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NBA Draft Kit: Central Division Position Battles

Ken "K-Train" Crites

An early RotoWire contributor from back in the 90's, K-Train returns with the grace of Gheorghe Muresan and the wisdom of Joe Gibbs. Tweet him @KenCrites or e-mail him at ken@rotowire.com. Ken won the FSWA 2014 Humor Article Of The Year award. He's also the 2015-16 champion of the prestigious RW NBA Keeper League. Ken still owns a RotoNews shirt.

Suddenly, the Cavs have a whole lotta depth. The rest of the Central seems to be spinning its tires while Cleveland prepares for another Finals run. Which positions are up for grabs in the Central?

Chicago Bulls

The rebuild is finally in full motion. Goodbye, Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Hello, confusion and opportunity, especially at the forward spots.

Small Forward: Paul Zipser, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine
Yikes, that’s an ugly list of options. I guess Jud Buechler isn’t available.

Right now, second-year pro Paul Zipser is the favorite to start. The German import showed glimpses of upside as a potential 3-and-D guy over the second half of his rookie season. While the scoring will probably be modest, one made three and half a block per game are attainable.

The 28-year-old Holiday played in 81 games last year for the troubled Knicks. It was his first 59+ NBA game season. He’s another low scorer who could net you one steal and a couple of assists per game if the minutes are there.

Finally, is it too early to consider Valentine a bust? His 35% field goal shooting during his rookie season is certainly a concern. And for a guy with impressive floor vision, his 2.3 assists per 36 minutes were a disappointment. The three is a mess for Chicago and wide open. In deep leagues, take a cheap flier on Zipser.

Power Forward: Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis

The names here should be more familiar than at small forward, but the minutes are equally murky. Drafted with the seventh overall pick, Markkanen has the outside shot to fit in as a prototypical stretch-four, but he’s a major defensive liability who struggled, at times, to rebound his position at Arizona.

The same is true of his projected back up, Mirotic, who after seeing very little interest from other squads, re-signed with Chicago for two years in late September. Considering Mirotic’s poor D, his drop in three point shooting -- from 39% in 2015-16 to 34% a year ago -- is that much more concerning.

Bobby Portis was probably hoping the Bulls wouldn’t bring back Mirotic. But, alas, they did, which seems to doom the third-year Portis to another 14-16 minute-per-game season. Portis’ best chance for meaningful minutes may be Chicago trading 29-year-old veteran Robin Lopez and moving Markkanen to center, a possibility raised by Shannon McKeown on a recent RotoWire NBA Podcast. Anything could happen with this ugly rebuild.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Without a doubt, the Cavs have significantly improved their depth. They will no longer be leaning on 37-year-old Richard Jefferson to provide a spark of the bench. Could the Cavs mirror Boston and Golden State by going with small ball lineups?

Bigs: Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye

Per Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, coach Tyrone Lue is planning to start Kevin Love at center. Interesting. That would free up minutes for the Bossman, Jae Crowder, to start at power forward. Or would LeBron James be the four and Crowder the three? Does it matter?

Many experts have suggested that Crowder is the ideal player to relieve The King of defensive responsibilities, as well as provide another catch-and-shoot offensive option. Forecasts that Crowder’s minutes will decrease are probably premature. Thompson’s offensive woes and poor free throw shooting can be hidden a tad more with the second unit, and he’ll still be on the floor in key, late-game defensive situations. Frye is still with the club, but his minutes will probably dip to the 14-16 minutes per game range as a three-point specialist off the bench.

Detroit Pistons

Stan Van Gundy loves to give his starters huge minutes. Even so, with a number of options on the wing, it’s tough to sort out exactly how playing time will be distributed.

Forwards: Tobias Harris, Jon Leuer, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Tolliver

I have a hard time believing SVG really wants to start Jon Leuer. If only he could wave a magic want and improve Stanley Johnsons woeful (35.3% last season) shooting. Until the 21-year-old finds his stroke, SVG will trudge on with enigma Tobias Harris at the three and “sort of” stretch four Jon Leuer. Why the “sort of” label? Well, Leuer shot only 29% from three last year. Pair that with his lackluster shot-blocking and Leuer’s 2016-17 season screams “play him off the bench”.

This Pistons squad is stuck in the middle, with Johnson as its only real upside play. SVG needs to let The Stanimal grow.

Indiana Pacers

Paul George making it clear he wouldn’t say in Indiana forced the Pacers rebuild to start a year early. They have a major building block at center in 21-year-old Myles Turner. But the rest of the lineup lacks upside (sorry, Victor Oladipo). Let’s take a look at the point guard position

Point Guard: Darren Collison, Cory Joseph

Six days after signing Collison, the Pacers traded for Joseph. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence. Collison was the better shooter last year and still has the head start heading into the season. But the 30-year-old Collison and 26-year-old Joseph combination has “stop gap” written all over it. Expect Collison to hold down the fort to begin the year, but Joseph has the higher upside and not long ago was viewed as a surefire future starter in the league. Play up Joseph at your draft, but grab Collison for cheap in later rounds.

Milwaukee Bucks

I’d like to stir up controversy in Milwaukee, but the starting five is fairly set, especially with Jabari Parker out until February. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP push will be supported by sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, a healthy Khris Middleton and Thon Maker, with Greg Monroe the top scoring option off the bench.

Really not much to see here. The Bucks had the least roster turnover of any team in the league this offseason.