2017 NBA Preview – Southeast Division

THE NBA season is fast approaching! So there is no better time than the present to analyse each of the 30 teams with tipoff etching closer every day. Read each of the division by division primers to know what to expect from the 2017-18 NBA season!

Atlantic Divison
Pacific Division
Central Division
Southwest Division

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Atlanta Hawks

Roster Changes
THEY’VE torn it all down. Paul Millsap was the final piece of the Hawks team the won 60 games in 2014-15, but he is now a Denver Nugget. Along with him Tim Hardaway Jr, Dwight Howard, Thabo Sefolosha, Jose Calderon and Kris Humphries have left Atlanta with Miles Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon, Luke Babbitt, Marco Belinelli, and John Collins all joining the franchise.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Is This The Worst Team In Basketball?
NO disrespect to the current Hawks, but when you lose some of your best players and replace them with bench pieces you’re in for a long season. With Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder the best players on the team, Atlanta is likely to feature towards the bottom of the standings and there’s a real possibility that when the season is done and dusted they will be owners of the NBA’s worst record.

2. Will ‘John Collins Be The Steal Of The Draft?
AFTER showcasing his talents in the Summer League the 19th pick of last year’s draft looks like the real deal. Collins was named to the Summer League First team with averages of 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in 23 minutes a game. It’s unfair to expect him to replicate those same numbers in the big time, but if he can go close to averaging similar stats Collins could be a diamond in the rough for Atlanta.

3. Can Schroder Become This Team’s Leader?
LAST season the Hawks handed the keys of the franchise to Dennis Schroder and the fourth-year guard from Germany didn’t disappoint. It’s one thing to take your game to another level which he certainly did, but it’s another entirely to be the leader of a team. If Atlanta is going to experience success in the future then Schroder will need to take another leap in his development.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Philadelphia 76ersImage from ftw.usatoday.com

Record: 23-59
WHILE I expect their backcourt to be O.K. I think their underwhelming frontcourt will be the real issue. There are plenty of young guys who seem ready to break out (Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry and Malcolm Delaney) but it will be too much too soon for the young Hawks brigade. Translation. Lots of losses and learning as Atlanta rebuilds.

Charlotte Hornets

Roster Changes
A retooled Hornets team approaches 2017-18 after yo-yo-ing in and out of the playoffs for the past four years. The addition of Malik Monk, Micahel Carter-Williams and Dwight Howard make this squad a much better one than the 2016-17 version and they managed to avoid losing any key pieces to their core.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Is Cody Zeller The Key To Success?
LAST season Zeller missed a chunk of time with Charlotte going 3-17 without him. The ‘high-energy’ hustle play of the youngest Zeller is clearly valuable, so much so that you have to wonder if he deserves to be starting for the Hornets at either forward or center (sorry Dwight).

2017 NBA Preview - Southeast Division 2Image from atthehive.com

2. If They Make The Playoffs Just How Deep Can They Go?
WITH this Hornets team likely to make a return to the playoffs they have a decent shot at causing an upset in when they arrive. If they finish outside of the top four chances are they will be facing the Cavs, Celtics, Wizards or Raptors. If they can find their groove there is no reason they can’t make some noise and win a series or two against the East.

3. Will Dwight Howard Be A Hero Or Villian?
EVER since his dynamic days in Orlando Dwight hasn’t been the same player, bouncing around teams and failing to have a positive impact during any of his stays. At the age of 31 his explosiveness isn’t what it once was, but if he can keep his ego in check and accept his role with Charlotte then he will be a massive asset. If not, all hell could break loose.

Record: 45-37
AFTER hyping this team up so much, 45 wins might seem like an underestimate, but they don’t have a ton of depth or a lot of luck with injuries. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker will once again do his thing and lead this team but a win total in the 40’s is a realistic expectation.

Miami Heat

Roster Changes
THE band is back together again with a few small changes. After losing Josh McRoberts and Luke Babbitt the Heat brought in Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo and Jordan Mickey to it’s returning core.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Just How Important Is Dion Waiters?
THE Miami Heat did what most expected and resigned Dion Waiters for another four years at the cost of $52 mil. During the Heat’s 30-11 stretch he emerged as the hero nailing clutch basket after clutch basket. With an established stud at center in Hassan Whiteside and a serviceable point guard in Goran Dragic running the show, can Dion Waiters be the team’s primary scorer and help them make a leap?

2. Can Tyler Johnson Be A Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate?
LAST year Tyler Johnson was the Heat’s fourth highest scorer in 73 games off the bench. His 13.7 points a game, were the sixth most in the league from players who came off the bench in over 60 games. With a strong guard rotation, the Heat will once again be relying on Johnson to score with regularity. If he does so again he could be one of the best bench guys in the league.

3. Will They Trade Justise Winslow?
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Heat went on their run last year with Winslow sidelined. While the young prospect offers plenty of upside his inability to shoot (especially from three) is somewhat of an issue and could be a big one moving forwards for Miami. He still has plenty of time to expand his game and develop into a great pro, but there is a chance the front office loses patience and finds him a new home in an effort to go on another vaulted run.

Record: 43-39
THERE isn’t enough talent on this roster to see them making a massive leap from last year. While there is no doubt they are a good team, they aren’t a great team even in the miserable East. They still need another player or two if they want to take another step towards stardom, but they will still be a playoff team.

Orlando Magic

Roster Changes
ANOTHER season, another puzzling slew of moves by Orlando. The Magic brought back Arron Afflalo who enjoyed his best seasons of his career in Orlando as well as adding Jonathon Simmons, Marreese Speights, Shelvin Mack, Adreian Payne and rookie Jonathan Isaac. Jeff Green, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Watson and Stephen Zimmerman all walked.

2017 NBA Preview - Southeast Division 3Image from orlandopinstripedpost.com

Three Questions That Matter

1. What The Hell Are They Doing?
THE only consistency with Orlando in the past few seasons has been inconsistency. Since the Dwight Howard/Stan van Gundy era, the Magic have gone 132-278 translating to them winning less than a third of their games over a five-year period. You would think after such a period that they would have something to show for it, but their questionable drafting and free agency investments have left them with little to show for it. Will this finally be the year that the likes of Elfrid Payton, Aaron Gordon and Co make the big jump?

2. Is Mario Hezonja A Bust?
SINCE he was taken 5th overall in 2015 the Croatian hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype they thought he would. In the 22-year old’s defense he has only played 144 games of pro basketball and there is still plenty of time for him to become a serviceable player. But if another season of him shooting sub 40% from the field while showing little or no signs of growth unfolds then it may be hard for Hezonja to shed the dreaded ‘bust’ label.

3. Can Elfrid Payton Shoot?
THROUGH three seasons of NBA Elfrid Payton has struggled to shoot the basketball and develop into a regular source of offense for his team. Through the last month and a bit of the season over a 21 game stretch, Payton did however manage to shot 51.7% from the floor, a respectable 33.3% from three and made 75% of his free throws. Those numbers were a big improvement on his career averages (44.6 FG%, 28.9 3P%, 61.1 FT%) and the Magic are hoping that those percentages are replicable in season 2017-18.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Orlando MagicImage from fansided.com

Record: 33-49
ORLANDO is slated to miss the postseason once again this year, but the impact will be measured by more than wins and losses. Signs of development is the most important indicator of future success and the Magic will feature in the lottery again regardless of the growth on display.

Washington Wizards

Roster Changes
THE core is still intact in the nation’s capital and it should translate to another similar year. They have lost Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic replacing them with the likes of Tim Frazier and Mike Scott.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Should They Make A Play For Cousins?
IT’S no secret that John Wal and DeMarcus Cousins have a desire to play together. The former college buddies have been rumoured to join forces for years and with Cousins’ free agency looming we could very well see it happen. If they manage to offer the Pelicans are interested in and it doesn’t involve Brad Beal, should the Wizards pull the trigger and figure out the other pieces after?

2. How Much Can Kelly Oubre Lift?
LAST season it was Otto Porter. Can it be Kelly Oubre this year? If the Wizards are going to make another deep playoff push a lift from Oubre will be crucial and it’s not out of the question after he has shown signs of growth in each of his two seasons so far. Poised to breakout a scoring punch in the form of the guard/forward tweener can help give Wall and Beal a spell without fears of the lead being dramatically affected.

3. Can They Survive If Beal Or Wall Goes Down?
THE health of John Wall and Brad Beal will be the major talking point in Washington this season. A top-heavy Wizards team could go downhill quickly if one of the two goes down, and if it is for a lengthy period of time then it could be catastrophic. After issues early on in his career Wall seems to have dodged the injury bug in recent times, with Beal still failing to piece together back-to-back big seasons.

Record: 48-34
THE Wizards haven’t won 50 games since they were formally the Bullets (54-28 in 1978-79) close to 40 years ago. I don’t think that they will be breaking that trend this year, but they will still be towards the top of the East. If they had more help in their second unit then I would have faith in a 50 win season, but without it their ceiling seems to be similar to what they achieved last year.

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