Last season the NBA’s Southeast division was tightly contested, with three teams finishing with identical 48-34 records. A busy offseason affected all teams in this division, so how will they improve or decline in the 2016-17 season?
2016-17 NBA Southeast Division Preview
The Heat were left reeling with the dual blow of losing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this summer. Wade wanted his loyalty to the franchise to be reflected in his salary, but the Heat couldn’t justify spending the money on a 34 year-old. He joined the Chicago Bulls on a two-year $47 million deal. To compound their misery, president Pat Riley declared that Bosh’s Heat career is over having failed his preseason medical due to blood clots.
Both were difficult decisions, but the Heat have to move forward. Their future as a franchise is now largely dependent on Hassan Whiteside‘s development. The 27 year-old cashed in on the NBA’s enlarged salary cap, having resurrected his career at the Heat. He signed a four-year, $98 million deal to remain in Miami. The team needs the defensive center to continue his upward trajectory and all eyes will be on him. The Heat saw him as more of a shrewd investment than the franchise legend Wade.
Miami’s main problem last season was their dismal 3-point shooting – a worrying sign given the league’s shift towards outside scoring. The team also lost their best perimeter shooter in Joe Johnson to the Utah Jazz. They will be banking on guard Josh Richardson to recover from an MCL injury and improve on a promising rookie season. The Heat tried to cover their 3-point flaw by signing Wayne Ellington and Dion Waiters, but it looks unlikely that the team will be an elite outside threat.
The Heat look certain to regress this season, having lost their two best players. Whiteside is the key to resisting the slide, but expect Miami to miss the playoffs next year. Prediction: 4th
There were big changes in Atlanta too, with Dwight Howard brought in to replace the loss of Al Horford in free agency. The Hawks also traded away Jeff Teague, which means Dennis Schroder will be promoted to start at point guard for the Hawks.
The move for Howard may limit the team’s spacing on offense, but he still has the star quality to contribute 15 points per game. He is excellent in the pick and roll, something which was under-utilised by the Rockets last season. Luckily for him, Schroder is a willing pick and roll player, which sets up an intriguing combination.
In addition, Howard immediately improves the Hawks’ rebounding, which was the team’s major weakness last season. Despite his physical decline, the center averaged nearly 12 rebounds per game – good enough for third in the league. Furthermore, a return to his hometown Atlanta seems the ideal place for him to thrive, having clashed with James Harden in Houston. If he can settle into his role in a passing offense, Howard will help the Hawks make a run in the playoffs.
Atlanta will also look to Dennis Schroder to provide a boost to an offense that was ranked 21st last season. His scoring will need to cover for the ageing Kyle Korver‘s dip in 3-point shooting. The defense should remain solid having been ranked second in the league last year. Paul Millsap‘s excellent steal rate will be a factor in locking down opposing offenses.
The Hawks will be worse than last season, having lost the underrated Al Horford, but not by much. They can still threaten the Cavs in the Eastern playoffs. Prediction: 2nd
The Hornets had a relatively quiet offseason compared to their divisional rivals. They retained point forward Nicolas Batum, but let Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee go. Charlotte also kept hold of the impressive Marvin Williams, who provides a three-point threat from power forward.
Their star player – Kemba Walker – made massive strides last season to push his scoring past 20 per game. If he continues this rise, he could be making his first all-star appearance next February. He was a much more efficient player last year – posting career highs in all three shooting percentages.
The Hornets will also be heartened by the imminent return from injury of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The number two overall pick from the 2012 draft is a prodigious defensive talent, and has all-star potential if he can add a consistent jump shot. If he remains healthy, the Hornets could be a dangerous team in the postseason.
The main problem for Charlotte is at the center position. Cody Zeller improved last season, but he is far from a finished product inside. Frank Kaminsky had an underwhelming rookie year and was particularly inconsistent with his shooting. The Hornets have replaced Jefferson with Roy Hibbert, who will hope to regain the form that made him an All-Star just two years ago. From these three Charlotte have decent options at the pivot, but no obviously dominant big.
In Walker, the Hornets have a player who is on the cusp of being an NBA star, if he continues his aggressive play from last year, they should top this division. Prediction: 1st
The Wizards’ main move in the summer was to replace head coach Randy Wittman with Scott Brooks. This could be the move that pushes them out of mediocrity, as Brooks was a successful coach with the Thunder. It was mainly because of Kevin Durant‘s injury that he lost his job in OKC in 2015, having missed the playoffs.
Brooks will not have such a talented squad to work with in Washington, but All-Star point guard John Wall is entering his prime. He had his best season yet in 2015-16, most notably improving his volume and efficiency from beyond the arc. Wall is one of the best passers in the league and averaged a fraction below 20 points per game.
Wall’s backcourt partner, Bradley Beal is also crucial to the Wizards’ playoff push. Beal signed a max contract in the offseason earning him $128 million over the next five years. That’s big money for a player as injury prone as the young shooting guard. But when he’s on the court, Beal’s numbers are impressive. He makes up for Wall’s relative lack of 3-point shooting and is a career 40% shooter from deep. Together, they look a menacing prospect for opposing defenses.
However, the Wizard are a poor rebounding team and rely too heavily on Marcin Gortat to grab the boards. The addition of Ian Mahinmi, should provide more of a presence inside improve their rebounding rates. They also need new coach Brooks to get the best out of Markieff Morris, a player who has disciplinary problems throughout his NBA career.
The Wizards have a hugely talented backcourt, but they don’t have the support to back up Wall and Beal. They will probably scrape into the playoffs and get swept by the Cavs. Prediction: 3rd
It was a busy offseason for the Magic. They swapped Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka in a high profile trade, but their strategy looks muddled. Oladipo looks like a future All-Star and at just 24, he is about to hit his prime. They also lost the Ersan Ilyasova and draft pick Domantas Sabonis in what appears to be a lop-sided trade.
The Magic’s summer got even more confusing with their free agent signings. Amongst others, the Magic brought in Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green. Biyombo showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs with the Toronto Raptors, but his signing was odd. Nikola Vucevic is developing into an excellent center, so it seems a waste to have either him or Biyombo sit on the bench.
Signing Green at power forward was also strange following the Ibaka trade. It also means young power forward Aaron Gordon will have limited opportunities at the four. However, new coach Frank Vogel has a solution for this, as he suggested that Gordon will play as a small forward.
All of this front court manoeuvring goes on while the Magic have not sufficiently addressed their point guard dilemma. Neither D.J. Augustin nor Elfrid Payton look like starting NBA point guards. Payton still has time to improve but he’ll have to do it quickly to cover for the loss of Oladipo.
Such high player turnover means that the Magic are likely to start slowly, but Vogel’s solid resume should encourage fans in Orlando. He got the best out of Paul George to make deep playoff runs with the Pacers and his sacking seemed unfair.
The Magic missed the playoffs last season and could be on course to do even worse. Orlando are likely to be a lottery team next season Prediction: 5th