Are you ready for some NBA basketball?

After a whirlwind of an offseason that included surprising draft picks, show-stopping pro-am performances, blockbuster trades, a superstar trade request that (stunningly) went nowhere and, unfortunately, injuries, opening night of the 2022-23 season is now in sight.

Between now and then, we’re going to take a closer look at where each division stands entering the season, starting with the Central Division.

Is it Giannis Antetokounmpo’s world and are we just living in it? Can the new-look Cavaliers shake up the Eastern Conference? Will injuries hold the Bulls back yet again? What should we expect from the Pacers and Pistons?

Let’s take a closer look.

MORE: Additions and departures for all 30 NBA teams

giannis antetokounmpo ftr

Best team

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks won the franchise’s first championship in 50 years in 2021 and may very well have repeated had Khris Middleton not suffered a knee injury in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Loaded as the NBA is this season, Milwaukee has as good a shot as any team at winning it all as long as its core is healthy.

Of the remaining teams in the Central Division, the Cavaliers have the best chance of making the playoffs. The Bulls should also be in the conversation, but not having Lonzo Ball for “at least a few months” is going to hurt. Even the Pistons could be feisty with Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey and the recently acquired Bojan Bogdanovic.

As for the Pacers? They have some intriguing talent in Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin, but they’re a Buddy Hield and Myles Turner trade away from going into a full rebuild.

Trade or no trade, wins are probably going to be hard to come by for Indiana this season.

Best player

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Too easy. 

Antetokounmpo is already a two-time MVP and one-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s now entering the prime of his career. Sure, his jumper is still his greatest weakness, but there isn’t anyone who can defend him one-on-one, and throwing the kitchen sink at him isn’t nearly as effective as it once was thanks to his improved vision. He’s become an unstoppable force on offense and he might just be the best defender in the NBA.

As much talent as there is in the Central Division — Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Khris Middleton were each named All-Stars last season — nobody can come close to matching Antetokounmpo’s star power. He’s arguably the No. 1 player in the NBA right now.

Best rookie

Jaden Ivey, Pistons

This is between Ivey and Mathurin, two top-six picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. There’s no denying Mathurin’s potential, but Ivey is an electric athlete who has a realistic shot at being the best player in his class.

Here’s what TSN’s draft expert Kyle Irving had to say about Ivey ahead of the draft:

Very few guards have [Ja] Morant’s combination of explosiveness, fishing ability and vision. Ivey does, or at least projects that way. Many say that if you were to redraft 2019 right now, it’s Morant — not Zion Williamson — who should have gone No. 1.

That wasn’t a serious consideration at the time, just as it isn’t right now with Ivey staring up at the consensus top three. Size will always win out in the eyes of the NBA Draft, but make no mistake: Ivey’s ceiling is every bit as high as the three names likely to be called before his.

Sounds pretty special, right? An injury limited Ivey to one game in Summer League, but his performance in that one game had everyone excited about his future.

Donovan Mitchell Darius Garland CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Best new addition

Donovan Mitchell, Cavaliers

The Cavaliers doubled down on last season’s good vibes by acquiring Donovan Mitchell, a three-time All-Star with career averages of 23.9 points and 4.5 assists per game. Mitchell came at the cost of multiple first-round picks, but he and Darius Garland have the potential to pack quite the punch offensively, and Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen make for the ideal frontcourt to cover for their defensive shortcomings.

Even if they’re not a threat to win it all this season, Mitchell, Garland, Mobley and Allen each being under the age of 27 will give the Cavaliers many bites at the apple in years to come. Watch this space.

Wildest X-factor

A Russell Westbrook trade

It’s no secret that Westbrook’s first season in Los Angeles didn’t go to plan and that the Lakers would be open to trading him. One team that has been connected to him since what feels like the start is the Pacers.

The Lakers don’t have much to offer outside of two future first-round picks, but those picks could be incredibly valuable to a team like the Pacers that is clearly focused on the future. In return, Los Angeles would likely receive Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, whose skill sets would make for a smoother fit next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis than Westbrook’s.

According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Jovan Buha, the Lakers spent several days before training camp discussing the feasibility of a trade with the Pacers, but general manager Rob Pelinka ultimately decided against it, choosing to remain patient to see if Westbrook can “find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.” If he can’t, maybe the Lakers revisit those discussions.

A Westbrook trade wouldn’t shake the Central Division up much, but it could strengthen a Lakers team that is looking to make another run while James is somehow, someway still playing at an All-NBA level.

Biggest unanswered questions

Milwaukee Bucks

How much better can Giannis Antetokounmpo realistically get? Antetokounmpo averaged a career-high 29.9 points per game last season and spent the summer dunking on people for Greece. It’s scary to think that he still has room to improve because he’s already arguably the best player in the league and an all-time great.

Can Khris Middleton stay healthy? A knee injury ended his 2021-22 season and he won’t be available for the start of the 2022-23 season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist. The Bucks can handle Middleton’s absence during the regular season but they’ll need him at full strength for the playoffs.

What will the Bucks get out of Joe Ingles? Ingles is only a season removed from finishing runner-up in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but he’s not expected to return to the court until December or January due to an ACL tear. While not on the magnitude of Mitchell to the Cavs, this could end up being the best under-the-radar signing of the offseason.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Will Evan Mobley make a leap? He’s going to get better, the question is simply by how much and how fast. Fingers crossed that his ankle won’t be a problem this season because he’s going to play a big role in Cleveland’s success.

Can Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland figure it out? While Mitchell and Garland are excellent shooters, they’re both at their best with the ball in their hands. (They were among the highest usage guards in the NBA last season.) It could take them some time to learn how to play off of one another.

Is Isaac Okoro the answer at small forward? The one question mark in Cleveland’s starting lineup is at small forward. Okoro is perhaps the best option because of his defensive versatility, but he’ll need to be better offensively to secure his spot.

DeMar DeRozan Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls

When will Lonzo Ball return? The latest on Ball is that he’s expected to be out for at least a few months. He played a key role in Chicago’s success last season before injury struck.

Can DeMar DeRozan do it again? DeRozan was one of the best stories in the NBA last season, earning the fifth All-Star selection and second All-NBA Second Team selection of his career at the age of 32. Can he do it again? His playmaking will be key while Ball is out.

Is Patrick Williams ready for his close-up? Williams was one of the (few) bright spots for the Bulls in their first-round loss to the Bucks in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, closing the series with a pair of 20-point games. Chicago can only hope that’s a sign of what’s to come after an injury derailed his sophomore season.

Detroit Pistons

Can the Pistons make a Play-In push? The answer is probably not — making the Play-In in the Eastern Conference is going to be a battle — but this could be the season the Pistons take a big step towards being competitive again.

Will Cade Cunningham blossom into a Year 2 All-Star? After a slow start to his rookie campaign, Cunningham closed the season with averages of 21.0 points, 6.4 assists and 5.8 rebounds in his final 21 games. Don’t be surprised if he’s in the All-Star conversation this season.

Is Bojan Bogdanovic still a Piston at the season’s end? Bogdanovic should complement Detroit’s core well, but he’s a well-respected veteran in the final season of his contract. He could draw a lot of interest from teams looking for a scoring punch if the Pistons make him available around the trade deadline.

Indiana Pacers

Is Tyrese Haliburton a star? He sure looked like one in the 26 games he played with the Pacers last season, posting averages of 17.5 points, 9.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals. All eyes will be on his development.

Will the Pacers trade Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? The two have been involved in trade rumors for a while now (years in the case of Turner). A Hield and Turner trade would likely send the Pacers even deeper into a rebuild.

What do the Pacers have in Bennedict Mathurin? TSN’s draft expert Kyle Irving is also high on Mathurin, a smooth shooting wing from Canada who isn’t lacking in confidence. He and Haliburton could make for a dynamic backcourt duo in the years to come.

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