Today we preview the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. Stats and background courtesy of: ESPN; The Athletic; Yahoo, The Ringer and other sports sites but the predictions and “takes” are ours alone.
The Hawks finished 29-53 last year, last in the South east. They only return 6 players-incorporating a number of new arrivals including draft picks: DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bruno Fernando plus a number of free agents. We expect a starting line-up of: Trae Young; Kevin Huerter; DeAndre Hunter (#4 pick in the draft/defensive specialist); John Collins (potential all star) and Alex Len. The bench contributors should include: Evan Turner; Allen Crabbe (69% of his shots are 3’s and he hits 39% of them); Cam Reddish (not a great one and done year at Duke but he was injured); Jabari Parker (instant offense but lack defensive liability-ask the Bucks) and Damian Jones (former Warrior). Look for Collins to play some crunch time center- he only played 13% of his minutes at the 5 last year, the team was bottom 5% defensively but top 10% offensively with that line-up so adding the defense of Hunter and perhaps Reddish will be key. Reddish must also be able to hit 3’s on second unit as Turner, Parker and Jones cannot. The Hawks are 24th on the Athletics power rankings. Brian thinks this is a team on the rise with a lot of young talent which should win 36 games, but they are one year away from the playoffs in the woeful Eastern Conference..
The Hornets were 39-43 last year, tied for second in the South East, missed playoffs by 2 games. The Hornets are rebuilding as their best player (Kemba Walker) and Jeremy Lamb both left in free agency. We expect their starting line-up to include: Terry Rozier (arrived from Boston in Kemba deal); Dwayne Bacon (FSU alum who started the last 13 games last season); Nick Batum (must score more without Walker and Lamb); Miles Bridges (best player but needs to work on his defense) and the finally healthy Cody Zeller. Walker, who signed a $141MM deal with Boston, was the identity of the Hornets (8 years with the team), he is simply not replaceable and Rozier knows not to try. Likely Hornets bench mob to include: Devonte Graham; Malik Monk (added 23 lbs. of muscle); one or both of the rookie Martin twins from Nevada; rookie PJ Washington from Kentucky; Marvin Williams (15th year in NBA, mentoring the young big men) and Bismack Biyombo. On offense the focus is on ball movement. On defense the focus is on transition and protecting the basket. The Athletic has them 30th in power ranking. Bri say 15 wins for the rebuilding/play the young guys Hornets.
The Heat tied the Hornets last year at 39-43. Their big offseason news was the acquisition of “alpha dog” wing Jimmy Butler in free agency. Pat Riley (team President) and coach Erik Spoelstra (12th season) want to win now with their “gritty culture” but this roster confuses us.. Likely starters include: Goran Dragic ($19MM salary); Dion Waiters (looks to be in good shape/good shooter); Butler; Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo although they may go with the more athletic/versatile Justice Winslow (who played some point guard last year) instead of Olynyk (knee injury). Bench will likely include: Kendrick Nunn; rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro; Derrick Jones Jr; Duncan Robinson; and Meyers Leonard (from Portland). Watch this roster through the first half of the season as the Heat are the team most often mentioned as a landing spot for point guard Chris Paul when/if the Thunder decide to move on from him (hard to do given his massive salary). The Athletic has the Heat as a playoff team, 15th in their power ranking. Bri says 45 wins good for 5th in the East.
The Magic were the only South East Division team to make the playoffs last year-finished 42-40 (7th seed), lost in 5 games to eventual NBA champion Raptors. While the Hawks only returned 6 players from last season, the Magic are team continuity with 13 returnees (plus entire coaching staff). The Magic finished last regular season on a 22-9 run so why not keep it rolling. We expect starters to include: DJ Augustin; Evan Fournier; Aaron Gordon (potential all star); Jonathan Isaac (FSU alum) and All Star center Nic Vucevic (signed 4 year deal in off season). The bench will include: Markelle Fulz (first pick in 2017 draft by Philly who has been working on his shot (to remove the hitch)); Terence Ross (super sub who signed 4 year deal); Iwundu; Al Farouq Aminu (arrived from Portland) and Mo Bamba (gained 15 lbs. of muscle after being out at the end of last year with a left shin issue). Draft pick Chuma Okeke from Auburn will likely start in the G league while rehabbing his knee injury. The Athletic has the Magic as 17th in power ranking. We like this mix of young and old and love Steve Clifford as coach-gets the team to play defense and John Hammond in the front office (drafted Giannis for the Bucks). Bri says 43 wins for the 2019-20 Magic good for 7th seed (again).
The Wiz finished 32-50 last season, 4th in the South east. With former all star John Wall out for the entire season with injury we expect the Wiz to start: Ish Smith (came over from Detroit on 2 year $12MM deal); Brad Beal (clearly the best player who has not signed his contract extension and may be traded at the deadline with 1.5 years left on his contract); Troy Brown; rookie Rui Hachimura and center Thomas Bryant (3 year $28MM deal this summer). Subs should include: Isiah Thomas (fighting a thumb injury but should get a nice chance to shine); Isaac Bonga; Justin Anderson; Davis Bertans (sharpshooter from Spurs) and Ian Mahinmi (terrible contract). Others who may play due to injury include: Justin Robinson; Phil Booth; Jordan Macrae; Jemerio Jones; rookie Admiral Scofield and Mo Wagner (former Laker). Great stat-if Beal would sign his extension, he and Wall would make up 80% of the salary cap. Net, this team is in big trouble-good luck to new GM Tommy Shepard. The Athletic has the Wizards 28th in power ranking. Vegas predicts 27 wins. Bri says 18 wins for the Wizards with Beal traded at the deadline.