Today, we will take a look at the Southeast Division. Could this be Miami’s year? Will Dwight Howard still be on the Magic before the season starts?
1. Miami Heat
2. Atlanta Hawks
3. Orlando Magic
4. Washington Wizards
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Miami Heat – Not only are they the team to beat in their division or conference, but they are favorites to win the NBA Finals. When you have a team of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, you should expect nothing less. Making it to the finals this year is not good enough. If they don’t win the championship this season, I have a feeling a lot of changes are in store for this team. It starts and ends with LeBron. His inability to penetrate the Dallas Mavericks’ defense during the Finals and not showing up during crunch time is absolutely inexcusable. I feel that James is out to prove something and he should be. He, cowardly, left his team hanging when it matter most. The addition of Shane Battier will help solidify a bench that was put together with tape instead of stitches last season. They tried to sign Greg Oden but Oden went back to Portland, so they settled for Eddy Curry. I don’t know about that move. Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Udonis Haslem are nice compliments coming off the bench. Hopefully, Haslem and Miller can stay healthy for most of the season.
Player(s) to Watch – Chris Bosh: He was often criticized last season for being the most inconsistent of the Big Three. When you look back at his season, it wasn’t worth near as much criticism as he received. He averaged 18.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, and shot 49.6% from the field. His playoff numbers were nearly identical. If anything, he should be criticized for playing porous defense against Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals. But honestly, who is going to stop Nowitzki?
Why they will finish 1st in the Southeast Division – LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. Does anything else need to be said? I didn’t think so.
Atlanta Hawks – You can flip-flop the Hawks and Orlando Magic, but I am writing this preview as if Dwight Howard is going to be traded. The Hawks showed that regular season records didn’t mean a thing when they played the Magic in the playoffs. After being dismissed by the Magic from the 2010 playoffs, the Hawks punched the Magic in the mouth, winning the series 4-1. The Hawks return a number of key pieces from last season’s playoff run that ended in the second round against the Chicago Bulls. The Hawks were the most balanced scoring team in the NBA last season, with seven players averaging at least 10 ppg and no player averaging more than 18.2 ppg. They have one of the nicest cores in the league led by the experienced two-guard Joe Johnson. Al Horford is a rising talent, Josh Smith is a defensive dynamo, and Jeff Teague had a nice playoff series against Derrick Rose. The team has lost, for the moment, Jamal Crawford, a dynamite scorer off the bench and one of the best six-man’s in the game. If they are unable to retain him, that could end up being a huge loss. In retrospect, this team is still solid. Whether it’s Kirk Hinrich or Teague starting at the point guard, it shouldn’t have a big outcome on whether this team wins or loses. Hinrich will probably start because of his experience but don’t count out Teague. Teague had a tremendous against the Bulls, averaging 14.8 ppg and shooting 53.7% from the field against Chicago.
Player(s) to Watch – Jeff Teague – Entering his 3rd season in the league, Teague figures to be more involved in Atlanta’s rotation than he was last season. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Teague is the player to watch on this team. I am interested to see how he comes off his playoff outburst. He is an energetic player that doesn’t back down from any challenge, even if it’s the MVP Derrick Rose.
Why they will finish 2nd in the Southeast Division – There is only one plausible answer: Miami. No team, certainly not the Hawks, is better than the Miami Heat. The Hawks should finish second in this division, even if the Magic keep Howard. They are the better overall team in this division, but they don’t have the star power that Miami has.
Orlando Magic – You hear about where Dwight Howard might go every day. Will he stay in Orlando? Is he bound for Los Angeles? Is he going to Brooklyn? How about the New York Knicks? Even if the Magic trade Howard, they will get some very good players in return, which should still make them better than the other two teams in this division, Washington and Charlotte. Since Stan Van Gundy has taken over as head coach, the Magic has been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Much of that credit is due to Howard’s presence in the middle. They allowed 93.7 ppg last season, good enough for 4th best in the league. Personally, if they trade Howard, they might become a better team overall. Look at their roster right now. I like that they got rid of Gilbert Arenas (bad contract). I don’t like the fact that they have Hedo Turkoglu and re-signed Jason Richardson for $14 million a year for two years. They traded Brandon Bass, a good defensive player, to Boston for Glen Davis. That’s a questionable move. They signed Larry Hughes, but they already have Richardson and J.J. Redick at the two-guard spot. If anything, they should have beefed up their front line. But I guess they will if they are able to get two post-players for Howard. Still, you have a roster filled with over-paid players (Turkoglu, Richardson, and Jameer Nelson), and enough on the front line to compete with the Hawks, Heat, Celtics, or Knicks.
Player(s) to Watch – Dwight Howard – It has to be Howard. I want to see how he deals with his current situation if he starts the season in Orlando. I don’t feel that any player, which is currently on this roster, is worth watching.
Why they will finish 3rd in the Southeast Division – For one, they are not better than the Miami Heat. Two, they are coming off a terrible first-round beat down by Atlanta. I think, both, Miami and Atlanta got better (even if Atlanta loses Crawford they are still better than Orlando), while the Magic traded Bass for Davis (which I oppose) and cut Arenas (which I approve). Are they still a playoff team? Yes.
Washington Wizards – They won 23 games last season. Yes, that’s not good at all, but this team has a bright future. John Wall, 1st pick in the 2010 draft, had a very impressive rookie season, averaging 16.4 ppg, 8.3 apg, 4.6 rpg, and 1.8 spg. I think his field goal percentage will improve (40.9% last season) because this team has other scoring options than just him. JaVale McGee is a great athletic talent as well as an inside defensive-specialist. Andray Blatche and Jordan Crawford, I think, can be real players if they put their nose to grindstone. For as much as Blatche shoots, he doesn’t score much. He averaged 15 shots a game last season, averaging only 16.8 ppg. Crawford took 12 shots a game and averaged 11.7 ppg. Being un-selfish is the key to turning this around for a franchise. Defense is also a key. Last season, the Wizards gave up an average of 104.7 ppg, good for 23rd in league. One thing I think Washington has over Charlotte: potential. If Wall becomes the player that most of us think he can become, a star, than Washington will surprise some people. Also, re-signing Nick Young might be a good idea too. I mean, he did average 17.4 ppg and shot 39% from three last season.
Player(s) to Watch – John Wall and Jan Vesely – I want to see how much Wall has improved this season as oppose to last season. He turned the ball over nearly four times a game (3.8) and he shot 29.6% from three. His development is crucial as the Wizards look to move out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference. I have heard a lot about Vesely. He can run the floor and is known for his dunking ability over in Europe. But this is the NBA. Players are much more athletic in the NBA than over in Europe. Players are much bigger, faster, stronger, and quicker than the majority of the players in Europe. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the American game.
Why they will finish 4th in the Southeast Division – They are still a few years away from competing for a playoff berth. But they are my surprise pick in this division. I think they have enough talent to give teams a run-for-their-money. The lockout doesn’t help the Wizards, but it doesn’t hurt them. If this team is willing to defend, they can finish .500.
Charlotte Bobcats – After they traded Gerald Wallace, the Bobcats finished the season 8-15. They haven’t replaced him with anyone that gave them the type of production he did on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. They have a young roster led by Tyrus Thomas, D.J. Augustine and newcomer Kemba Walker. The addition of Corey Maggette and development of Gerald Henderson, late last season, is a start. Maggette gives the Bobcats a veteran presence while the rest of their players develop and find themselves in the NBA. Walker and Augustine will battle for the starting point guard spot. Augustine has the advantage because he has more experience, but Walker showed last year, during Connecticut’s run to the National Championship, he has the heart to succeed and will to win. The Bobcats ranked 11th in scoring defense last season but that was not the problem. The problem was that they didn’t have enough scorers. The Bobcats averaged 93 ppg last season and they have yet to make any offseason moves to help their offense. For the time being, they will rely on Tyrus Thomas, Henderson, Maggette, Augustine, and Walker.
Player(s) to Watch – Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker – Henderson figures to be the starting two-guard, and when he was given the chance, he performed well. Over the last two and a half months, Henderson averaged 13.9 ppg. He didn’t shoot the ball well from three, but that will come in time. By seasons’ end, Walker might become the best player on this Charlotte team. People have doubted him his whole life. Now those people doubt his size at the NBA level. His will to win succeeds most, by NBA standards, and he is always finding a way to get better. I am very interested to see how he does in this lockout-shortened season.
Why they will finish 5th in the Southeast Division – They simple don’t have the talent to compete with the rest of the teams in their division, let alone their conference. They have young players that haven’t proven much in the NBA (except Maggette), but one thing they have proven: they play team defense. They just don’t have enough firepower right now. All they can hope for is a high draft pick in, what should be a great draft class in 2012.