A Way Too Early Ranking of the Southeast Division

When the clock struck midnight on July 1, 2016, we were introduced to a new era of NBA Free Agency. Players deservingly, and some undeservingly, signed eight and nine figure deals with the new salary cap skyrocketing making it feel like a frantic scene out of Wolf of Wall Street rather than your standard free agency period.

Now that the storm has passed and all of the major signings are complete, lets look at how the teams stack up in the Southeast Division. And specifically, do the Wizards have a shot at winning the division this season with their new acquisitions?

1. Charlotte Hornets

Key Signings – Nicolas Batum (Re-signed), Marvin Williams (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee

Jeremy Lin had arguably his best and most consistent season since his “Linsanity” season in 2012 as he averaged 10.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists coming off of the bench. Those numbers soared to 17.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in his 13 games as a starter. After playing in just 28 games with the Hornets, Courtney Lee opted to walk and sign with the Knicks this offseason. His numbers won’t blow you away however Lee averaged 8.9 points on 44.5 percent shooting in his brief Charlotte stint. He is a solid 3-D guy who defends the perimeter well and can score without his number being called a ton. The Hornets will miss this duo however they seem confident some combination of Walker, Lamb, Sessions, and Roberts will be able to fill the void left by Lin and Lee.

With that said, the Hornets kept their key players of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist intact while they continue to groom their younger guys in Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, and Frank Kaminsky. Couple that as they now have serviceable veterans such as Brian Roberts and Ramon Sessions. Suddenly, the Hornets have a stable of guards that they can mix and match based on the flow of the game.

The Hornets were the seventh best three-pointing shooting team in the NBA connecting 36.2 percent of their three pointers last season. Don’t expect that to change much as three of their top three-point shooters in Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Frank Kaminsky all return.

Lastly, Kemba Walker is due for a breakout season. He averaged 20.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists last season and had moments of super-stardom highlighted by a 52 point outburst against the Jazz last season. It’s been documented that Walker has a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed from last year’s All-Star game and is on the verge of breaking out as one of the top guards in the NBA. Don’t be surprised if it happens as he enters his sixth NBA season. 

The Hornets went 48-34 last season earning them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Expect them to build on that momentum. No Crying Jordan meme here.

2. Miami Heat

Key Signings – Hassan Whiteside (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson

Outside of the Hawks (which we’ll get to later), the Heat took the second biggest hit in free agency losing a once-thought face-of-the-franchise player in Dwayne Wade as well as key guys in Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. With that said, the Heat still have a very solid core intact with Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and second-year player Justise Winslow.

The wildcard here is Chris Bosh. He has experienced blood clots over the past two seasons that have limited him to playing in just 44 and 53 games respectively. If Bosh is cleared medically to play, that’s enough to bump the Heat up to the #1 spot as the team to beat in the Southeastern Division.

The Heat will still be a team to be reckoned with out east and should comfortably make the playoffs. It’s just hard to downplay losing a player that was once the face of the franchise and potentially losing Bosh for parts if not all of the season.

3. Washington Wizards

Key Signings – Bradley Beal (Re-signed), Ian Mahinmi

Key Losses – Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Nene

Like the Hornets, the Wizards kept their core intact by signing Bradley Beal and keeping all five members of their starting five. In addition, the Wizards got a bit younger and more athletic off the bench by adding Andrew Nicholson and Ian Mahinmi.

The main question is, how will this team adapt to their third system in as many years while welcoming a new coaching staff? Mainly, will they buy in on the defensive end? It’s no secret that the Wizards fell off last season, finishing 13th in Defensive Efficiency.

The Wizards also allowed their opponents to shoot 46.2 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range; ranking them in the bottom third of the league. Clearly, the Wizards must buy in on the defensive end if they are going to put this past season’s failures in the rearview mirror.

Obviously they can’t control this, but the injury bug hit the Wizards hard last season. Bradley Beal played in just 55 games this past season while Kris Humphries, Gary Neal, and Alan Anderson; guys thought to be key contributors to the team appeared in just 28, 40, and 13 games respectively.

It’s clear that the Wizards needed a new voice as the team began zoning out Randy Wittman midway through the season. If the Wizards buy in on the defensive end and can stay relatively healthy, there’s no reason why they can’t jump ahead of Charlotte and Miami and shoot up to the top spot in the wide-open Southeastern Division.

4. Atlanta Hawks

Key Signings – Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Al Horford, Jeff Teague

Of all of the teams in the Southeast Division and maybe even the Eastern Conference, I think the Hawks will take the biggest step back this year. This offseason, arguably their two best players in Al Horford and Jeff Teague left the team for greener pastures. The team responded by handing the keys over Dennis Schröder and acquiring the often disgruntled Dwight Howard.

Although still effective, key players such as Paul Milsap and Kyle Korver are getting older. Korver played in 80 games last season but averaged just 9.2 points per game and shot 39.9 percent from three-point range; his lowest outputs since arriving in Atlanta. Outside of Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jarrett Jack round out the team’s guard depth. If the younger Hardaway Jr. can take over some of the scoring load, then that could potentially soften the blow for the Hawks, who finished 18th in Offensive Efficiency last season.

At the power forward position, things are even worse. Outside of Millsap, Kris Humphries and Mike Muscala are the only other power forwards on the roster. That’s a significant drop off from the starter to reserve spot.

On top of all that, the Hawks will now be counting on Kent Bazemore to carry the load offensively with his new 4-year $70 million dollar a year deal. That puts enormous pressure on a guy who was the fourth or fifth option on offense last year and averaged just 11.6 points per game.

The Hawks are trying to replace two of their best players, plug in a player who isn’t the easiest to get along with, and are counting on a new guy to carry the torch for this franchise moving forward. I can’t see all of that coming together in one year.

Expect a drop-off from the Hawks and don’t be surprised if they miss the playoffs altogether.

5. Orlando Magic

Key Signings – Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier (Re-signed), Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin

Key Losses – Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson.

The Magic lost arguably their best player and once thought, face-of-the-franchise player in Victor Oladipo in a trade to the Thunder for Serge Ibaka. The dynamic Oladipo averaged 16 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists last year for the Magic but he never seemed to jell with Elfrid Payton. Evan Fournier will be plugged in to fill that scoring void. 

I’m in the camp that feels Serge Ibaka’s stats were inflated because he was playing alongside two All-Stars for the beginning of his career. Now, he’ll be counted on to take on more of a leadership role as he’s entering his eighth season. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points this past season, his lowest since 2012. Ibaka will definitely get more shots now that he’s not playing alongside Durant and Westbrook however the defense will be paying more attention to him too. Ibaka can’t disappear like he did during the San Antonio series if the Magic are going to take the next step.

Bismack Biyombo’s stock was sky-high once he was inserted into the starting lineup of the Miami series when Jonas Valanciunas went down with injury. Biyombo averaged 6.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during the Miami series and that increased during the Eastern Conference Finals where he averaged 6.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, to go along with 1.8 blocks.

He cashed in and rightfully so. Only thing is, he’s not a scorer and it’s likely that he’ll be frequently paired up with Aaron Gordon. Both are athletic and good rebounders but neither of the big guys flourishes on the offensive end unless it’s a dunk. As a result, I don’t see the Biyombo signing having a significant impact on this team.

The Jeff Green signing doesn’t make a ton of sense as the oft-injured player is currently the only true small forward on the roster and will likely be forced into the starting five at some point or another. To salvage the somewhat head-scratching deal, the Magic signed the quick and speedy D.J. Augustin to play the backup point guard position on a relatively cheap deal, though he won’t move the needle much.

The Magic are heading in the right direction. They are signing young and effective players while still keeping most of their key guys around. On top of that, they hired Frank Vogel. Just like the Hawks, the Magic will be plugging in new guys in key roles on top of getting used to a new coaching staff.

The arrow is pointing up for this team; I just think they’re still a year or two away from making the playoffs.

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Final Score Wiz at Magic: 105-99, Wiz Sweep Season Series

If only the Wizards could play the Magic every night.

The Wizards beat the Magic 105-99 sweeping the season series as the Wizards get back in the win column. Six Wizards players scored in double figures tonight led by John Wall with a game-high 24, Jared Dudley, Otto Porter, and Gary Nealwith 16 apiece, and Marcin Gortat and Garrett Temple chipping in with 12 and 11 points respectively.

The Wizards started out hot from the field shooting 58 percent in the first quarter and really looked engaged on the defensive end forcing six steals early.

The confidence that the Wizards have when playing the Magic carried over into the second quarter as John Wall and Otto Porter knocked down back-to-back threes right in front of the Wizards bench stretching the lead to 12, 40-28 midway through the second quarter.

With the second quarter coming to a close and the Wizards looking to get the last shot, Marcin Gortat found Gary Neal for a three-pointer as the first half expired as the Wizards took a 60-49 lead into halftime.

The Wizards coasted through the beginning of the third quarter stretching the lead to 17, their largest of the game, when John Wall found Otto Porter in the corner for a three. The Wizards offense started to stall a bit but that’s when Gary Neal did most of his damage knocking down shots and keeping the Wizards at a comfortable double-digit lead.

With just seconds to play in the third, John Wall took the ball the length of the court and hit a 20-foot left-handed floater as time expired. The shot stretched the Wizards lead back out to 15, 85-70.

Things got a little close for comfort but the Magic never got closer than six in the fourth quarter. John Wall put this game away when he knocked down a three-pointer from Steph Curry’s range with 2:35 to play to balloon the Wizards lead to 13.

That would be the nail in the coffin as the Wizards beat the Magic 105-99 and complete the season sweep.

Wizards let it fly from 3: The Wizards shot a very impressive 57 percent (13-23) from three-point range for the game and 58 percent in the first half including a buzzer beater from Gary Neal as time expired. The Wizards’ three-pointers came in a variety of ways; Pick-and-Pops with Dudley, Gary Neal curling off screens, and Wall finding open shooters in their spots. More importantly, the Wizards’ hit timely threes throughout the game, many of which coming at times when Orlando was clawing into the lead.

Wizards convert turnovers into points: The Wizards were very impressive on the defense end with seven steals in the first half, and 10 for the game. The Wizards turned those seven first-half steals into 15 points, 12 of which coming in transition highlighted by Wall going around the world for this layup:

The Wizards picked up in the third quarter right where they left off as John Wall poked away a cross-court pass and Porter threw a touchdown pass to a wide-open Wall for an easy dunk to start the third. For the game, the Wizards forced 15 Magic turnovers resulting in 20 points.

Wizards spread the wealth: Since this team is short-handed, everyone has to step up and every player did. Six players scored in double figures tonight. The Wizards had 29 assists on 42 made field goals (69 percent) including five players who had 3+ assists tonight. Gary Neal was instant offense off the bench scoring 16 points on 7-12 shooting with some key buckets coming early in the second and midway through the third quarter. Lastly, it won’t show in the box score but Kelly Oubre Jr. played very well in just 15 minutes of play. Although the rookie didn’t score, he was very active on defense and had no issue switching onto smaller guards. Oubre had several deflections as his length really came into play tonight.

Wizards vs. Magic final score: Wizards use late run to pull away from Magic, 108-99

Kris Humphries led the Wizards in scoring with 23 points including 5-8 from three-point range as the Wizards beat theMagic 108-99; their tenth straight win over Orlando. Garrett Temple got the start for the injured Bradley Beal and scored 18 points. John Wall and Marcin Gortat chipped in with 15 and 13 points respectively as the Wizards were able to pull away late.

The matchup between Nikola Vucevic and Marcin Gortat was fun to watch as Vucevic scored 10 points on 5-7 shooting early on. Even though the Magic started the game connecting on their first 10-12 field goals, the Wizards fought back into this one and got hot from three-point land knocking down 5-9 shots from long range in the first quarter and led 29-27 after one.

Kelly Oubre Jr. saw some early playing time and opened the second quarter with a strong drive in transition. Unfortunately for the rookie, he picked up three fouls in just four minutes of play and was forced back to the bench.

Humphries wasn’t shy from three-point range to start this one but passed on a wide-open three to drive to the hole for a dunk, tying the game at 37 midway through the second quarter. The Wizards’ did a great job spreading the ball around in the first half as all 10 players who played scored; but the Magic held a 56-50 lead on 47 percent shooting the first half.

Whatever Randy Wittman said to the team at halftime worked. The Wizards started the quarter on a 10-2 run including this very slick pass from John Wall to Garrett Temple for an easy bucket in transition.

Kris Humphries knocked down a straightaway three as the Wizards regained the lead 63-60 at the 8:20 mark. The Wizards were able to control the third quarter ending it on a 13-2 run. In one of their most impressive quarters in recent memory, the Wizards held Orlando to 37 percent shooting and the team collectively had 10 assists but the Wiz led by just 3, 79-76 entering the fourth quarter.

The lead seesawed back and forth throughout the fourth quarter. Whenever it looked like the Wizards might run away, Orlando had an answer. Timely buckets from Tobias Harris and Elfrid Payton kept the Magic within striking distance.

The Wiz regained the lead late in the fourth quarter when Wall found Humphries on the right side for a wide open three as Wizards regained the lead 92-90 with just 4:30 to play. The Wizards used an 8-0 run including another big three-pointer from Kris Humphries as the Wizards stretched the lead to 5, 104-99. John Wall locked down on defense turning the Magic over and they had no other option but to foul Wall on a clear path foul.

The Wizards close this one out and win, 108-99. The win snaps the team’s mini three game skid.

Career highs all around: Plenty of career highs tonight. Kris Humphries knocked down a career high five three pointers on 5-8 shooting from distance. Garrett Temple matched his career high of 18 points on a very effective 5-10 shooting. And lastly, Otto Porter tied his career high with 10 rebounds tonight.

Wiz spread the wealth: All 10 Wizards players scored tonight. The bench chipped in for 30 points led by Nene with nine points and Gary Neal with seven. Oh… And the Wizards had 29 assists on 39 (74 percent) of their made field goals. That’s damn good folks.

Wizards vs. Magic final score: Washington sneaks out of Orlando with 88-87 win

Basketball is a game of inches right?

As expected in an opener, both teams looked jittery from the get-go. The Wizards turned the ball over on their first three possessions and the two teams combined to shoot 2-8 from the field to start this one. John Wall knocked the cobwebs off for the Wizards as he hit a three pointer for the team’s first bucket of the season. The Wizards new highflying offense knocked down their next five shots to storm out to an early 18-9 lead.

The Magic answered with a mini-run of their own punctuated by a monstrous put-back dunk by Aaron Gordon to trim the lead down to three. The game started loosening up as the teams traded easy buckets and three pointers towards the end of the quarter. It was starting to look like both teams would crack 110 points tonight.

In a pre-Halloween scare, Bradley Beal went up for a floater and landed very hard on the floor. Beal would lie still on the hardwood for a few moments but would end up being ok. Even with the scare, the Wizards led 31-29 after one with Wall and Beal combining for 20 points in the period.

Elfrid Payton hit a pull-up jumper at the 10:30 mark to start the second quarter as the Magic took back the lead, 35-33. Shots weren’t falling for the Wizards’ run-and-gun offense to start the second quarter; and the super small lineup of Wall, Sessions, and Neal in the backcourt looks like it will take some time to click.

The Wizards got some help off the bench from microwave scorer Gary Neal who got cooking right away as he knocked down 3 of his first 4 shots to provide a bit of a scoring spark for the Wizards as they regained the lead 44-43 at the 5-minute mark.

Even though the Wizards relinquished a whopping 26 points in the paint, they still held the lead 53-51 at halftime.

Like the start of the game, the Wizards started the second half on a 6-0 run looking like they would stretch the lead to double figures. Not so fast. The Wizards offense reverted back to the one we got used to seeing post All-Star break last season. Bad shots, unforced turnovers, it was all on display as the Wizards would shoot 4-17 for the third quarter. Fortunately, The Magic’s offense wasn’t much better as they only outscored the Wizards 16-12 in the quarter but held the lead, 67-65 entering the fourth quarter.

The Magic’s momentum carried over into the fourth quarter as they stretched the lead out to 78-70 on a scrappy putback layup from Victor Oladipo. The Wizards kept clawing away and the tied the game at 78 when John Wall stole a lazy pass from Oladipo and took it the length of the court for his patented behind the back layup.

Wall and Beal carried the Wiz in the fourth quarter scoring 19 of the team’s 23 points, none bigger than when John Wall came off a Gortat screen floated to the open space in paint and knocked down a teardrop to give the Wizards an 88-87 lead with just 12 seconds to play.

The drama was far from over. The Magic had one last chance to take the lead on a final shot which bounced around and sat still on the rim for what seemed like five minutes before Bradley Beal knocked it away. Beal was called for goaltending but after review, the refs determined the ball was out of the cylinder.

The refs gave the ball back to the Magic who found Nikola Vucevic for a desperation shot but it was way off. What a way to start the season. The Wizards sneak out of Orlando with the W, 88-87.

Notes: After starting 5-7 from three-point range, the Wizards shot 2-21 from long range for the remainder of the game. The Wizards were aggressive in attacking the hole and getting to the free-throw line, but were only able to make 15-25 from the charity stripe. The Wizards go to Milwaukee next where they’ll take on the Bucks Friday night.

Recap: Magic at Wizards

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Wiz blow out another inferior opponent in the Magic 96-80 behind 15 points from Rasual Butler off the bench. Once again, John Wall barely missed a triple-double posting a stat line of 9 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists. In addition to Butler; Gooden, Gortat, and Nene all scored in double figures in a balanced effort from this team.

The Wizards bigs got involved right from the get go. Gortat hit a floater to start the game and Nene was very active swooping to the lane looking to attack the rim. The Wizards pushed the ball early resulting in some easy buckets and 17 transition points for the game.

Scary moment at the 27 second mark of the first quarter. Kris Humphries went up for a rebound and it looked like his leg got caught on Kyle O’Quinn’s. Kris was unable to break his fall and landed on his back, he would not return.

Both teams started quarter the second ice cold. The Wizards started 3-11 from the field whereas the Magic were 4-11. Unfortunately, turnovers reared their ugly head once again as the Wizards committed their 11th midway through the second quarter and had 20 overall. Against teams like the Magic and the Nets, you can get away with this. Turnovers were a huge issue during the losing streak and that must get cleaned up against the upper echelon teams.

As a result, the Wiz were just up eight, 43-35 at half.

Neither team hit a three pointer in the first half; the Magic were 0-11 and the Wizards went 0-7 from three point range. That changed quickly as the Wizards hit three three pointers in as many possessions from Wall, Temple, and Pierce. Slow starts to halves have plagued this team but these three pointers stretched the lead out to 15.

Gortat seems to be out of his funk which is a great sign. The Polish hammer had 14 points and 14 rebounds and really turned things on in the third quarter. Him and John got the pick and roll going again which led to easy dunks or drawing a foul while going up for a shot.

Once again, John went all “Skip to My Lou” when we threw a behind the back pass in transition for Nene who threw down a thunderous jam. The Wizards coasted the rest of the way and the Magic never got closer than 10. The Wiz win 96-80 in their last home game before the All Star break.