hit the reset button with a rebuild and finally shift away from chasing a first-round sweep.