Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA

The most interesting players in the NBA’s Central Division

With the 2019-20 NBA season less than a month away, we’re exploring the most interesting players for each team in the Central Division.

We’re now less than a month away from the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. Coming off one of the most interesting offseasons in recent memory, it feels like an appropriate time to dig into the situations surrounding some of the most interesting players in the league.

With that in mind, over the next few days, we’re going division by division and spotlighting the most interesting player on each team. Note that some teams will have more than one player if the situations are similar enough, but they’ll all get their appropriate shine.

We began with the Atlantic Division, and below we continue with the Central.

Tomas Satoransky, Chicago Bulls

I still don’t entirely understand why the Wizards just apparently did not realize that Satoransky is good at basketball. They brought in a series of backup point guards to play behind John Wall at Satoransky’s expense over the years, from Brandon Jennings and Trey Burke to Ty Lawson and Ramon Sessions; and then they just let him walk this offseason even though the three-year, $30 million deal he signed with the Bulls was extremely affordable, even for a team with Washington’s cap issues, and the final year is not even fully guaranteed. (Note: This was technically a sign-and-trade deal engineered so that the Bulls would not have to wait out Satoransky’s restricted free-agency period.)

Again, I don’t get it. Satoransky is good. In his two seasons as the primary backup/fill-in starter, Sato averaged nearly 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per 36 minutes while shooting 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3, and the Wizards were a full 3 points per 100 possessions better when he was in the game than when he was on the bench.

His finishing numbers around the rim are incredible for a guard, and he gets there at a high rate. He’s creating a nice amount of free-throws for a player with his usage rate and he’s done a solid job finding his teammates for assists despite not being trusted to run the show all that often. He’s at least a passable defender, and in some matchups is a legitimately good one. He fits next to any backcourt partner you want to play next to him due to his combination of size (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) and comfort playing both on and off the ball offensively. He split his time almost equally between the point and off-guard in Washington, and could reasonably do the same in Chicago.

He should probably start next to Zach LaVine in the backcourt, but it’s extremely easy to envision him spending time next to No. 7 overall pick Coby White in what would be one of the biggest backcourts in the NBA. Expecting him to light the world on fire is silly, but he’ll probably make the Wizards look pretty ridiculous for under-using him, and he could conceivably help the sneakily-feisty Bulls make a push for a bottom-end playoff spot.

Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman, Cleveland Cavaliers

If this version of the Cavs is going to take a step forward, it feels like it depends on these two guys leveling up.

Sexton’s strong shooting in the second half of the season landed him a spot on the All-Rookie second team, but we should keep in mind that a.) He was at 36 percent from deep through the end of December before shooting 42 percent over the rest of the year, and that he made only 33.6 percent of his triples in college; and b.) using the word “disaster” to describe Sexton’s defense as a rookie would probably be too kind. (He finished 513th out of 514 qualified players in ESPN’s Defensive RPM, for example.)

The Cavs seem to have decided that he’s not a point guard, which makes sense given his tiny 15 percent assist rate last season. Even for a rookie, that’s unacceptable from a lead guard. Playing alongside a creator like Darius Garland should create easier opportunities for Sexton in the half-court, and working as a second-side ball-handler seems like it could suit him. His strength should help him power through closing defenders, who will have had to change directions multiple times in quick succession in order to keep up with his drives.

The Garland-Sexton backcourt, though, seems like a problem on defense. They’re both 6-foot-2, and at just 175 pounds Garland is also very slight. This is a team that’s going to need a lot of help from its frontcourt, which will be charged with cleaning up a bunch of messes that leak from the perimeter.

Cleveland’s big men of the future are likely not on the roster, though a Kevin Love trade could net them some interesting pieces if it ever happens; and Osman has the kind of skill set that could make some degree of sense alongside this backcourt. Osman’s shooting dropped off as he took on a larger role last season, but he expanded the types of passes he was willing to make, and he got into the paint a bit more often, both of which are good signs for a complementary player. The Cavs don’t need Osman to turn into a star, but if he became an average-or-better starter, that’d be nice.

Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown, Detroit Pistons

Kennard was a lottery pick two years ago. Brown was a second-rounder last year. I’m not sure what it says about either or both of them that Brown was Dwane Casey’s preferred starter for much of last season despite his relative lack of pedigree, the injury issues that hampered his final collegiate season and much of the draft process, and his total lack of ability to shoot from outside the immediate area of the rim; but it’s definitely interesting.

To his credit, Brown was already a plus defender as a rookie. He’s a really good athlete, twitchy and active in all the right ways and his combination of length and strength lends itself well to guarding multiple positions. And despite his lack of shooting success he did not seem scared to have the ball in scoring situations. He was a live threat, even if “let that guy shoot it” was an optimal result for the defense on any given possession. He also showed a knack for making smart cuts at smart times, a must when you’re playing on the same team as Blake Griffin, who is among the best frontcourt playmakers in the league.

But Kennard seems like such a natural fit for the kind of hand-off action that Griffin ran to perfection with Reggie Bullock before the latter was traded last season. The Pistons eventually inserted Wayne Ellington into that role after he was bought out by the Suns, but Ellington is now with the Knicks and Tony Snell does not seem like the right guy to take over that role. Kennard has been an as-advertised plus shooter during his two NBA seasons, canning better than 40 percent of 3.4 3-point attempts per game. But he has contributed very little outside of that.

The passing growth he appeared to show in his second season at Duke has stalled out at this level, and he has shown almost no ability to get to the rim as a second-side driver. But that’s where the hand-offs come in. Kennard is not the world’s greatest athlete, so the head start he gets from flying around a Griffin hand-off rather than starting from a standstill could be incredibly valuable for him.

If he’s able to get past defenders more often, that could open up some more of the passing development he showed at Duke. Having another threat is key for the Detroit offense, and if Kennard can provide it, he should be able to surpass Brown in the rotation. If he can’t, then that presents a different problem, and it’s likely Casey will lean on Brown simply because he’s the more reliable defender.

T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers

The Pacers essentially stole Warren from the Suns on draft day, acquiring him (and three future second-round picks from the Heat) in exchange for a wire transfer of just $1.1 million to one of Robert Sarver’s bank accounts. The deal was part of a series of moves that landed Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson in Phoenix and helped clear space to for the Suns to sign Ricky Rubio. Fine. The Suns will continue to be the Suns, and we don’t have to talk about them right now.

But Warren should have value for this Indiana team — especially before Victor Oladipo returns from the knee injury that cost him much of last season and figures to hold him out for at least part of this one. Malcolm Brogdon is the more ballyhooed acquisition for several reasons, but Brogdon is going to need some help on the perimeter. He can’t make up for the absence of Oladipo and the departures of Darren Collison (retirement) and Bojan Bogdanovic (signed with the Jazz) on his own.

Warren may or may not be allergic to defense; he’s not a very good rebounder; he hardly ever sees the right pass when on the move; he makes said pass even less often, and he only recently discovered the existence of space beyond the 3-point line; but the dude can score, and on this team, he’s gonna need to.

Next: The most interesting players in the NBA’s Atlantic Division

Brogdon is likely in line for an uptick in usage but he’s never really going to be a guy who soaks up possessions. Myles Turner hasn’t been that guy so far in his career, and the Pacers don’t seem like they’re going to force him into becoming it. Domantas Sabonis will have to adjust a bit to playing alongside another center again. All of these factors mean a decent amount of the shot-creation and scoring burden will fall on Warren’s shoulders. The Pacers are a trendy pick to be in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, but if they don’t find a way to buoy the offense until Oladipo’s return, that’s not happening.

Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks

What happens here if this dude just can’t be on the floor in a real playoff series?

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