Finally, the offseason has come to a close and we can get back to the season! I am going to save all of my picks for one column before the season starts. Will this division be as exciting as the epic Denver Broncos - Dallas Cowboys game a week ago or as lame as listening to Democrats Donkeys and Republican Elephants battle to a stalemate while tourists can’t go to the Statue of Liberty?
The Hawks lost Josh Smith this season and that is addition by subtraction. The team peaked in 2009, when they had Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Mike Bibby. Since then, they have lost players without really replacing any of them. Josh Smith left for Detroit and now, they can rebuild the team around Horford. Josh Smith is an elite defender but he has never been an elite scorer and has put up enough bricks (especially from 3) over the years to rebuild all the schools in Atlanta. They would’ve had to pay much more than he’s worth to keep him and the team as a whole needs a face lift. The addition of Paul Millsap is a nice tandem big man to put with Horford. Jeff Teague is a solid distributor and Kyle Korver gives them a nice outside shooting option.
The Hawks really have no depth. Louis Williams is a nice player but he’s as fragile as Greg Oden’s knee. Elton Brand is a shell of his former self. He may provide a nice veteran presence but when he is arguably your best player coming off the bench, you know you’re in trouble. The Hawks will really struggle to play defense. Horford is not an elite defender and neither is Millsap. Teague is fine but Korver isn’t known for his defense either. This Hawks will do a decent job scoring points but I don’t think they can play enough defense to seriously contend.
2nd place- Atlanta will take a step-back this season. Millsap is a decent addition but the lack of depth, an improving Eastern Conference and defensive deficiencies will hurt Atlanta. With a bad division, they may get enough wins to contend for the 8th seed but unfortunately I think that will be the ceiling.
Well, there is nowhere but up for this franchise. Arguably the worst than franchise in the NBA since their inception, the Bobcats went out and tried to make their team better. Al Jefferson is a HUGE upgrade to anyone else they have had at center. He will give them some toughness and more importantly, scoring from the post. Kemba Walker is a solid player and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is extremely talented. I anticipate him making a huge jump this season, and he could be a nice addition to your fantasy team. He averaged almost a steal and block per game last year and alongside Walker gives them some nice perimeter defense. Cody Zeller will be one of the best rookies from this years’ draft class and will complete a solid starting 5. Ramon Sessions will give them good leadership off the bench and if Ben Gordon can stay healthy (that’s a HUGE if), those two will make a nice second-team tandem.
While the Bobcats have definitely improved, several questions remain. While the signing of Jefferson was a good thing, it makes about as much sense as people saying Michael Jordan can still play at 50. Jefferson is a decent player but he is not a great defender and his career 1.5 assists per game suggests he’s a black hole once he gets the ball. They are paying him $41 million over the next three seasons which is a lot. Charlotte is also really hurting for front-court depth. Bismack Biyombo is worse on offense than the Jacksonville Jaguars and unfortunately, he’s their best defender off the bench. Michael Jordan also decided to appoint his brother, Larry Jordan, director of player personnel. I rest my case.
5th place- The Bobcats will be more competitive because they will finally get something inside and their starting five will be competitive. Unfortunately, they just do not have enough depth or talent to be serious contenders.
Well, they are the two-time NBA champions and they have the same team (minus Mike Miller) coming back and looking for a three-peat. They extended their coaches contract, Dwayne Wade has a full offseason to rest and they still have the best player on the planet.
They are old. Age will eventually catch up with the Heat. Erik Spoelstra has done a tremendous job handling their minutes, but two extended playoff runs has only exacerbated those tired legs. Michael Beasley, while extremely talented, just cannot keep his head straight. He would be a great addition to them because he is still only 25 years old. Hopefully he will get his personal life straightened up but the party scene in Miami is likely not the best place for him. Also, the potential free agency of LeBron James may loom heavy on the team this season. It is no guarantee that James will stay in Miami and that could prove to be a distraction.
1st place- The Heat are built to win and I don’t expect that to change. In a bad division, this team will win it easily and may allow Spoelstra to rest his starters for another long run in the postseason.
Honestly, Orlando has a fair amount of young, talented pieces. Victor Oladipo was a nice pick 2nd overall, especially with “consensus number 1” Nerlens Noel still on the board. Oladipo was the better fit for Orlando because they already have a young center in Nikola Vucevic. Aaron Afflalo is a decent player but the ceiling on Oladipo is much higher. Oladipo is also a far better defender. A healthy Glen Davis, Moe Harkless and Aaron Afflalo allow Oladipo to grow as a professional with limited pressure. He and Moe Harkless add a really nice perimeter defense. Glen Davis’ injury last season added room for Harkless and Tobias Harris to grow into solid NBA players. Nikola Vucevic is developing into a really solider player we saw thanks to the Big Baby Davis injury and he will complement Davis well once he returns to the lineup.
The Magic are young. Vucevic, Harkless, Harris and Oladipo have just barely left the crib. They are all under 22 and still need to mature. A lot is going to be expected of these young men and if they falter early, their maturity may be a concern. The Magic were 12-13 before Davis went down with a shoulder injury. After that, he played only 9 games and the Magic went 8-49. With Davis, they ranked 6th in the league in defense. Without him, they looked as bad as Tony Romo in a playoff push. If they get off to a slow start, the young kids could start acting like Bill Murray trapped in a nightmarish Groundhog Day. Injuries are another big concern for them. Davis, Afflalo and Nelson missed a combined 92 games last season. These are their veterans and without them, you’re going to be asking a lot of young players in E’Taun Moore and Oladipo. Finally, I am concerned about depth. Again, this all really goes back to unproven talent. They have a lot of young players but they are not known for being consistent. If they can get nice bench support from Harkless, Oladipo and Andrew Nicholson and Moore, this could be a relatively deep team. If not, it could get ugly once again. Before you know it, Bill Murray will be coming in to sing the National Anthem.
3rd place- I am going out on a limb here. In a bad division, the Magic could make a big leap. It will all come down to health and what they get from their kiddos. If the young players continue to develop and contribute, they have an outside chance to contend for the 8th seed. If they struggle, it could be another long season in Orlando.
This is another franchise that for a while now has been the NBA equivalent of the Oakland Raiders. The value of John Wall can be debated but what cannot be debated is how important he is to the Wizards. Locking Wall up long-term and keeping a young, exciting point guard cannot be understated. He is the identity of the team, even if his shooting leaves something to be desired. The backcourt tandem of Wall and Bradley Beal could be something special if they both continue to develop. Otto Porter Jr. should give them some defensive toughness and make them that much more athletic. Also, for a team that wasn’t very good last season, they are actually relatively deep. Looking at their lineup, they have quality backups everywhere except center and maybe point guard. Add Kevin Seraphin, who is infinitely more talented than Okafor and you have a nice young core of players.
They are still the Washington Wizards. I know that may come across as slightly condescending but let’s analyze that further. They were 7-34 on the road last season, which is good enough for 2nd to last in the NBA. They also managed a putrid 93.2 points per game last season, good enough for last in the ENTIRE LEAGUE. Not to mention, they play in the far easier of the two conferences and in a division that is by far the worst in the league. They have managed to keep Emeka Okafor playing while keeping better players such as Kevin Seraphin on the bench. They also took Otto Porter Jr. 3rd overall. Now, they did need help at small forward but there were MUCH better players to be had at that position. Finally, I just have a hard time seeing how they are going to score enough points to compete. Seraphin may give them a jump up but I have a feeling they are going to be as inept as Congress at solving these current issues.
4th place- The Wizards have some nice young pieces. If Nene stays healthy and Seraphin plays more, it gives them a nice inside presence. They will have a hard time scoring, especially if they fall behind early in games as shooting 3’s is not their forte. Looks like another lottery year in our nation’s capital.
Thanks for reading!! I will be back with a Southwest Division preview shortly! Feel free to hit me up on twitter @weigel_a.