Southeast Division Prospectus
The Southeast Division does not feature any contenders. Instead, it is home to several teams on the decline and a couple rebuilding projects that simply have not panned out. The best team in the division, The Washington Wizards, have more nagging questions regarding its legitimacy than reasons to be excited it could truly contend.
Even so, the one team with the potential to surprise and take the leap to the next level, the Charlotte Hornets, will be doing so with one of the league’s now most-loathsome journeymen, former three-time D.P.O.Y. Dwight Howard, who came from division foe, Atlanta. What a division!
Win projections and odds c/o Bovada.lv
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 25.5
Over (-140); Under (+110)
The Atlanta Hawks will probably take many steps backwards as a team this year. The Hawks parted ways with two of its best players, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap, and instead will start Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon at the 4/5 spots this season. While both those replacements are fine NBA players, they are role players at best. The Hawks have two more role players on the wings with second-year swingman Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore.
Atlanta’s best player is its point guard Dennis Schroder, but as talented as he is, no one is counting on him to save this team from what should be a pretty poor season. The Hawks have no major talents from which to hope for a breakout season, really, and that is the recipe for a team that wins less than 30 games. Will it win less than 25.5? That is a pretty spot-on mark for an over/under, and we are going to say it offers little value, making it one that we will PUSH.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 42.5
Over (-130); Under (EVEN)
The Charlotte Hornets are an intriguing team. Both average in offense and defense last year, the roster now offers the chance to become an excellent defensive one with the addition of Dwight Howard at the 5-spot. That moves Cody Zeller to the bench, making him now one of the best backup centers in the league. Augmenting that at the 3/4 spots are two more very good defenders in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Frank Kaminsky adds further depth.
The Hornets have a sneaky-good frontcourt, but its offensive potential lies in its backcourt, where the team has plenty of shooting and scoring to keep it in games. Kemba Walker has probably been asked to do too much throughout the last two seasons, but adding Malik Monk of Kentucky should help him with some of that scoring load.
In addition, the Hornets are a far better team when it heavily involves swingman Nicolas Batum, whose role absolutely must increase if Charlotte is to climb above .500 this season. The pieces are all intact for a much better Hornets team, and Steve Clifford is one of the NBA’s more underrated coaches.
That said, the Hornets are going to have to find some form of sustainability, because it started the 2016-17 season on fire only to fritter its way into the lottery by the time April rolled around. With Monk, Jeremy Lamb and another rookie, FSU product Dwayne Bacon, the Hornets should have the recipe for some offensive improvement. But we still see a dead-on .500 season causing the team to fall just shy of the 42.5 wins projected by oddsmakers. UNDER.
Regular Season Wins: Over/under 43.5
Over (-125); Under (-105)
The Miami Heat finished 41-41 last season, and many felt it was head coach Erik Spoelstra’s best-coached season in his NBA career. Miami became a defensive powerhouse with Hassan Whiteside being one of the league’s premier rim protectors, and swingmen Justise Winslow and James Johnson were both far better than expected. Winslow must continue to make offensive improvements, but his status as a lockdown defender is hardly in question. With the Heat being able to align three premier defensive talents in its frontcourt, and offsetting it with the scoring of Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters, Miami should make the postseason in 2018. In fact, they could even contend in a couple seasons with the right growth and future additions.
Miami is also a hotbed for free agents typically, which gives the Heat a unique position as an upcoming team in the Eastern Conference. Given that health was an inhibiting factor in a 41-win season a year ago, we like Miami to better that mark by about four games with a healthy roster in 2017-18.
Seeing how rookie Bam Adebayo fits with Whiteside already in the post is difficult, but if nothing else the powerful bruiser from Kentucky should add some depth and insurance in case Whiteside happens to go down with an injury. In addition to that, Kelly Olynyk will enable the team to stretch the court in a new way, while Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson should be both due to improve on pretty decent seasons a year ago. OVER for Miami this year.
Regular Season Wins: Over/Under 33.5
Over (-105); Under (-125)
For the first time in five seasons, the Orlando Magic will return a head coach to the fold, which should bring some stability and security to its young roster. Orlando was a disappointing team last season, and to try to turn things around the Magic drafted No. 6 overall pick Jonathan Isaac of Florida State. The real story in Orlando will be how much better both Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon can become, as Orlando tries to weigh its prospects from what has been mostly a failed rebuild. Gordon was taken No. 4 overall in the loaded draft of 2014, and he still could be perhaps that draft class’ best two-way talent.
But Gordon has been frustratingly inconsistent, and the only thing that has been settled through his first few NBA seasons is that he probably is best suited to play power forward. Payton, similarly, has looked both great and horrible in his young career, but the hope is that Frank Vogel will start to shape him into the point guard the Magic still think he can become.
Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris are long-departed from what once seemed to be a promising core, but did Orlando bet right in wagering on Gordon and Payton as the creme of that crop? Those questions all have to be answered this year, but it will be fun watching the Magic, as they could potentially be a very exciting bad basketball team. Terrence Ross and Gordon are both former dunk champions, and Mario Hezonja still has some excitement we have been waiting on the former No. 5 overall pick to display. That said, we are still just barely betting the OVER on this, expecting the Magic to win 34-35 games and best the 33.5 mark set by oddsmakers.
Regular Season Wins: Over/Under 48
Over (-125); Under (-105)
The Washington Wizards made almost no major roster adjustments from last season’s team, and as good as Bradley Beal and John Wall are, what is really there to propel this Wizards team above the level it has played at the last four to five seasons?
Georgetown product Otto Porter Jr. is perhaps the only talent left to breakout, and though the Wiz have plenty of competitiveness throughout its roster, without any real roster additions, it is tough to bet on Washington being any better than it was a year ago.
Kelly Oubre Jr. needs to be more featured off the bench, a source of Washington’s struggles a year ago. The Wizards were just so poor in its second unit, that it was unable to maintain leads it built with its starting five, and Jodie Meeks is one piece that might help stop that.
But Oubre and Meeks have to absolutely carry a second unit that is otherwise devoid of scorers, and we expect Washington’s causes for failure in 2016-17 to be the same ones that hold it back this year: a sheer lack of depth. Washington wins 46 games and falls UNDER the mark set by oddsmakers, due to that.