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2017-18 Season Preview: Southeast Division

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5. Atlanta Hawks-

Projected W/L: 26-56

Projected Starting Lineup- PG: Dennis Schroeder, SG: Kent Bazemore, SF: Taurean Prince, PF: Ersan Ilyasova, C: Dewayne Dedmon

Let’s set the record straight: The Atlanta Hawks will have a lottery pick when the 2018 Draft rolls around. This is far cry from the team that won 60 games just 2 seasons ago. Along with the Bulls and Nets, the Hawks fit right into the discussion of who will be the worst team in the East once players take the court this October. Since their 1st place finish in 2015, the Hawks roster has depleted to near oblivion, losing Al Horford (4x All-Star), Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, and now Paul Millsap (4x All-Star) in a span of fewer than 24 months.

And all Atlanta has to show for this atrocious roster dismantle is Taurean Prince and the Cavalier’s 2019 first rounder. For a team that snuck into the playoffs by just 2 wins last season, the Hawks could not afford to lose their star in Millsap, who departed for the Nuggets in Free Agency.

Other than losing their best player in Millsap, the Hawks also saw Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Howard blast off in free agency, who all together accounted for nearly half of Atlanta’s offensive production.

After this dismantle, the keys of the offense will now be fully handed over to Dennis Schroeder, who has two possibilities with his newfound reign of the team.

Possibility 1: Continue with his uncreative, beeline drives to the basket and shy away from big moments, creating a volatile offense that finishes bottom of the league.

Possibility 2: Develop some craft to his offense to replace his predictable driving habits and adopt a leadership role as the head of a respectable offense.

NBA.com

If Schroder commands the latter well, there is a great chance that he could be named a 1st time all star in a conference that has seen four of its All-Stars from last year depart for the West. Perhaps this is a best-case scenario for the Hawks, who can hope to bolster Schroeder’s stat line enough to make him a valuable trade asset.

As for the rest of the team, don’t expect much. No one on this roster provides anything near prolific in the realm of scoring, and outside of Dewayne Dedmon, the defensive presence on this roster is subpar. If any positive light can be shed on the Hawk’s squad, it is outside shooting, which Atlanta has at the 1-4 spots now with the addition of Ersan Ilyasova, who manages to put up an incredibly efficient 12 and 6 a night year after year. Expect this team to can up 30 three-pointers a night as the traditional offense will not bode well for a roster with this many holes in it.

As the Hawks have their eyes set on the 2018 Draft Lottery already, a flicker of hope remains for the in their 1st round pick out of Wake Forest. John Collins made a name for himself this summer, making the All-NBA Summer League First Team after rattling off a number of impressive performances in Vegas. Expect to see Collins pushing Ilyasova for a major role this year, especially if the Hawks are looking to tank.

For a team that has been treading water the last two seasons, the Hawks need a direction, and that direction should be losing as many games as possible. The worst case scenario is this team winning more games than projected, because that means missing out on a top pick in this year’s ultra-talented draft class.  This ho-hum squad absolutely needs a Michael Porter Jr. or a Marvin Bagley III or a Luka Doncic, and Atlanta needs to tank for the top before Adam Silver disincentives losing for the lottery.

 

4. Orlando Magic-

Projected W/L: 31-51

Projected Starting Lineup- PG: Elfrid Payton, SG: Evan Fournier, SF: Terrence Ross, PF: Aaron Gordon, C: Nikola Vucevic

Despite their far from ideal roster, the Magic could be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league this year. They present a unique blend of youthfulness and raw athleticism, which might not translate to much in the win column, but could provide some spectacular highlight reels and hope for the future.

With the addition of GM John Hammond, who is notorious for targeting low-floor, high ceiling players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, the direction of the Magic will probably shift towards becoming a long, athletic, defensive minded team. That shift started with the drafting of Jonathan Issac, who has one of there highest ceilings in the entire draft. Issac combines obscene length with proven defensive ability, and has the potential to be a lockdown defender with a budding offensive skillset.

CBS Boston

Continuing in this direction, Orlando added Jonathon Simmons in free agency, a budding talent who’s raw athleticism is through the roof. Simmon’s is near elite on the defensive end of the ball, and while his production on offense hasn’t reached the same level, he brings a hungry attitude and spark plug play to a team in dire need of these attributes. Expect to see Simmons landing a major role off of the bench and possibly garnering starters minutes for a team looking to hide Elfrid Payton’s lousy defense a bit more.

The Magic are in CRUCIAL need of shooting, and no offseason moves foreshadow a better shooting team this season after finishing last season dead last in 3 point percentage and 26th in 3 pointers made. While Jonathon Simmons was a nice grab in free agency, he doesn’t exactly solve the shooting chasm that has tormented the Magic for a while now. Without much personnel change, it is hard to see how the Magic can drastically improve in the shooting department.

This is potentially the most important season of Elfrid Payton’s career. It is time for the Magic to decide whether Payton is the vocal leader of this squad, or if they need to head in a different direction for leadership. He owns the speed and passing the ability to be dominant on the fast break, and with more consistency can generate a truly special fast break offense. But consistency is where the problem lies. His three-point percentage sits at a brutal 27 percent and his defense has been lackluster despite his perceived potential. If Elfrid is unable to improve his defense and create a more consistent output, it’s going to be pretty obvious where the Magic go with their lottery pick come June.

As a defensive minded coach, Frank Vogel has ample chance to prove last year was a fluke, and the additions of Shelvin Mack, Jonathan Simmons, and Jonathan Issac most definitely help Vogel’s cause in the area of defense. Additionally, health was a huge problem for this team last year, as the starting roster only logged 19 games together. If this squad had stayed healthy, they were actually projected to outscore opponents per possession. In a conference where it could take fewer than 40 wins to make the playoffs this year, a postseason berth isn’t totally unfathomable. But 10 more wins is a lot to ask for a team with this little experience and such a hole in the area of shooting.

 

3. Miami Heat-

Projected W/L: 42-40

Projected Starting Lineup- PG: Goran Dragic, SG: Dion Waiters, SF: Justise Winslow, PF: Kelly Olynyk, C: Hassan Whiteside

Calling Miami’s 2016-17 season a roller coaster would be a massive understatement. The Heat started last year in shambles, stumbling out of the gates to an 11-30 record.

And then the Dion Waiter show took over, launching the Heat into a Cinderella Story-esque run. Spoelstra’s decision to move Waiter’s into the starting lineup lit a spark that ignited this roster to win 21 of the next 25 games, just narrowly missing out on a playoff berth. Was Miami’s stellar play post all-star break a fluke, or can they pick up where they left off last year?

Kelly Olynyk is a key addition for a team who needed outside spacing the James Johnson was not providing at the 4. While Johnson’s playmaking ability and versatility cannot be overlooked, Olynyk’s ability to spread the floor with his deadly stroke will allow Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic to run the pick and roll efficiently.

After leading the league in rebounding and putting up 17 points and 2 blocks per contest, Hassan Whiteside is yet to cross the all-star threshold. Hopefully, that will change this year as Whiteside enters his prime as one of the most dominant big men in the game. It will come down to maturity in the desire for Hassan, as the path is clear for him to be the true star that this team needs.

Fox Sports

While the Heat’s offseason was relatively quiet in comparison to the rest of the league, their draft pick in Bam Adebayo could make them a force on the glass. Bam averaged a double-double throughout summer league while swatting over 2 shots per game to go along with his dominance in the lane. Pair Adebayo with Hassan Whiteside and you have a quarter-ton of fun putting up ridiculous rebounding and block numbers. Originally considered to be a reach at 14, Bam has already started to prove haters wrong as his play-style resembles that of a prime Dwight Howard.

While Miami doesn’t have any overwhelming star power, its winning run last year can be greatly attributed to its bench depth, second only to perhaps the Cavaliers. This unit, comprised of Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, and now Bad Adebayo combines awesome perimeter shooting with defensive prowess to create matchup nightmares for the opposing team. Expect any combination of this bench to play ultra-efficient basketball as the two-way mentality takes precedent for Spoelstra’s teams.

After falling just short last year, the Heat enter this year with little roster turnover, a chip on their shoulder, and eyes set on a playoff berth. Finally clicking after the all-star break, Miami’s team-first personality should continue to see growth in its already impressive chemistry. If this is the case, the postseason shouldn’t be a problem for Eric Spoelstra and South Beach.

 

2. Charlotte Hornets-

Projected W/L: 43-39

Projected Starting Lineup- PG: Kemba Walker, SG: Nicolas Batum, SF: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF: Marvin Williams, C: Dwight Howard

Charlotte looks to be a favorite to make the playoffs as a lower seed this year after underachieving substantially last year, failing to reach the postseason after claiming the 6th seed in 2016. Despite the disappointing season, Kemba Walker took a big stride in becoming a first-time all-star and a bona fide stud at point guard.

Right when it needed some shooting, Buzz City got a gift from heaven when Malik Monk dropped to 11 in this year’s draft. If Monk’s potent jumper and dynamic offensive ability can carry over from Kentucky he could prove to be the steal of the 2017 Draft, and just what the Hornets need to punish teams from the perimeter.

The Hornet’s forecourt will be a force to be reckoned with this year, as it adds 8-time all-star Dwight Howard, who although is far from his all-star play, is still a double-double robot that can own the glass. Put Howard next to Frank Kaminsky and Cody Zeller, and you have a wide array of skill sets that will compliment each other effortlessly. Kaminsky can spread the floor with his three-pointer that drastically improved as the Wisconsin product adjusted to NBA range. Meanwhile, Zeller can hold down the paint with his much needed interior defense as well as his own sweet stroke from three. The Hornets were 3-17 last year when Zeller went down, desperately missing their hidden gem, who may be the NBA’s best-kept secret as his production continues to improve significantly every year. Whatever combination of this three the Hornet’s use this year, expect some sensational results.

ESPN.com

The best move of their summer this year was perhaps ditching Miles Plumlee’s abominable contract as part of the deal in. acquiring Dwight Howard from the Hawks. Plumlee is due for over 50 million over the next 4 years as a mediocre backup center who will be lucky to hit the 15 minute per game mark this year. Shedding this cap space, along with acquiring Dwight Howard and the 31st pick, was highway robbery for the Hornets, who gave up

Of all the good moves Charlotte made this summer, signing Michael Carter-Williams was not one of them. Carter-Williams has fallen off the face of the earth since winning rookie of the year in 2014, and although he is costing Charlotte a meager 1.7 million this year, they could’ve done a lot better for depth behind Kemba.

For the Hornets to see success this year, they need Jeremy Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to elevate their play as two of the key role players on this team. Kidd-Gilchrist’s elite perimeter defense needs to stay elite as he fails to offer much in terms of scoring. As for Lamb, consistency is key as he attempts to improve upon his career highs set last season in points and rebounds.

Similar to the Heat, a less than dazzling starting lineup is made up for by the impressive depth and well-rounded skill on both ends of the ball. The success of this year will greatly depend on whether Dwight Howard can have a mini-renaissance or if the experiment will be a total train wreck. Will the Hornets surpass their 48 win mark of 2015-16? Probably not. But it is up to Steve Clifford and the rest of the crew to prove that last season was an aberration.

 

1.  Washington Wizards-

Projected W/L: 51-31

Projected Starting Lineup- PG: John Wall, SG: Bradley Beal, SF: Otto Porter Jr., PF: Markieff Morris, C: Marcin Gortat

For a team that was a game away from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wizards did little to improve the chances that their fate changes come next May. It was a pricy and predictable offseason for the Wizards, who only saw the gap widen between them and Celtics. While Boston and Cleveland were making moves, the Wizards were busy trading their only draft pick for a backup point guard. Having this said, the Wizards The Wizards success this season will almost entirely depend on the performance of John Wall, who worked his way into superstardom last year after taking his game to another level.

While some consider Otto Porter’s contract a drastic overpay, it was imperative that he got resigned, regardless of the cost. Last season, Porter was an essential piece of the sturdiest, most frequently utilized lineup in basketball. Porter, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat started 69 games together and shared 1,347 minutes on the court together.

No other five-man unit broke 880 minutes together.

This is a lineup that finished with a plus 8.1 net rating, the fourth best of any league unit with at least 400 minutes together. This is a lineup that outscored its opponents by 238 points. This is a lineup that will only develop more chemistry as Otto Porter Jr. continues to develop his craft.

Newsday

But the starting lineup is where the positives end for the Wizards. Along with its aging big men, the Wizards biggest weakness remains its lack of depth, which becomes even shallower this year with the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic, who provided a vital scoring punch off the bench.

Evened in a weakened east, its hard to see this Wizards improving by more than a minuscule amount. Too many question marks surround this roster:

How much longer will Marcin Gortat be able to play efficiently at 30+ minutes a game? Can Kelly Oubre Jr. or Ian Mahinmi step up offensively to replace Bogdanovic’s production? Is Scott Brooks going to make the right decisions come crunch time?

With all of these doubts looming over Washington, just the smallest shift in balance can throw the entire franchise out of equilibrium. As far as predictability goes, this team is as calculable as any. Expect a top 4 seed and an elimination in the 2nd round unless some drastic change works its way to DC to stop the stagnation.

 

About Logan Collien

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