NBA Preview: Experience Matters For Washington In Young Southeast Division
KSLSports.com continues its coverage of the start of the 2018-19 NBA season with a division-by-division look at the Association. Next up is the Southeast division. Here are the teams in the order of their projected finish:
Last season: 43-39, 2nd in Southeast Division, lost in first round of playoffs
Key additions: Dwight Howard, Jeff Green, Troy Brown, Jr., Austin Rivers
Draft picks: Troy Brown (1st round, 15th overall, Oregon), Issuf Sanon (2nd round, 44th overall, Slovenia)
Key losses: Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott
It’s time to put up or shut it down for Washington. The starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are in their prime and if the Wizards can’t take advantage of that and make a deep playoff run, don’t be surprised if one or both of them are shipped out in favor of a rebuild or major shakeup. Such a thing happened in Toronto with the duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Dwight Howard continues to evolve into a journeyman of epic proportions and will be suiting up for his fourth team in as many seasons. He’ll replace Marcin Gortat, a franchise mainstay for the past six seasons. Whether he, Wall and Beal can remain healthy is always a question, but if they manage to stay on the hardwood and out of the training room, this could be Washington’s best shot yet at playing late into May and possibly June.
Prediction: 47 wins, first round exit
Last season: 44-38, 1st in Southeast Division, lost in first round of playoffs
Key additions: None
Draft picks: None
Key losses: None
At the time of KSLSports.com’s NBA preview series, the Heat remain in a holding pattern and are reportedly still major contenders to land Minnesota’s disgruntled star, Jimmy Butler. If they manage to trade for Butler, the Heat will have something they haven’t had in a few years, a franchise player. That said they have several good to very good players in Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters.
Expect to see the Heat all over social media this season with Dwyane Wade’s announcement that this season will be his last. Whether he gets a Kobe Bryant-esque send off from across the league remains to be seen, but it’s charming and sentimental that his final year will be in a Heat uniform. However, for the Heat to really compete, they’ll need Whiteside to step up and play like the $25 million player per year that Miami paid for. That and landing Butler.
Prediction: 43 wins, first round exit
Last season: 36-46, 3rd in Southeast Division, missed playoffs
Key additions: James Borrego (head coach), Tony Parker, Bismack Biyombo, Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham
Draft picks: Miles Bridges (1st round, 12th overall, Michigan State (traded from LA Clippers)), Devonte’ Graham (2nd round, 34th overall, Kansas (traded from Atlanta)), Arnoldas Kulboka (2nd round, 55th overall, Italy)
Key losses: Steve Clifford (head coach), Dwight Howard, Michael Carter-Williams
It must be difficult to play for Hornets owner Michael Jordan. It must be even more difficult to play for Michael Jordan and miss the playoffs as the Hornets did last season. The problem for Charlotte is that they can’t seem to field decent help for All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who again had a solid season, averaging 22.1 points per game. They tried to add help in the form of Dwight Howard, but that didn’t work out so well as he was traded to Brooklyn and then waived and signed by Washington this offseason.
If nothing else, the Hornets will have increased leadership in the locker room with the addition of longtime Spurs point guard Tony Parker. Chances are that the 36-year old won’t make a major impact on the floor, but the man is a winner and that will make a difference around a group of guys who frankly, aren’t. That said, until the Hornets can acquire a star who comes anywhere close to that of their owner’s, they’ll be stuck in the NBA’s most dreaded position: the middle of the road.
Prediction: 35 wins, miss playoffs
Last season: 25-57, 4th in Southeast Division, missed playoffs
Key additions: Steve Clifford (head coach), Jerian Grant, Jarell Martin, Timofey Mozgov
Draft picks: Mo Bamba (1st round, 6th overall, Texas), Melvin Frazier (2nd round, 35th overall, Tulane), Justin Jackson (2nd round, 43rd overall, Maryland (traded from Denver))
Key losses: Frank Vogel (head coach), Mario Hezonja, Bismack Biyombo, Shelvin Mack
This is a team that has lots of potential. It just probably won’t come together this season. It might not come together for a few years. Orlando drafted another big man with high hopes in Mo Bamba, who will join dunking sensation Aaron Gordon and the lanky and talented Jonathan Isaac. The Magic are hoping that will be a pretty formidable front line in a few years.
The problem for now is that that group is still raw and unproven. Aaron Gordon is by far the best player on the team and frankly that’s not going to be enough to compete with Eastern Conference powerhouses like Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia. He’s definitely a good player and his athleticism can be mesmerizing, but he’s not yet a star. But he could be still. Give these guys some time. It’s another rebuild in the post-Dwight Howard era.
Prediction: 25-57, miss playoffs
Last season: 24-58, last in Southeast Division, missed playoffs
Key additions: Lloyd Pierce (head coach), Jeremy Lin, Justin Anderson, Alex Len, Vince Carter
Draft picks: Trae Young (1st round, 5th overall, Oklahoma), Kevin Huerter (1st round, 19th overall, Maryland), Omari Spellman (1st round, 30th overall, Villanova)
Key losses: Mike Budenholzer (head coach), Dennis Schroder, Mike Muscala
Remember that awesome Hawks team that won 60 games three years ago? Yeah, those days are over. The days of 60 or so losses are much more realistic for this team. Unless you have tickets to the courtside bar at the Hawks’ State Farm Arena, there may be few reasons to go root for Atlanta, who finished dead last in attendance last season.
Atlanta had three first round draft picks in this past draft, firmly placing all of them, most notably Trae Young, as the cornerstones of the franchise. Young has drawn comparisons to Steph Curry for his impressive ball-handling and deep scoring ability, but that might be an unfair comparison. If he reaches the Curry echelon, the Hawks will be in good shape but that will come or it won’t. Luckily, Atlanta will have solid veteran leadership in Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter to guide Young and the other youngsters through what could be a rough year in the ATL.
Prediction: 22-60, miss playoffs