For the past two seasons, the Bulls have dominated the Central Division, though the gap closed a bit with the resurgence of the Pacers last year. Still, even with the Bulls entering a season with lowered expectations due to Derrick Roses recovery from an ACL injury, the rest of the division is playing catch-up.
While Indiana, the other team in the division to qualify for the postseason, has a fairly complete roster, the other teams in the Central have relatively young rosters with holes to fill.
Heres a look at what the Bulls division rivals may look to address in Thursdays NBA Draft:
Cleveland Cavaliers: Nos. 4, 24, 33, 34
After winning the lottery last year and drafting Kyrie Irving, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, the Cavs have two first-round picks, as well as two early second-round choices. Expect Cleveland to continue to bolster its perimeter attack, giving Irving a wing playmate.
Its a foregone conclusion that Anthony Davis will go first overall to New Orleans and if Charlotte keeps the second pick, many believe Kansas power forward Thomas Robinson will be drafted by the Bobcats. The three players who round out the consensus top-five prospects are all wings: North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes, Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida shooting guard Bradley Beal.
Since the Cavs need help at both perimeter positions, all of those names are supposedly in play. What complicates matters is the fact that Washington, selecting third overall, has similar needs. So if the Wizards take Clevelands preferred choice after a trade with the Hornets that brought in veterans Emeka Okafor and Trever Ariza, the latter being a starting-caliber small forward; speculation has the Wizards drafting Beal theyll have to settle for the next-best player on their board.
Kidd-Gilchrist was Irvings high school teammate in New Jersey and is regarded as the best defender of the bunch, though outside shooting is his biggest weakness, while Barnes is a better shooter, despite experiencing an up-and-down two-year college career. Beal has garnered some Ray Allen comparisons for his shooting stroke, but showed in college that despite his pedestrian size for an NBA shooting guard, he was a physical player on both ends of the floor.
With the 24th pick in a deep draft, Cleveland could also find a valuable player. The likes of Iowa States Royce White, a playmaking power forward, Syracuse Fab Melo, a true center who would address the teams size issues or Baylors Quincy Miller, a skilled forward with a lot of long-term potential, could all be in the mix. The likes of Vanderbilt small forward Jeff Taylor or Michigan State forward Draymond Green would provide the Cavs with experienced, four-year college players. Clevelands early second-round selections could also yield either a developing young prospect or a solid role player, but dont be shocked if the Cavs are open to dealing those picks, as well as their second first-round choice.
Detroit Pistons: Nos. 9, 39, 44
The rapid progress of big man Greg Monroe and Brandon Knights solid rookie season, as well as veterans Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey on the perimeter gives the Pistons a foundation to build upon. However, for all of Monroes talent, hes not an explosive athlete or a dominant shot-blocking presence, which has made Detroits front office emphasize bringing in an athletic, defensive-oriented post player to complement his game.
In an ideal world, Connecticut center Andre Drummond would slip to the Pistons and while his stock is reportedly dropping, its unlikely he lasts until the ninth pick. Therefore, Detroit is focused on the next tier of big men, including the North Carolina duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Illinois center Meyers Leonard and Mississippi State big man Arnett Moultrie.
Henson is slender and his offense needs development, but he should be able to make an immediate impact as a defender, and his teammate Zeller is more polished on offense, has the size to be a true center and has a mature enough game to be a contributor as a rookie. Leonard, as many fans in Illinois know, has tremendous potential, but has yet to fully harness it, while Moultrie offers size, versatility, athleticism and the ability to stretch the defense with his shooting.
Even if they end up reaching a bit, the pick will probably come down to who the Pistons feel best meshes with Monroe, the future of the franchise. In the second round, a big wing to back up the aging Prince could be the move, though trading either pick certainly is an option.
Indiana Pacers: No. 26
As previously mentioned, the Pacers have one of the more complete rosters around, with depth at almost every position except a true backup center, the position All-Star free agent Roy Hibbert plays. Indianas depth could also allow the Pacers to trade a player on the current roster point guard Darren Collison is rumored to be available, as Indianapolis native George Hill, a free agent, usurped his starting role toward the end of the regular season and use the draft to find a replacement.
That said, if the roster remains intact, a backup for Hibbert looks like the obvious choice. The aforementioned Melo, whose offense remains unpolished, but brings a shot-blocking presence to the table, would be an obvious fit, as would Vanderbilts Ezeli, who has a bit more mobility.
If Collison is indeed on the trading block, perhaps bringing Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague like Hill, an Indianapolis native, as well as the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague home is the way to go. Perimeter players like Baylors Miller or French swingmen Evan Fournier could also be in play as offensive-minded long-term projects who would eventually supplant veteran wing Dahntay Jones in the Pacers rotation.
Milwaukee Bucks: Nos. 12, 42
After acquiring scorer Monta Ellis via trade last season, and pairing him with like-minded point guard Brandon Jennings for a high-octane backcourt, one thing Milwaukee doesnt need is more guards, at least not one worthy of the 12th overall pick. However, since the Bucks gave up upper-echelon center Andrew Bogut, a former No. 1 overall pick, in that trade, they could certainly use some frontcourt assistance.
No one player could effectively replace Bogut with the 12th pick and while the combination of Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova, a free agent, ended the season in strong fashion, neither that duo nor a wing group headed by veterans Luc-Richard Mbah-a-Moute, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino isnt exactly the most formidable bunch. Thus, expect the Bucks to target the best-available frontcourt prospect, preferably one with some size.
Illinois Leonard, Mississippi States Moultrie and the North Carolina tandem of Henson and Zeller are possibilities for Milwaukee, as are Baylors Perry Jones and Kentuckys Terrence Jones. Baylors Jones is an enigmatic sort, with remarkable tools and potential, yet oddly passive play throughout his college career, while the motor of Kentuckys Jones, a versatile scorer, has also been questioned, though winning the NCAA Championship has quelled inquiries about whether hes a selfish player.
Prior to last week, Ohio States Jared Sullinger would have been in the mix, but after being medically red-flagged because of back issues, his stock has reportedly been dropping as evidenced by the news that the NBA didnt invite him to the draft, something reserved for players regarded as lottery picks though his low-post scoring and rebounding ability are attributes the Bucks could use. With their second-round pick, Milwaukee could opt for a bigger wing to complement their diminutive starting backcourt.