Catching Up on the 2017-18 NBA Offseason: The Central Division

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

Last week, we began recapping the whirlwind NBA offseason by division, starting with the Atlantic and the Northwest. Today, we shift our gaze to the Central Division.

The goal is for this series to serve as a helpful guide for catching up on the numerous changes that went on in the Association this summer, while comparing how each team's moves stack up against those made by their most direct competition.

For said comparison, we'll be using our proprietary metric, nERD.

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 our purposes, we'll use last season's nERD scores for every player on the move, focusing on total nERD in and nERD out for each of the NBA's 30 teams (leaving out rookies, overseas imports, and G League players with two-way contracts, since we have no idea how much they'll contribute).

There was plenty of movement within the Central Division this offseason, but did any of the teams actually get better? Let's find out.

Chicago Bulls

Player InHow?nERDPlayer OutHow?nERD
David NwabaWaiver-0.2Jimmy ButlerTrade17.3
Quincy PondexterTrade-0.8Joffrey LauvergneFA-1.0
Zach LaVineTrade-1.0Isaiah CanaanWaived-1.5
Kris DunnTrade-5.6Rajon RondoWaived-3.2
Michael Carter-WilliamsFA-3.3

nERD in:
nERD out: 8.3
Net nERD: -15.9

When the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer, they subtracted a player whose 17.3 nERD ranked him fifth in the entire Association in our NBA Player Power Rankings. Even in shedding inefficient players like Rajon Rondo and Michael Carter-Williams, the Bulls are undoubtedly taking a huge step back this season without Jimmy Buckets in the fold. In fact, their net nERD of -15.9 was the worst registered by any NBA team this offseason.

It doesn't help that, on top of losing Jimmy, every player that Chicago has acquired for the post-Butler era had a negative nERD last season. Young guys like Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn have plenty of room to improve, but LaVine's recovering from a torn ACL, and Dunn's horrible lack of efficiency ranked him 474th of 486 eligible players in our database last season. Even if rookie Lauri Markkanen manages to carry his Eurobasket success into the NBA season, the immediate future in Chicago is far from bright.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Player InHow?nERDPlayer OutHow?nERD
Isaiah ThomasTrade16.3Kyrie IrvingTrade8.2
Jae CrowderTrade4.3James JonesRetired0.2
Jose CalderonFA-1.8
Derrick RoseFA-2.9
Jeff GreenFA-5.4

nERD in:
nERD out: 8.4
Net nERD: 2.1

We covered the impact that the Kyrie Irving trade will have on the Boston Celtics in our Atlantic Division edition of this series, but we'll reiterate one particular point from that with regards to the Cleveland Cavaliers: For as good as Irving is, our efficiency metric, nERD, likes Isaiah Thomas a great deal more.

Thomas' nERD of 16.3 last season ranked him sixth in the entire league in our NBA Player Power Rankings, while Irving came in 23rd for his mark of 8.2. Yes, Kyrie's younger, under contract for longer, and has more playoff experience than IT, but if you wanted to win games last season and last season alone, you had a better chance of doing so with Isaiah Thomas than with Kyrie Irving, according to our numbers.

If Isaiah Thomas can recover from his hip ailment and be the player he was last year (and that's a big if), the Cavaliers might be better off for it in what could be LeBron James' last year in Cleveland. Adding some extra veterans -- particularly one as efficient as Jae Crowder -- gives the Cavaliers a chance to continue contending for another title, despite losing a star in Irving. It's hard for teams to come out on top when a top player like Irving demands a trade, but Cleveland has a legitimate chance of at least getting out of this debacle no worse for wear.

Detroit Pistons

Player InHow?nERDPlayer OutHow?nERD
Eric MorelandFA-0.2Aron BaynesFA1.1
Luis MonteroFA-0.7Michael GbinijeWaived-0.3
Avery BradleyTrade-1.4Kentavious Caldwell-PopeFA-1.4
Anthony TolliverFA-1.7Darrun HilliardTrade-2.2
Langston GallowayFA-4.0Marcus MorrisTrade-3.0

nERD in:
nERD out: -5.8
Net nERD: -2.2

The Detroit Pistons have been stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity for nearly a decade, making the playoffs just once in the last eight seasons and getting swept in the first round the one time they did make it. This offseason never really moved the needle on their chances of improving, as they weren't able to bring in a single player that scored a positive nERD last season.

Grabbing Avery Bradley while Boston was shedding salary to make room for Gordon Hayward was a savvy move, but he essentially just slides into the minutes and production of the departed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who left to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bradley and KCP even have identical nERDs of -1.4, so the switch might be entirely inconsequential. Granted, the Pistons could still contend for a playoff spot this year, but it's because so many other Eastern Conference teams got worse, not because they got better.

Indiana Pacers

Player InHow?nERDPlayer OutHow?nERD
Alex PoythressFA0Jeff TeagueFA4.7
Damien WilkinsFA-0.8Paul GeorgeTrade3.8
Darren CollisonFA-1C.J. MilesFA1.3
Victor OladipoTrade-1.2Rakeem ChristmasWaived-0.1
Cory JosephTrade-1.7Kevin SeraphinWaived-0.4
Bojan BogdanovicFA-2.8Georges NiangWaived-1.2
Domantas SabonisTrade-5.8Monta EllisWaived-6.6

nERD in:
nERD out: 1.5
Net nERD: -14.8

Much like the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers trudge into the 2017-18 season down one superstar. As far as our metric is concerned, the Pacers' moving Paul George won't have as much of an impact on their outlook from an individual standpoint as the Bulls in their trading of Jimmy Butler, but all of the negative turnover combined for Indiana puts them in a dead heat with Chicago for the (dis)honor of having had the worst offseason in the NBA this year.

The Pacers have one of the most overturned rosters in the league, with seven players coming in and seven going out. As much as waiving Monta Ellis is a good example of addition by subtraction, losing efficient rotation guys like George, Jeff Teague, and C.J. Miles, while bringing in seven average to below-average players, points undeniably to a rebuilding period in Indiana. They'll be lucky if they sniff the playoffs this year, even in the severely gutted Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks

Player InHow?nERDPlayer OutHow?nERD
James YoungFA-0.2Spencer HawesWaived0.1
Michael BeasleyFA-0.2

nERD in:
nERD out: -0.1
Net nERD: -0.1

The Milwaukee Bucks didn't do anything significant this offseason, so I don't have anything significant to say about them. Michael Beasley was a decent bench piece for the Bucks last year, but now he's on the New York Knicks. That's all I've got.


TeamnERD InnERD OutNet nERD
Chicago Bulls-7.68.3-15.9
Cleveland Cavaliers10.58.42.1
Detroit Pistons-8.0-5.8-2.2
Indiana Pacers-13.31.5-14.8
Milwaukee Bucks-0.2-0.1-0.1

The Central Division didn't have a clear and obvious winner this offseason, so the Cavaliers kind of take that honor by default. Cleveland escaped a potential disaster by turning a disgruntled Kyrie Irving into a comparable point guard in Isaiah Thomas, some depth, and an intriguing future pick.

Meanwhile, the Pistons and Bucks stayed pretty close to the same, and the Bulls and Pacers got unequivocally worse. So who knows: The Cavaliers might very well go undefeated against their divisional opponents this year.