Ever since LeBron James moved from the Miami Heat back to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, the Cavaliers have owned the Central Division. Cleveland has won the division three straight seasons by at least three games over its top rivals.
In 2017-18, the Cavs are again the division favorite after some offseason tweaks. Could the Milwaukee Bucks or Detroit Pistons make things interesting, though? And are the Indiana Pacers’ or Chicago Bulls’ odds long enough for them to be a worthwhile bet?
This betting preview will give team capsules for all five Central teams and then decide its predictions. We will pick the squad that is the smartest investment at MyBookie, one of the best USA betting sites.
Cleveland Cavaliers (-2500 at MyBookie)
The Cavs will have somewhat of a new look in 2017-18 as they pursue a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. Their biggest loss is All-Star and 2016 NBA Finals hero Kyrie Irving, a point guard with an amazing knack for putting the ball in the hoop.
However, the team is replacing him with some high-ceiling acquisitions: namely, point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose and forward Jae Crowder. Thomas is recovering from a hip injury and may miss much of the season, which means Rose will likely start for a while. Crowder looks like an excellent sixth man for this team.
Cleveland does still have some major issues on defense. Its point guard rotation of Thomas, Rose and Jose Calderon may legitimately be the worst-defending group of floor generals on one team in league history. There aren’t really any elite stoppers to pick up the slack, as LeBron James has stopped trying so hard on that end in the regular season to preserve his energy.
Of course, LeBron will still keep this team strong. The 32-year-old superstar is becoming an even better playmaker as he ages, and he still has plenty of explosiveness to bulldoze his way to the rim.
- Projected record: 55-27 (51-31 in 2016-17)
Milwaukee Bucks (+650 at MyBookie)
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton, Milwaukee’s three best players, have all developed into fantastic talents. It’s a shame that they barely overlapped last season because of injuries. Parker is recovering from the second ACL tear of his career and won’t play much basketball in the 2017-18 campaign.
Milwaukee will do just fine in Parker’s absence. Antetokounmpo is one of the eight best basketball players in the world, and he has some very skilled two-way players around him — Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker and Greg Monroe come to mind. The Bucks are bringing back essentially the same roster they had last season.
The team’s biggest weaknesses at the moment are big-game inexperience, rebounding and outside shooting.
- Projected record: 47-35 (42-40 in 2016-17)
Detroit Pistons (+1800 at MyBookie)
The Pistons have a weird roster. Their four best players (Avery Bradley, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson) who are all very similar in value, and it’s hard to tell who’s best. Unfortunately, you could make the argument that none of those guys are in the top 50 of the league’s best players.
When Detroit’s “stars” have to go toe-to-toe with the NBA’s best players, they’ll have trouble keeping up. Sure, Bradley can hound them on defense, but will he be able to give significant production back on the other end? Detroit may rely on him offensively more than the Boston Celtics did last season, which could be a bad thing.
The wild card for this season is Stanley Johnson. Detroit’s first-round pick from two years ago and has flashed some promise as a future NBA impact player, but he needs to be much better as a shooter from pretty much everywhere on the court. Can he show that his shooting stroke from his college days at Arizona is ready to return?
- Projected record: 35-47 (37-45 in 2016-17)
Indiana Pacers (+4000 at MyBookie)
The Pacers haven’t been flat-out bad in a long time. It’s been 28 years since they failed to win at least 32 games. But I have a feeling that streak might stop this season.
Indiana lost arguably three of its top four players in the offseason — the departures of Paul George, Jeff Teague and C.J. Miles will leave a gaping hole in the team’s perimeter scoring attack. Thanks to that horrid George trade, Victor Oladipo is now the main guy the team has to rely on to manufacture scoring from the outside.
Myles Turner is still a tantalizing prospect at the center position, and he should continue blossoming into a two-way force. Unfortunately, the Pacers look very similar to the Knicks in that they have excellent franchise big men but very little else to be excited about.
- Projected record: 29-53 (42-40 in 2016-17)
Chicago Bulls (+8000 at MyBookie)
Meet the top candidate to win the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft: the Bulls!
Jimmy Butler did a marvellous job dragging Chicago’s weak roster to the 8th seed in the East a year ago. Like the Pacers, the Bulls made a bad trade to get rid of their big star, getting Zach LaVine (recovering from an ACL tear) and Kris Dunn (terrible last season as a 22-year-old rookie) along with a move up in the draft that got them No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen.
Markkanen is an exciting prospect with his sweet shooting stroke for a 7-footer and LaVine still has potential, but that was not an acceptable return for Jimmy Butler.
Rajon Rondo is also gone, leaving behind one of the worst point guard rotations in the league. Free agent forward Nikola Mirotic could come back, but he’s still unsigned. This is a team that could legitimately go into the season with Robin Lopez as its best healthy player.
The Bulls have been on a downward trend for the past few seasons. This is the year they finally tank and try to rebuild their roster with an elite prospect in next June’s draft.
- Projected record: 19-63 (41-41 in 2016-17)
Our Preview’s Central Division Betting Predictions & Picks
This preview’s recommendation for the Central Division is to refrain from betting. The Cavs are favored way too strongly to win the division, especially considering they lost focus on defense for months at a time last season and don’t seem very concerned with the regular season in general.
The Pacers and Bulls have no shot at winning the division, and their odds aren’t long enough to make them intriguing long shot bets. The Pistons’ odds are higher than I would have expected given their lack of elite talent, so they’re out.
That leaves the Bucks (+650 at MyBookie) as the best pick here, they are our prediction if you really want to bet on the division. They have a definite chance to swoop in for the division title if the Cavaliers get complacent or struggle with chemistry or injuries.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.