The NBA season is around the corner. The preseason begins on September 30, while regular season action kicks-off on October 22.
The Game Haus will be doing division previews following an exciting offseason. Teams will be reviewed in order of where they are expected to finish in the division. Today, the Southeast Division will be previewed.
#5 Washington Wizards
The injury of John Wall decimated the Wizards’ playoff hopes last season, and will again this year. The timetable of his return is unknown, leaving Bradley Beal as the only great player on the roster yet again. The Wizards will be near if not at the rock bottom of the league.
Outside of Beal, the Wizards have an incredibly weak roster. Many players are young, including rookie forwards Rui Hachimura and Admiral Schofield. Both averaged over 15 points per game in college last season, and both will get scoring opportunities with Wall out.
The team acquired Isaiah Thomas this offseason, as well as Ish Smith and Davis Bertans. After a season in Denver with minimal playing time, Thomas will attempt to play like his former self. If he can, Thomas and Beal can be an exciting backcourt.
A lot of how bad the Wizards will end up being depends on what happens with Beal. The team is looking re-sign him, but he could indicate he wants to leave given the team’s current state. If that happens, Washington will have to move him for the biggest offer available, and there should be many. Wall’s contract is nearly impossible to move, but a haul for Beal should be a good start to the rebuilding process.
#4 Charlotte Hornets
While the team just missed the playoffs last season, finishing 39-43, Charlotte will likely be among the league’s worst teams next season. Most notably, the team lost All-Star point guard Kemba Walker in free agency after offering him less than a max deal. The Hornets signed Celtics backup Terry Rozier to make up for the loss.
For Charlotte, the bottom line is simple: the team has a lack of talent. Walker played fantastic basketball last season especially, and was surrounded by average players. With him gone, the Hornets will look pretty bad.
Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and others are all decent players. However, without an All-Star to set up the offense, they will likely have a hard time scoring.
In addition to lack of talent, many of these players are signed to big contracts, making the Hornets a team that is stuck where they are for now.
While Rozier could remind the league of how good he can be, it probably won’t impact the team’s place in the standings too much. The silver lining of what will likely be a rough season for Hornets fans will be the development of Miles Bridges and rookie PJ Washington. Washington was taken with the 12th pick in the draft, and was a productive player for two years at Kentucky. He is one rookie that should get plenty of opportunity right away.
#3 Atlanta Hawks
Last season, the Atlanta Hawks finished last in the Southeast Division, winning only 29 games. The franchise was a perennial playoff team in the late 2000’s and 2010’s, but have been rebuilding in recent years.
The Hawks were led by second-year big man John Collins and Rookie of the Year runner-up Trae Young last season. While the team was at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, these two played great, and are the cornerstones of the franchise going forward.
The Hawks had a busy offseason, trading up in the draft to acquire two top-10 picks who would become Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter and Duke’s Cam Reddish.
The Hawks also acquired Allen Crabbe and Solomon Hill, two contracts that will come off the books next summer. In addition to putting a great young core in place, Atlanta has made good moves financially, and can be a player in 2020 free agency.
The Hawks won’t make the playoffs this season, but they will win a lot more games. Another year of the Young and Collins tandem will only get better, and Hunter and Reddish also showed a lot of promise in college. An x-factor for Atlanta could be Jabari Parker, who signed with the team this summer. If he can become a reliable scorer after a bad injury and a turbulent past few seasons, the Hawks could do better than expected.
#2 Orlando Magic
The Magic were the only team in the division to have a record above .500 last season, and were the only team to make the playoffs. The team was able to snag one game as the seventh seed against the eventual-champion Toronto Raptors.
Orlando’s offseason was highlighted by the re-signing of power forward Nikola Vucevic, who was given a four-year, $100 million deal. Vucevic is coming of an All-Star season, averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.
The team brought back guards Terrence Ross and Michael Carter-Williams, along with big man Khem Birch. The team’s only non re-signing was former Portland wing Al-Farouq Aminu. Animu is a good defender who will be solid backup to Aaron Gordon.
Gordon’s development will be key for Orlando heading into this season. A leap in his sixth season, including a better outside shot, would make the Magic stand out in an Eastern Conference where the the five-eight seeds are largely up for grabs.
While the team has log-jams at the center and point guard spots, Orlando has enough solid players to make the playoffs again. Their biggest challenge will be from their Florida rival.
#1 Miami Heat
The Miami Heat made the biggest move in the Southeast Division this offseason. The team signed Jimmy Butler to lead the franchise post-Dwayne Wade, giving them an All-Star swingman who can score and defend among the best players in the NBA.
Butler becomes the leader of this Heat team, both on the court and in the locker room. At point guard, Miami has veteran Goran Dragic, and at small forward, Justice Winslow should be looking to make a leap in his fifth season. Winslow as a well-rounded second option to Butler is something that needs to happen for the Heat to succeed.
In the offseason, the team traded Hassan Whiteside to Portland and received Myers Leonard in return. He along with promising young center Bam Adebayo will play in the paint, along with veteran Kelly Olynyk.
The big man rotation could be the team’s biggest concern. Miami’s bench should be decent enough, with rookie Tyler Herro, Dion Waiters and James Johnson manning the second unit.
Miami has all the makings of a division winner: a veteran, championship-winning coach, a perennial All-Star as a leader, and a solid supporting cast. While the Southeast Division is probably the weakest in the entire league, the Heat will find themselves as a playoff team next season, and could even be a contender if they use some of their assets to acquire a second star.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.