Southeast Division 2016-17 NBA Season Preview

Paul Millsap welcomes Dwight Howard to ATL to try to revitalize the team after a down season last year.
Paul Millsap welcomes Dwight Howard to ATL to try to revitalize the team after a down season last year.

None of the teams in the Southeast Division are contenders.

There are five teams all which have playoff aspirations, but none can really stake a claim as a definitive homecourt team. The Atlanta Hawks are two-seasons removed from a 60-win year, but can they reclaim that level of play with a different roster now featuring Dwight Howard at center?

The Miami Heat suffer the losses of both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, and are surely due to fall off, even with some nice talent on the roster like Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside. The Washington Wizards are both perpetually riddled by injuries and mediocre, while the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic both pose cases as playoff threats. Charlotte made it last season, and is a team that can really go as far as Kemba Walker wills it to.

While all five of the teams in the Southwest could make the postseason, the bottom line is that none are anything near the level of a contending team. The Hawks have a premier coach in Mike Budenholzer, but Dennis Schroeder has a lot of pressure on himself to develop into the lead guard of a contending team. It is uncertain whether he can make that leap this soon.

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If Charlotte is to exceed expectations as we expect, it is going to require Kemba Walker making that next step.
If Charlotte is to exceed expectations as we expect, it is going to require Kemba Walker making that next step.

(1) Charlotte Hornets

Odds to win Southeast Division: +350
Odds to win NBA Title: +30000
Over/Under 42.5 wins

The Charlotte Hornets have come together to be a very tough team under head coach Steve Clifford. The team changes guard with Al Jefferson departing, but Charlotte will welcome Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back into the fold this season after being without him all of last year due to a knee injury. The Hornets got strong play from swingman Nicolas Batum, who proved himself to be a much more versatile weapon in the style of what he had already been doing internationally for France for several season.

A good passer, Batum gives Charlotte the secondary playmaker needed to get Kemba Walker off of the ball more and functioning as a catch and shoot specialist, a role Walker has excelled in during his limited time doing so. Batum averaged 1.7 assists per game to Walker last season, but that figure really could climb upwards of 2.5.

The Hornets still have a lot of potential to unlock on their roster, but it is really a team that can go as far as Walker carries it. He and Batum are both exceptional guards and form one of the more underrated backcourt tandems in the East, while MKG proved himself to be absolutely crucial towards the Hornets defensive success in 2015-16. The Hornets really only get stronger this season with Kidd-Gilchrist back, and Marvin Williams has had a career revitalization as an effective and sharpshooting stretch-4.

The Hornets also have an agile, athletic Cody Zeller developing nicely at center and Wisconsin product and NCAA Champion Frank Kaminsky, who proved himself to be a good shooter and reliable source of scoring as a rookie. Zeller is battling a right knee injury and his status for the opener is unclear. It is a 4/5 combo whose offensive threat holds a lot of upside.

The Hornets also do have shooters like UConn alum Jeremy Lamb and veteran Marco Belinelli to keep the spacing, and this is a roster that can surprise some in the East, including Vegas oddsmakers at 5dimes. Charlotte is well-stocked enough offensively and a team whose coach has instilled the importance of defense, and the team has a legitimate chance at taking the division, though it is given +350 odds to do so.

Charlotte won 48 games last season, and while Jefferson was a skilled post man and a bit of a loss, the Hornets have the big bodies to keep the team competitive in the post. Spencer Hawes is a good passer and shooter and if he is healthy is one more frontcourt body the Hornets can throw at other teams. Charlotte does not hurt for depth, even though losing Jeremy Lin and especially Courtney Lee does require some guys to step up this season.

Prediction: 49 wins (over)

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Kyle Korver's shooting will be vital with Dennis Schroeder taking over at the 1-spot.
Kyle Korver’s shooting will be vital with Dennis Schroeder taking over at the 1-spot.

(2) Atlanta Hawks

Odds to win Southeast Division: +180
Odds to win NBA Title: +10000
Over/Under 43.5 wins

The Atlanta Hawks are better than a .500 team, and they are also the best of the Southeast Division according to NBA futures oddsmakers at Bovada, listed at +180 to win the Southeast. The case here, however, is that they do not beat out Charlotte for the division crown.

Atlanta does at least boast a developed frontcourt with underrated All-Star Paul Millsap and a rejuvenated Dwight Howard. Re-signed Kent Bazemore has found a home in Atlanta.

At the 2-spot, Kyle Korver is still one of the best shooters in league history, and youngster Dennis Schroeder is good enough that it made Jeff Teague expendable. The Hawks cut costs again, but eventually Schroeder will be due for a big deal of his own. He goes from the league’s best backup point guard to a guy in a situation with a lot of pressure to succeed.

Atlanta is led by one of the best coaches in the business in Mike Budenholzer and his offensive schemes always seem to get blood from oranges. He has the Spurs tutelage and the Hawks have enough talent to be a playoff team in the East.

Behind Howard the Hawks have Tiago Splitter and Mike Scott, both viable NBA big men and guys who can be a part of a strong rotation. Thabo Sefolosha is a stopper at the 3-spot, and Kent Bazemore is a long 6’5” defensive cog who is capable of shooting well from the corners. He has proven himself to be an NBA starter at the minimum. As to whether he can average more than 15 points per game is less clear.

The Hawks also have Tim Hardaway Jr. in the mix, and he could perform at a high level as he did in New York during his rookie season. He’s a strong two-way player that the Hawks will seek to develop along with rookie DeAndre Bembry of St. Joe’s who has drawn rave reviews this preseason, as well.

The Hawks have the pieces and chemistry to be a 50-win team, but that is only if Howard really returns to something close to form. Howard was criminally underutilized in Houston. He has looked good in preseason play and appears to be in far better shape than he was in Houston, and realistically he could be a better fit in ATL than Al Horford was.

The Hawks clearly were not going any further with Millsap and Horford as their interior combo, and Howard still is a top center in the league even if his days of 20/20 games are far behind him.

Prediction: 46 wins (over)

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News surfaced this offseason that Bradley Beal and John Wall aren't exactly the best of friends on the court.
News surfaced this offseason that Bradley Beal and John Wall aren’t exactly the best of friends on the court.

(3) Washington Wizards

Odds to win Southeast Division: +300
Odds to win NBA Title: +10000
Over/Under 42.5 wins

The Washington Wizards had the unfortunate leak over the offseason that things between star point guard John Wall and backcourt mate Bradley Beal were less than ideal. Wall said they frequently conflict and are not the greatest of friends on court, which is of course only a problem when both are healthy. Injuries have been a problem for the Wiz, a team seemingly synanomous with “injury prone” and “mediocre.” Washington has won between 41 and 46 games the last three seasons, but it has been unable to make any headway in the postseason.

Washington missed the playoffs last year and were eliminated in the Conference Semis the previous two seasons. Will anything change?

It is hard to imagine things being radically different. Scott Brooks comes in as a first-year coach to try to salvage Wall’s chances in the Nation’s capital, but in some senses the Wizards are caught in limbo, a team too good to scrap but not good enough to contend with the hard hitters in the Eastern Conference. Last season, Washington finished .500 while ranking No. 20 in offensive rating and No. 14 in defensive rating.

The Wizards had a -0.5 point differential, and Beal missed 27 games again, his third season of four as a pro with less than 63 games played. With the former 2012 No. 3 overall pick
now entering his fifth season, the clock and patience on Beal is beginning to elapse. He is nearly a 40 percent career three-point shooter, but only his sophomore NBA season resembled anything close to a full load (73 games played). His high billing as the NBA’s next Ray Allen has only been true the time he has been on the court, and as injury prone as Beal is now thought to be it is wondered if he can ever scrape anything close to his true potential as an NBA 2-guard.

If Wall is continually without the second-best scorer on his team, the Wizards are mired to be nothing more than a .500 team. Even with Beal healthy, it is difficult to ascertain if this team can be much better. Marcin Gortat is one of the best pick and roll centers in the game, and Markieff Morris can be a big time player at power forward, but there are few transcendent talents on the roster. Otto Porter could make the leap from decent to pretty good, and Tomas Satoransky dropped jaws with his athleticism, but there is no one on the Wizards that can make up for the fact that the team is essentially just repeating the same failed model of the past four NBA seasons.

Prediction: 39 wins (under)

Aaron Gordon is the one guy on the Magic roster capable of making a huge leap this season.
Aaron Gordon is the one guy on the Magic roster capable of making a huge leap this season.

(4) Orlando Magic

Odds to win Southeast Division: +1600
Odds to win NBA Title: +20000
Over/Under 38.5 wins

The Orlando Magic were consistently one of the most abused teams at the rim over the past three seasons. With three head coaches in as many years, the Magic now turn to Frank Vogel to bring some defensive identity, structure and stability to the team. Vogel inherits a much different roster, one now featuring two top rim protectors in free agent acquisition Bismack Biyombo and the draft night acquisition of defensive standout Serge Ibaka. The Magic do not add a (first round) rookie, as its lottery pick Domantas Sabonis was parted with to obtain Ibaka.

The Magic have moved away from a failed nucleus of Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo, with both now making their livings in Detroit and Oklahoma City, respectively. Elfrid Payton is the holdover at point guard, but the Magic will look towards a much different team guided mostly by the all-around versatility and playmaking of Evan Fournier.

Fournier stands to have one of the breakout seasons in the league this year, as a guy who will be called upon heavily in Orlando’s offense this year. Vogel typically makes good use of his guards, and Fournier’s shooting ability is something that the Magic can still milk more production from. Of course, getting more from Mario Hezonja and Aaron Gordon is also imperative if this team is to make any sort of unexpected leap in 2016-17.

The Magic are not a loaded offensive team. And really, the roster now features a lot of redundancy with three players all capable of starting at one position (center), in Nikola Vucevic, Serge Ibaka and Biyombo. Biyombo may offer the biggest upside from both an age-standpoint and the fact that the Magic invested heavily in the former Toronto Raptor this summer.

Biyombo had a breakout performance in the postseason, and many do feel he can sustain that shot blocking and rebounding tenacity over an 82-game season. Even if he does perform to the best of his role, though, the Magic will need Vucevic on the court.

Vucevic is the best post scorer and offensive weapon on the team, and his deft shooting in the mid-range is a sweet spot for Orlando’s offense among precious few others. The Magic will look to Fournier and Vucevic for the bulk of its offense this year, and both are still developing into better NBA players. The chance for either to make his first All-Star team is certainly still in play.

The Magic do have plenty of talent on the rise, and that is what keeps intrigue stirring in this team. Gordon will be transitioning to the 3-spot this season, but Orlando also has veteran Jeff Green there on a one-year deal (and a sophomore Hezonja) to battle for minutes.

The rotation is plenty deep in Orlando, but it is mostly devoid of star-type talents. This could be a gutsy team that finds its way under Vogel, but the Magic also seem destined to set the team mark for postseason futility at five seasons after this campaign.

Prediction: 38 wins (under)

Erik Spoelstra has a much different task with a rebuilding young team.
Erik Spoelstra has a much different task with a rebuilding young team.

(5) Miami Heat

Odds to win Southeast Division: +350
Odds to win NBA Title: +10000
Over/Under 34.5 wins

The Miami Heat have officially moved away from its title winning LeBron James era teams with Dwyane Wade heading north to Chicago and Chris Bosh retiring due to the blood clots in his lungs. The Heat move into a new era of sorts, with Hassan Whiteside re-signing and second-year forward Justise Winslow looking to develop his offensive game as Miami goes youthful this season.

The Heat are not a team constructed for immediate success. The rebuild is now officially underway, and even if Dion Waiters plays his best ball, this is a team largely bereft of major scoring weapons. Goran Dragic is still a top-10 point guard, but he does not have a lot around him and Erik Spoelstra now faces the biggest challenge in his career in trying to get offense from a roster without three future Hall of Famers on it.

Whiteside certainly can make a leap offensively, but Winslow did not show a lot of offensive talent last season and has a long way to go toward figuring out how to best use his athleticism on the offensive end. Miami may have trouble generating offense this season.

And so, the Heat are looking at a return to the lottery, and it is the worst team in the Southeast division with Bosh forced into early retirement. The Heat already were not thought to be any sort of contenders, but now it will be a matter of developing Josh Richardson, Winslow and Whiteside rather than any gearing up toward fringe playoff relevance. The Heat should contend for a top pick, but it stands to reason that this roster could bottom out further if it is going to hope to land a franchise talent via the draft. The team is just good enough to ensure it misses out on the franchise talents in the 2017 draft.

Prediction: 32 wins (under)

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