SOUTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW
We have in-depth previews of the Washington Wizards, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic, and Atlanta Hawks. Here is our NBA Eastern Conference Southeast Division Preview.
After coming off their highest win total in almost three decades, there are two fundamental questions facing the Washington Wizards: 1) can they realistically expect to win that many games again, and 2) did they do anything to improve themselves in the off-season?
Despite an off-season where he underwent surgery in both knees, John Wall put up career-highs in scoring, assists per game, and steals per game, en route to this All-NBA Third Team designation in the off-season. After so many
people wondered — rather loudly — as to whether Bradley Beal could ever stay healthy through the course of a season, he played in 77 games last year, tying Wall for the team lead in scoring (23.1 ppg).
But how realistic is it, to expect them to put up that same level of performance? Same for Otto Porter Jr, who also put up career-high numbers in his contract year.
Washington’s starting five of Wall, Beal, Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat could be one of the two best starting units in the East. But with all the Wizards’ money tied up on wing players, they again had to go “dumpster diving” for bench players, adding Jodie Meeks, Tim Frazier, and Mike Scott to go with Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith. Is that enough quality bench depth for a team that has real aspirations of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals (or beyond)?
Projected Record: 46-36
Once upon a time, this team featured a revolutionary “Big Three” that changed the NBA in a way that we had never seen before.
Fast forward a few years, and while the trio of Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside, and Goran Dragic might not be able to hold a candle to their predecessors, they were still good enough to finish 30-11 over the second half of last year.
But with the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff a wide open road for any halfway competent team to advance onto, is Miami simply ok with clinching their 8th playoff appearance in 10 years under Erik Spoelstra, or does team president Pat Riley have one more trick up his sleeve.
The operative player in either scenario is very likely Justice Winslow. The tantalizing young forward was one of the most coveted young “swiss army knife”-type wing players in the NBA, but two injury-plagued seasons have tanked his proverbial stock.
If Winslow starts to show signs of life, he could be the valuable piece for the Heat: as either another cornerstone for this franchise to build on, or as an asset to flip for another marquee player. The potential is there; let’s not forget that Spoelstra once believed in Winslow enough to be his “defensive stopper,” guarding the best player the opponents had on the floor.
Projected Record: 42-40
Given the makeup of this team, especially given the season-altering injury sustained to its second-leading scorer from last year, you’d expect the Charlotte Hornets to double-down on a defensive mentality that earned them a top-10 defensive ranking last year. But another off-season acquisition has the potential to submarine that idea as well.
Charlotte is really going to miss Nicolas Batum, their second leading scorer last season, who could miss 8-12 weeks with a torn ligament in his elbow. If Batum is gone through somewhere around Christmas time, who’s supposed to pick up the scoring slack? Kemba Walker is going to need someone to relieve the scoring burden off him, and nobody on the Hornets besides Walker and Batum averaged more than 12 points per game. Although, getting Malik Monk with the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft could prove to be one of the biggest steals of any selection made. If the spark-plug scorer can get over the fact that he didn’t get taken by the team he was hoping to play for, he could very well be in line for a Rookie-Of-The-Year-caliber season.
But all of that could just as easily be torpedoed by the acquisition of Dwight Howard. Howard is nothing close to the player who took the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. The problem is, he still thinks he’s that guy. And that’s exactly why every team he’s left couldn’t wait to see him leave town fast enough. He’s a locker-room killer. So how quickly does he wear out his welcome in Charlotte?
Projected Record: 40-42
If the current roster of the Orlando Magic was compared to plate of food, it would be a bunch of different side dishes from a bunch of different countries, constituting a bunch of different flavors profiles, of which none of them go together.
Aaron Gordon is a superhuman athlete with crazy bounce, but he’s still not a
great rebounder (only 5.1 rebounds per game last year), and gets worse and worse the further he shoots the ball from the basket. Elfrid Payton’s ability to finish inside the paint masks his putrid outside shooting as well. Evan Fournier is a jump shooter who can’t (or won’t) defend. So is Terrance Ross, whom the team acquired in the off-season. Nikola Vucevic is a center who can either finish in the paint or direct traffic, but not much else. First round Jonathan Simmons has crazy potential, but he’s years away from contributing to a team that needs help right away.
In other words: this team has a lot of different pieces, but none of them fit together. While the team will tell you they’re in the midst of a rebuild, that project has been going on for far too long, with basically nothing to show for it.
Projected Record: 31-51
The fact that Atlanta lost Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Thabo Sefolosha in the off-season wasn’t much of a surprise. They weren’t going to match the massive deals that two of them got (Millsap and Hardaway), and they were more than ready to part ways with the other two guys (Howard and Sefolosha), regardless of cost.
Except now, only a few months after finishing with the 5th seed in the Eastern
Conference, Atlanta could very well be one of the bottom five teams in the NBA next season. This team is Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, and a whole lot of major question marks. John Collins was an underrated pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there are just too many castoffs — like Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and Miles Plumlee — to take this team seriously. As good of a coach as Mike Budenholzer is, you can’t ask him to make chicken dinner out of chicken droppings.
The only bright thing to watch for, if you care about the Atlanta Hawks, is to gauge the future potential for wing-man Taurean Prince. A positive surprise for Atlanta overall last year, Prince averaged 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, and nearly doubled both numbers when getting extended playing time during their playoff series against Washington.
Projected Record: 26-56
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