Catching Up on the 2016-17 NBA Offseason: The Central Division

Between the Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Pacers, and Bucks, who got better this offseason?

Last week, we began recapping the whirlwind NBA offseason by division, starting with the Atlantic Division and moving to the Northwest Division. Today, we're continuing with the Central Division.

In this series, we are hoping to provide you with a one-stop spot to catch up on all the player movement that took place in the NBA this summer, analyzing the changes within each division along the way and finishing it all off with an all-encompassing summary at the end.

For the sake of our analysis, we'll be using our proprietary nERD metric as a point of comparison, focusing on nERD in and nERD out for each team.

If you're not familiar with nERD, it combines several offensive, defensive, and usage factors to produce one number that is meant to project a player's overall value to his team. That final number is an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win over an 82-game season with the player in question as one of its starters. It's comparable to Win Shares, but is meant to be predictive (projecting an 82-game season) as opposed to descriptive (how many wins the player has contributed to his team in the past). For the sake of this study, we'll use last season's nERD scores and leave out rookies and overseas imports (since they're such unknown commodities).

The Central Division was one of the busiest in the Association this summer. The champs tweaked things a bit, the Pistons and Bucks bolstered their benches, and the Bulls and Pacers had complete makeovers that would be fit for sitcom montages.

Let's analyze the fallout.

Chicago Bulls

Players In How? nERD Players Out How? nERD
Robin Lopez Trade 2.6 Pau Gasol FA 4.5
Spencer Dinwiddie Trade -0.5 Joakim Noah FA -0.4
Dwyane Wade FA -0.7 Cameron Bairstow Trade -0.5
Rajon Rondo FA -1.5 Mike Dunleavy Trade -1.0
Jerian Grant Trade -3.5 E'Twaun Moore FA -1.6
Isaiah Canaan FA -5.6 Justin Holiday Trade -2.0
Aaron Brooks FA -2.9
Derrick Rose Trade -8.4

nERD in:
nERD out: -12.3
Net nERD: 3.1

Very few teams in the NBA changed as much as the Chicago Bulls did this summer. They say goodbye to one hometown hero in Derrick Rose and say hello to another in Dwyane Wade. Their frontcourt pairing of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol both bolted in free agency, but they had depth there to begin with and managed to snag a serviceable Robin Lopez in the Rose trade. Toss some bench depth and the enigmatic Rajon Rondo on top of all that and what do you have?

Well, a lot of question marks.

Can Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler co-exist? How much does Wade really have left in the tank anyway? How much did Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah actually contribute to Chicago's success over the last few years? Can second-year coach Fred Hoiberg figure out this smorgasbord make it all work? A lot remains to be seen, but our metrics say the Bulls might actually be a few wins better when all is said and done, largely due to their ditching one of the least nERDy players in the league in Derrick Rose (-8.4 nERD in 2015-16).

Cleveland Cavaliers

Players In How? nERD Players Out How? nERD
Chris Andersen FA 0.9 Timofey Mozgov FA 2.3
Mike Dunleavy Trade -1.0 Sasha Kaun Trade 0.0
Dahntay Jones Waived 0.0
Matthew Dellavedova Trade -0.4

nERD in:
nERD out: 1.9
Net nERD: -2.0

Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov ate regular minutes for the Cavaliers during the 2015-16 season (24.6 and 17.4 per game respectively), but were less called upon in the playoffs (12.1 and 5.8). At first glance, the loss of those two rotation players would seem like a blow to the champs' chances of defending their title (that and Kevin Durant's change of address, of course), but neither of those players was a huge factor when it counted in the playoffs anyway. Throw the somewhat underrated all-around game of Mike Dunleavy and the defensive presence of Chris Andersen into the mix, and the champs should be just fine for a run at repeating.

Detroit Pistons

Players In How? nERD Players Out How? nERD
Boban Marjanovic FA 5.0 Anthony Tolliver FA 0.4
Jon Leuer FA 0.3 Joel Anthony Waived 0.3
Ish Smith FA -7.2 Jodie Meeks Trade 0.0
Spencer Dinwiddie Trade -0.5

nERD in:
nERD out: 0.2
Net nERD: -2.1

The Pistons quietly had a pretty solid offseason. Boban Marjanovic, Jon Leuer, and Ish Smith are not household names by any stretch of the imagination, but they are all good bench players that fill their roles admirably. Boban, in particular, is a nERD darling (5.0 in 2015-16), thanks to his sky-high field goal percentage (60.3%), respectable free throw mark (76.3%), and defensive prowess (96 defensive rating). Believe it or not, he actually has the highest nERD of any incoming player in the Central Division this offseason. Meanwhile, the only player the Pistons lost this summer that played over 1,000 minutes for them last year was Anthony Tolliver, who averaged 5.3 points per game and shot 38.6% from the field in 1,341 minutes. Not a bad tradeoff.

Indiana Pacers

Players In How? nERD Players Out How? nERD
Jeff Teague Trade 1.5 Ian Mahinmi FA 5.2
Al Jefferson FA 1.1 George Hill Trade 2.3
Jeremy Evans Trade 0.3 Jordan Hill FA 1.6
Thaddeus Young Trade -1.7 Solomon Hill FA 0.8
Aaron Brooks FA -2.9 Shayne Whittington Waived -0.2

nERD in:
nERD out: 9.7
Net nERD: -11.4

The Pacers completely remodeled their roster this summer, making trades for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, and signing Al Jefferson. As far as name recognition goes, Indiana made pretty big strides, but our metric gives them one of the worst grades of any team this offseason with a Net nERD of -11.4. By trading away George Hill (2.3 nERD), and letting Ian Mahinmi (5.2), Jordan Hill (1.6), and Solomon Hill (0.8) all walk, the Pacers gave up several nERDy players that excelled in shooting efficiency and defensive ability. The team might be a bit more exciting on the offensive end this season, but a drop-off from their third-ranked defensive efficiency last year is pretty likely and that could result in fewer wins than a year ago.

Milwaukee Bucks

Players In How? nERD Players Out How? nERD
Mirza Teletovic FA 1.3 Damien Inglis Waived -0.9
Matthew Dellavedova Trade -0.4 Jerryd Bayless FA -1.5
Jason Terry FA -1.9 Greivis Vasquez FA -2.6
Johnny O'Bryant Waived -3.0
O.J. Mayo Dismissed -5.0

nERD in:
nERD out: -13.0
Net nERD: 12.0

When you think of teams that had a killer offseasons (ahem, the Warriors), the Bucks don't really come to mind. According to our metric, however, Milwaukee had one of the best summers in the entire NBA. That comes partially from adding solid depth in Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova and some veteran leadership in Jason Terry, but almost entirely from shedding a slew of un-nERDy players. All five of the guys that the Bucks said goodbye to this offseason registered a negative nERD last year, thus taking wins away from the team. O.J. Mayo -- recently dismissed from the NBA entirely for violating the league's drug policy -- was the worst offender with a nERD of -5.0. The Bucks ultimately didn't add that much to their roster, but they might see a bump in wins next year due to addition by subtraction and the continued development of their young and exciting core.


Team nERD In nERD Out Net nERD
Chicago Bulls -9.2 -12.3 3.1
Cleveland Cavaliers -0.1 1.9 -2.0
Detroit Pistons -1.9 0.2 -2.1
Indiana Pacers -1.7 9.7 -11.4
Milwaukee Bucks -1.0 -13.0 12.0

If you look at the Net nERD for all five teams in the Central Division, this summer's winners (Bucks) and losers (Pacers) seem pretty cut and dry. The truth of the matter is, however, that the Bulls and Pacers made such wholesale changes, that it's going to be hard to accurately predict just how much better or worse either is going to be this year.

While those two teams remain relative question marks and the Cavs more or less remained the Cavs, picking a winner would more or less come down to two up-and-coming teams in the Pistons and Bucks, both of which managed to improve their depth this offseason. Considering how much better the Bucks (12.0) scored than the Pistons (-2.1) in Net nERD, we'll give Milwaukee the nod.