The NBA’s Central Division will look a bit different in 2018-19. Former Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers in the offseason. With the megastar’s departure, Cleveland is left to rebuild with a very limited roster. The team’s four-year reign over the Central Division is likely over.
So who will end up taking over the Central Division? The Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks are the two favorites with the USA sportsbooks, but we will also preview the Detroit Pistons, Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls to see what kind of season they’ll each have. At the end, we’ll advise you on our predictions, picks and bets for the winner of the division.
Indiana Pacers (+148 at 5Dimes)
Indiana overachieved last season. Shooting guard Victor Oladipo caught everyone off guard with an amazing All-Star campaign, and the rest of the Pacers’ unheralded squad came together perfectly to support him. It could have been a bit of a fluke.
So why aren’t they going to regress in 2018-19? Because they’ll be a better team. Tyreke Evans will provide a much-needed playmaking spark, Doug McDermott will add shooting and young big man Myles Turner has overhauled his body. Most of the roster is young, in fact.
The Pacers don’t have the star power to contend for a conference championship. But with Oladipo and high-level role players like Evans, Turner, Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis, they’ll do just fine.
- Projected record: 49-33 (48-34 in 2017-18)
Milwaukee Bucks (+113 at 5Dimes)
The Bucks have been a trendy pick to make a jump in the standings for the past few years. They have a rising superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo with some other intriguing young talents.
However, aside from Antetokounmpo, the rest of the team has been a bit of a disappointment. Former head coach Jason Kidd also struggled to find the right strategies for the team on both ends of the floor. As a result, Milwaukee has hovered between 33 and 44 wins for the past four seasons.
Now, Milwaukee is turning to Mike Budenholzer as its head coach. Budenholzer has extensive NBA experience and just had a successful five-year run with the Atlanta Hawks. With Antetokounmpo improving, the Bucks also might have the Eastern Conference’s best player.
The problem for Milwaukee is that the rest of the roster still needs a bit more to truly be contenders. The athleticism of Eric Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo is great, but the team will also need to slow it down some to accommodate the skill sets of Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. The Bucks are not especially deep, either.
- Projected record: 47-35 (44-38 in 2017-18)
Detroit Pistons (+485 at 5Dimes)
The Pistons made a coaching switch this offseason, from Stan Van Gundy to Dwane Casey. Other than that, this cap-strapped team was basically forced to bring back the same roster.
That might not be a bad thing. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond as a big man combination can be really good if both guys figure out how to work together. There are good shooters around them, like Luke Kennard, Reggie Bullock, Langston Galloway and Jose Calderon.
However, the talent outside of Griffin and Drummond is still not up to par, and the front court pairing is not guaranteed to work at full capacity. Detroit needs a return to form from point guard Reggie Jackson and a breakout from Stanley Johnson to enter the Pacers/Bucks tier of this division.
- Projected record: 40-42 (39-43 in 2017-18)
Cleveland Cavaliers (+3000 at 5Dimes)
The loss of one player is going to make all the difference in Cleveland this season. Unfortunately, tough times are on the horizon for the Cavs without LeBron James on the roster to cover up for some major roster flaws.
Cleveland will have to completely reimagine an offense that heavily featured LeBron and Kyrie Irving for three seasons and then just LeBron for a season. Kevin Love is a very versatile offense weapon and had some dominant years with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Cavs find out what works to get that sort of production out of him?
Outside of Love, the Cavs roster is full of a bunch of mostly limited role players. They have very good shooters in Kyle Korver, Love, J.R. Smith and Channing Frye, but playmaking will be a challenge for the squad, as will defense.
- Projected record: 32-50 (50-32 in 2017-18)
Chicago Bulls (+5000 at 5Dimes)
The Bulls won’t be good, but they’ll be fun. Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Lauri Markkanen is a promising young offensive trio to build around. Unfortunately, none of them defend well, and none of them are good enough to be the top option on a good team, at least at this point in their careers.
Chicago also has Kris Dunn, Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis as serviceable role players. Rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. could also surprise some viewers early on with his all-around play.
Overall, Chicago is still a team without a star-level player to build its offense around. On defense, there are too many liabilities for the squad to be good.
- Projected record: 32-50 (29-53 in 2017-18)
Our Preview’s Central Division Predictions & Betting Picks for 2018-19
The Pacers are your best bet here. It’s a bit curious why they have longer odds than the Bucks, who have been stuck in mediocrity for several years. Indiana has a lot of good players and more established chemistry, which should help the team beat out Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Bucks for the division title.
The Pistons could be an interesting dark horse, but their odds aren’t long enough. There’s always the chance Blake Griffin finds his superstar form of a few years ago and puts the Pistons on top of the Central, but he seems to be on the down side of his career.
The Cavs or Bulls both have next to no chance of winning the division, and their odds aren’t super long. It’s probably best to stay away from both squads.
So the Central Division predictions and our recommended pick to win the division is:
- Bet on the Indiana Pacers @ +148 with 5Dimes.