NBA Season Outlook: Where We Stand - Southeast Division
Justin Fensterman breaks down the current standing of the Southeast Division and how he expects to the division to play out when the season resumes.
While we continue to wait on a ruling from the league, start getting used to the idea that your fantasy basketball season is likely over. Check out other articles about what you can do to divide up league prizes or even utilize the Playoffs (if we have them) to decide your league winner. If you’re a league Commissioner, have multiple plans ready and don’t leave it as an open-ended discussion because everyone will complain and nobody will be happy. Have options ready that you think are as fair as possible and then present a league vote on which works better for prize distribution. As the Commissioner, you also have the right to give a ruling on the league. Be the leader! Here is where we stand in the Southeast Division in the NBA.
MIAMI HEAT (41-24, 4th In the Eastern Conference)
It has been a year of growth for the Heat. They took a chance on Jimmy Butler ’s bad reputation coming out of Philadelphia and it most certainly paid off. Early on in the season, Butler was missing games and while he was out, it gave room for rookie Kendrick Nunn . Nunn stood out at the beginning of the season showing his excellent speed and scoring ability. He keeps the offense moving, and it’s allowed oft-injured Goran Dragic to come off the bench. Nunn isn’t as much of a playmaker as Dragic, but he’s been very successful getting to the basket. Despite his claims that he should win Rookie Of The Year because the Heat have a better record than Memphis, (which is idiotic because both are Playoff bound) he helped out a ton early on before Butler returned. Nunn has scored 15.6 points per game. Butler leads the Heat in scoring, assists and steals and he has been a huge reason why the Heat are a 40-plus win team.
The Heat have also benefitted from a tremendous breakout season from Bam Adebayo . Adebayo has averaged a double-double and he has tremendous ball-handling skills. He’s been one of the most impressive centers this season and he should win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The Heat have another good building block in Tyler Herro even though he’s been battling injuries. Other role players such as Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson have also been helpful. Robinson shoots a lot of three-pointers. The Heat traded away Justise Winslow (who was dealing with a back injury) and got Andre Iguodala , who had sat out all season up until the Heat acquired him. He looked out of shape and out of place on the Heat and he’ll need to shake more rust off leading into the Playoffs. The Heat have depth in Dragic and Jae Crowder , but that hasn’t solved their issues winning on the road. They have been dominant at home, but their inability to win on the road has been disheartening. If the NBA returns with no fans present, that could benefit teams like the Heat and the Sixers. If the NBA goes right to the playoffs, the Heat will host Indiana. The Heat have beaten the Pacers both times they met up, but the Pacers have a lot of depth. This series could be a six or seven game series, but neither one will be able to stop Milwaukee. They have been a fun team to watch and if they survive Indiana, they will make the Bucks run. Tyler Herro ’s health isn’t a game-changer when it comes to surviving in the playoffs, but they can use as much help as they can get.
ORLANDO MAGIC (30-35, 8th In the Eastern Conference)
The Magic would slide right into the final playoff spot if the regular season is in fact over and they won’t match up too well versus Milwaukee especially without one of their key pieces in Jonathan Isaac . Could Isaac theoretically return? Maybe! It’s a major risk because he was so strong at the beginning of the season and the Magic will want to protect their key asset. Isaac’s aggressiveness in the mid-court, makes him an excellent building block. Isaac played in just 32 games, but he blocked 2.4 shots per contest. He is one of the strongest mid-range players in the game on both sides of the ball. The Magic are pretty top-heavy for the most part which is another reason they don’t match up well against Milwaukee, but Terrence Ross (the team’s third leading scorer) has been excellent off the bench and he was their go-to bench scorer all season. Last season, the Magic took a small risk when they traded for former first overall pick Markelle Fultz and he’s thrived in Orlando. When I spoke to Magic Executive Pat Williams (Yes, the guy who was present when the Magic won the Shaq and Chris Webber lottery’s), he expressed so much excitement in the organization getting Fultz and he’s been able to remain healthy and he’s been productive unlike in Philadelphia. He leads the team in assists and steals and he’s figured things out with his shot. He’s shooting 47.3 percent from the field this year and he’s not forcing up shots. Fultz is still a weak three-point shooter, but he doesn’t have to shoot them much because the Magic have a lot of other players that can bury three’s. Fultz game is his driving ability.
Evan Fournier was dealing with a sprained UCL when play was halted and the Magic will need him back in the lineup for his shooting ability. When Isaac went down, Aaron Gordon started playing more power forward and that suits him better than playing at small forward. Gordon needs room to create and drive and can’t have the lane closed down on him. At the start of the season, he wasn’t rebounding because he wasn’t in position to grab a lot of boards and he was relegated to the arc. That’s not his game! Once Isaac got hurt, Gordon returned to normal form. The Magic have pieces, but they just don’t have enough depth to beat the Bucks even though they are a fun team to watch. Nikola Vucevic leads the team in scoring and rebounding. He’s grabbed 11 rebounds per game and he even makes 1.5 three-pointers per outing. There isn’t a more difficult team to battle in a series against than Milwaukee and without Jonathan Isaac and other big men to contain Giannis Antetokounmpo , the Bucks could sweep Orlando in the opening round.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (24-40, 9th in the Eastern Conference)
There is clearly a bit of space between the eighth and ninth seeded teams and if the NBA skips the rest of the regular season, the Wizards will end the season on the outside looking into the playoff picture and it’s truly a shocker that they have been able to win 24 games with all of the injuries they have faced. They don’t have a single player on the roster that was able to be active for every game this season. Bradley Beal ranks second in the league in scoring as he’s one of two players to score 30 or more points per game, scoring 30.5 points per game. James Harden is the other, scoring 34.4 points per game. The Wizards are committed to continuing to build around Bradley Beal . Beal’s running mate in the backcourt John Wall hasn’t played a game this season as he continues to rehab his Achilles. The Wizards are another team that is getting closer to competing, but they need a few swing-men added as Bradley Beal noted in reports recently.
Rookie Rui Hachimura has been everything as advertised. He’s a hard worker on and off the court and even though he dealt with injuries of his own, he was still able to score 13.4 points and grab six rebounds per game. He’ll develop into a dual-threat in the post on both sides of the ball. As stated above, injuries really hampered this team all season. There were points when their lineup was unrecognizable. Thomas Bryant played in just 38 games and Hachimura played in 41 games. Another player that has stood out for this squad has been Davis Bertans . He’s shot 42.4 percent from the arc and has been one of the best floor-stretchers in the league this season. They should look to retain Bertans in the offseason. He has been able to play multiple positions and he can help Troy Brown on the wing. Speaking of Brown, despite being one of two Wizards to suit up for at least 60 games this year, it’s still hard to pinpoint his strengths on offense, but he did steal 1.2 balls per game. He’s getting better with more playing time. One of the most impressive lesser-known players this year has been Shabazz Napier and the Wizards should look to keep him on the cheap because who knows what will happen with John Wall ’s health. Having Napier as a change of pace guard off the bench will benefit this team and get them moving up and down the court quicker than they currently are. Having the speed of Wall and Napier will keep opposing backcourts constantly moving around on defense.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS (23-42, 10th in the Eastern Conference)
I’m not as positive about the Hornets future. The Terry Rozier signing seems meaningless after seeing how impressive Devonte’ Graham has been. Although they have proven that they can play nice-nice together in the backcourt. Luckily for them, Rozier has just two years left on his contract. Rozier and Graham’s scoring stats are identical with Graham having the edge on dishing dimes as he’s contributed seven per game. They need major help building a frontcourt. Cody Zeller can’t do it all by himself and Miles Bridges has been improving, but he also needs help in the post. Bridges has been able to score 13 points per game, but he needs to build up more muscle in the offseason so he can bang with the big boys in the post. The Hornets have been hampered by bad contracts such as Nicolas Batum , Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ’s deals.
P.J. Washington showed early on that he has the ability to hit shots from long-range and he has shot 37 percent from distance. Opposing big men started putting more pressure on him and he had to get rid of the ball and Bridges was forced to shoot more early on. Zeller has had a pretty good season but he would be better suited as a back up center and clearly the Hornets believe that as well because even though they didn’t have many other options to relieve him, he only played 23.1 minutes per game. The big question for the Hornets is whether or not they’ll be able to draw in a big man. They could look to pay big money for Andre Drummond if they want him to be the lone target because whichever team signs up (if he opts out of his current deal) will have to pay close to maximum money to get him. Malik Monk was able to produce at times but then but he hasn’t proven that he could do much else besides score. A lot of these smaller pieces the Hornets haven’t proven themselves as much. I give Monk a small pass because the offense is mainly handled by the guards in front of him on the depth chart, and even if he plays thee off-guard role to Graham when on the court, Graham will be looking to shoot for the most part.
ATLANTA HAWKS (20-47, 14th in the Eastern Conference)
I’m VERY excited to see the Hawks play next season. The season was impacted negatively for them after John Collins was suspended for 25 games early on. As we all though he would, Trae Young handled most of the offense by himself and has scored 29.6 points per game while still dishing 9.3 dimes and grabbing 1.1 steals per game. Looking at next season, the Hawks have a lot of encouraging pieces as they will have Young, Collins and good shooters and wing players between Kevin Huerter , Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. All three have shown potential on both sides of the ball. Reddish was a horrible shooter for most of the first half of the season and Hunter was having trouble getting shots when on the floor. By the second half of the season, Hunter started getting more shots from the arc, Reddish showed his ability to drive with the ball and improved his long-range shooting a bit and Huerter showed his ability to be a strong defender at the arc and his ability to run the point.
The Hawks made an incredible move trading for Clint Capela , who was averaging over 13 points and 13 boards per game and even though we didn’t get to see Capela share the court with Collins due to being injured, it will be very exciting and they will be able to co-exist because Capela will hang on the low block and Collins will start his attack at the elbow. They will be able to stay out of each other’s way and unlike in Houston, the Hawks have back-ups that spell Capela a bit to preserve his health. Dewayne Dedmon can help stretch the floor with his shooting and Bruno Fernando has growing room as well. They could look to retain Damian Jones as well to help their depth. They may want to retain the injured Skal Labissiere to help Collins out on the elbow for a few minutes each game. Hunter can also help out at PF for a few minutes and let’s not forget that they could look to retain DeAndre' Bembry who was a hound on defense on the perimeter. The Hawks have a nice roster composition and if the players can stay healthier and not get suspended, they will compete for a playoff spot. Finally, a big reason why this team was fun to watch was because it was Vince Carter ’s final season. I wish that he would continue to play because he showed that he can still shoot and drive and it’s unfortunate that his final season of an amazing career spanning four decades has to end with him getting cut off. ONE MORE YEAR! Carter is the final player who is still active who was active in the 1990’s. I doubt he returns, but it would be a great gift to see him play another year. The NBA will miss him!