Despite a couple of teams in the NBA Southeast Division turning some heads, it was not a strong division by any means in 2014-15. The division had a combined losing record of 201-209, with only the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards making the playoffs. Because the other three did not, though, there were some promising rookies attained through the lottery that should make this division one to keep an eye on going forward.
The Heat may end up as the most improved team of this division, as they were able to make some important signings this summer. They signed Goran Dragic, the dynamic guard they received through a trade late last season, to a multi-year deal. They were also able to sign free agent Gerald Green, who will bolster their bench quite a bit. Furthermore, they made it a priority to re-sign the face of the franchise, Dwyane Wade. Although Wade struggled to stay healthy last season, he showed flashes of his young self at various points, proving that he is still a great asset to any NBA team.
The Heat were also able to land one of the biggest steals in the draft, picking Justise Winslow with the tenth overall pick. Winslow is known for his defense, so he will be a great addition to the bench while he learns from the veterans on the roster.
And don’t forget about Chris Bosh. Bosh was forced to miss a good chunk of last season due to a blood clot in one of his lungs. Good news, though, as it looks like he is better and ready to take on another season with the Heat. It’s hard to picture a scenario where this team does not make the playoffs.
What to watch for: Hassan Whiteside is quickly emerging as a star in this league after he took everybody by surprise last season with some of his monstrous performances. He’s a double-double machine, and oftentimes threatens a triple-double. He averaged 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks last season, which is incredible when you consider the fact that a good part of his career so far has been spent in the NBA Development League.
The Hornets are, well, a work in progress. The season hasn’t even begun, but they’ve already lost small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist after needing surgery on his separated right shoulder. He suffered the injury in preseason and it’s unlikely he will play in 2015-16.
Despite this loss, the Hornets still have a lot of pieces they will use going forward. Kemba Walker averaged 17.3 points and 5.1 assists in 2014-15, and will continue to lead the team again this year. Nicolas Batum was acquired in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers last season and will probably have a big impact on the team. The Hornets also landed Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky, who will most likely be a solid center in the NBA. There’s a question of how many minutes he will receive right away, though, as the Hornets have quite a lot of talent in the front court with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, and Marvin Williams, just to name a few.
The best thing the Hornets can do at this point is to get an additional year of experience while earning another lottery pick. Because while they do have some talent, they probably will not make the playoffs this season, even in a weak Eastern Conference.
What to watch for: Look for what kind of impact newly signed point guard Jeremy Lin has on this team. He will serve as the leader to a bench squad that is pretty lackluster, so he has an opportunity to do a lot of good things for the Hornets, maybe even being a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
The Atlanta Hawks were the surprise team of last season, winning 60 games and finishing with a better record than the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers. They did it with a stellar starting lineup of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Al Horford. Unfortunately, the summer brought the loss of Carroll, who impressed the league with his scoring and defense last season. Kent Bazemore will likely get his starting spot, and it’s unclear if the replacement will upset the chemistry that the Hawks had perfected last year.
New additions to the team include guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and center Tiago Splitter, both attained through trades. Overall, though, the Hawks roster will look roughly the same as last season, with their starting lineup doing the majority of the heavy lifting. The team will probably not win as many games as they did in 2014-15, but they are still an easy shoe-in for the playoffs.
What to watch for: As I mentioned, it will be interesting to see if the chemistry of the Hawks’ starting lineup is more or less the same as last season with the absence of Carroll. Sometimes all it takes is one player to leave for the whole feel of the team to completely change. Hopefully that isn’t the case here.
This could be the year for the Wizards to take a giant stride in their goal of one day contending for an NBA championship. The main core is back, led by John Wall, who will be the MVP of this team. The biggest change from last season is probably the loss of free agent Paul Pierce to the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite Pierce being well past his prime, he provided veteran leadership to the Wizards, which will be missed.
The Wizards were able to land Gary Neal and Jared Dudley, so that will help them on the wing with the loss of Pierce. Dudley still needs to recover from a herniated disc, though, so his impact may not be felt for a while. Overall, with a dynamic young core of Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, the Wizards appear to be here to stay.
What to watch for: Look for Wall and Beal to continue dominating as the self-proclaimed best backcourt in the NBA. While this title may officially belong to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, these two may give them a run for their money this season. Will they be able to lead the Wizards to the Eastern Conference Finals? Many think they will.
The Magic have one of the brightest young cores in the NBA. With Elfrid Payton leading the way at point, and Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic alongside him, it will not be easy to beat this team in 2015-16. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that any one of these players could win the Most Improved Player award this season, as they are all coming into their own as professionals.
The Magic were able to sign free agents C.J. Watson and Jason Smith in the summer, who will both bring some veteran leadership and experience to an extremely young Magic squad. Despite these additions, it still feels like the team is at least a year or two away from qualifying for the playoffs. Like the Hornets, more lottery picks and added experience this season is the best case scenario for the Magic.
What to watch for: The Magic drafted Mario Hezonja with the 5th overall pick, passing up players like Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. Hezonja, a Croatian shooting guard/small forward looks like a dynamic scorer. He’s 6’8 with the ability to stretch out to the three-point line. Will the performances of rookies that were picked after him make the Magic regret choosing Hezonja with their lottery pick, or will they be glad they snagged him?
Predicted Order of Finish:
1. Washington Wizards
2. Atlanta Hawks
3. Miami Heat
4. Orlando Magic
5. Charlotte Hornets