Tag Archives: Hassan Whiteside

2017-2018 Southeast Division Projections

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X-Washington Wizards 50-32 (2)

Three of the last four NBA seasons have seen the Washington Wizards reach the playoffs, but they have been unable to advance past the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Last season the Wizards won 49 games for their highest win total since the 1979 which was their last trip to the NBA Finals. The Wizards would give the Boston Celtics all that they could handle before they bowed out in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And although that we’ve heard this tune before, will the Wizards be able to take the next step in order to become a title contender?

Scott Brooks has one year under his belt as the head coach of the Wizards. And like any good coach, Brooks has been known to get most out of his players and then some. That was evident last season as under Brooks, Wizards point guard John Wall was able to take his game to the next level. Wall is a perennial All-Star point guard, but he became more of a scoring threat last season for Washington as he averaged a career-high 23.1 points to go along with 10.7 assists which was second in the NBA. Wall was also second in the NBA in steals as he averaged 2 per game and in the process he has become the complete point guard. At 27-years of age, Wall is in the prime of his career, and after he signed a contract extension with the Wizards over the summer, the future is bright for him in D.C.

Bradley Beal, John Wall

Wall’s tag-team partner in the Wizards back court is shooting guard Bradley Beal. But since the Wizards drafted Beal in 2012, the injury bug has gotten the best of him. Beal appeared in a career-high 77 games last season, and like Wall, he enjoyed the best campaign of his professional career. Beal is the perfect complimentary player to Wall as they give the Wizards one of the fastest back courts in the Eastern Conference. Both Beal and Wall have tremendous explosiveness in order to get to the basket which will once again make the Wizards a force.

In the Wizards front court they have some players that play with a bit of an edge. Center Marcin Gortat averaged a double-double for Washington last season, while at 6’11”, his size can be a menace at each end of the floor for opponents. Power forward Markieff Morris has always played with a chip on his shoulder throughout his six-year NBA career, while he provides the Wizards with a solid scorer in their front court that can knock down the mid-range shot as well as get physical on the boards. The Wizards will miss Morris’ production to begin the season as recovers from hernia surgery, but when he does return to the lineup the intensity for this team will increase.

Washington also has a pair of emerging players in their front court in the form of small forward Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre. The Wizards selected Porter with the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft and he is maturing into the player that he was expected to be when he entered the league. Porter’s numbers have increased in each of his seasons in the NBA. Porter is a slasher at the small forward position, and his versatility at each end of the court make him the poor man’s Paul George as it would not surprise me to see him in the mix to earn his first All-Star Game selection this season.

Oubre is set to begin his third NBA season. It was Oubre’s athleticism that got him to the NBA, but now he is developing the skill needed for him to be a consistent factor. Like Porter, Oubre is a slasher who should see more minutes playing alongside Wall and Beal in order to run the floor and be another threat in transition.

Last season the Wizards had what it took to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference, but will they be able to seize the moment in order to get past these clubs in the postseason?

Y-Miami Heat 42-40 (7)

The Miami Heat are coming off of a 41-41 season while they also failed to earn a playoff appearance for the second time in the last three years. However the Heat still have to be given credit for having a successful season. Miami began last season with a record of 11-30 as they were rapidly barreling to one of their worst campaigns in franchise history. But the Heat would rebound by winning 30 of their final 41 games to finish at .500, while missing out on the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot due to losing the tiebreaker to the Chicago Bulls. And as the Heat finished the 2016-2017 NBA season as one of the hottest teams in the league, will they be able to carry it over to the new campaign?

Heat team president Pat Riley is beginning his 22nd season with the franchise, and his time in South Beach has seen a commitment to winning. After the Heat lost small forward LeBron James in free agency in 2014, he nor anyone within the organization took the time to feel sorry for themselves, and instead have attempted to get this team back to being a championship contender. Miami attempted to expedite that process over the summer when they attempted to recruit small forward Gordon Hayward to South Beach. Hayward would ultimately opt to join the Boston Celtics which hindered Miami’s chances of being a title contender, but not their opportunity to make the playoffs.

Hassan Whiteside

For Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, he has one of the better centers in the NBA in Hassan Whiteside. Since joining the Heat in 2014, Whiteside has emerged into one of the better big men in the NBA. At 7’0″, 265 lbs., Whiteside has tremendous athleticism which led to him leading the NBA in rebounds last season at 14.1 per contest. Whiteside was not the force at the defensive end of the floor like he was during the 2015-2016 NBA season when he led the league in blocks with 3.7 per game, but his length can once again be a factor as long as he is able to remain out of foul trouble. Whiteside is still unpolished on offense, but he is developing into a decent perimeter scorer, while being a terror in the paint. Whiteside’s ability to rebound allows him to score consistently off of put backs, while he continues to develop his offensive repertoire in the post.

Goran Dragic

Point guard Goran Dragic is coming off of a season where he was able to tie a career-high by averaging 20.3 points. Dragic has always been an underrated player throughout his NBA career, but will he be able to become the leader that the Heat will need him to be in order to become a playoff team this season?

The Heat came out smelling like a rose when they signed guard Dion Waiters in the summer of 2016. Waiters earned less than $3 million last season, but he averaged 15.8 points per game and became a difference maker during the second half of the season. The Heat would re-sign Waiters this past summer and he’ll once again be an impact player in Miami. Waiters is a classic “tweener” as he is too big to be a point guard, and too small to be a shooting guard. But what Waiters brings to the table is that he is a gritty player that will do whatever it takes at end of the floor.

Small forward Justise Winslow was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Heat in 2015. Winslow is an emerging player for Miami, but his progression was derailed last season after he missed the majority of the campaign due to a torn labrum. Aside from Winslow, the Heat also have several other young players who they are high on in shooting guard Tyler Johnson and small forward Josh Richardson. The Heat shocked most basketball observers during the summer of 2016 when they gave Johnson a four-year deal for $50 million. But Johnson began to emerge for the Heat last season as he averaged 13.7 points per contest, while also being one of the team’s better perimeter shooters. Like Winslow, the Heat will need Richardson’s length and ability at each end of the floor on the perimeter as they look to make the playoffs.

Erik Spoelstra

Defense is always the name of the game for Spoelstra as Miami was fifth in the NBA in points allowed last season, while being 15th in rebounds. Miami should once again to difficult to score on this season; especially after they were able to sign center Kelly Olynk.

Collegiately for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Olynk was known more for his offensive game which led to him being the West Coast Conference’s Player of the Year in 2013. But since Olynk came to the NBA, he has developed a reputation as the defensive end of the floor. Olynk gives the Heat size coming off of the bench, and for a big man, he knows how to move up and down the floor.

The Heat will be a tough matchup for their opponents this season due to their size and athleticism. Dragic is a good point guard in transition and I can see Spoelstra opening up the offense more this season which should help Miami’s chances of making the playoffs.

Y-Charlotte Hornets 39-43 (8)

The best way to sum up the Charlotte Hornets is that they are consistently inconsistent. The Hornets made the NBA Playoffs in both 2014 and 2016, while missing out on the postseason in 2015 and 2017. Steve Clifford has been the head coach who has overseen the Hornets for the last four seasons, while general manager Rich Cho has been with the club since 2011. The combination of Cho and Clifford have been working to improve the Hornets roster in order to make them a consistent playoff team. And with the Eastern Conference not expected to be super competitive this season, will the Hornets be able to advantage of that in order to qualify to the playoffs?

Kemba Walker

Any potential success for the Hornets this season begins with point guard Kemba Walker. Walker has been with Charlotte since 2011, and in each NBA season his productivity has increased. Walker is an improving scorer and the same can be said about his court vision. To me Walker is the poor man’s Steph Curry as it does not take that much for him to get going in regards to being a dangerous scorer. Walker is coming off of the first All-Star Game selection of his NBA career, and his ability to be a long rage shooter as well as getting to the basket will once again make him a candidate to receive the honor once again this season.

During the off-season the Hornets were able to beef up their front court when they acquired center Dwight Howard from the Atlanta Hawks. During Howard’s 14-year NBA career, he has led the league in rebounds on five separate occasions, while also being a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Howard is 31-years of age, and although that he still has plenty left in the tank, what has plagued him throughout his career is the fact that he not been consistent at the offensive end of the floor. At this point it is what it is for Howard on offense, but if he can find a way to be a force at the defensive end of the floor, while also being able clean up on the boards, and playing off of Walker through pick and rolls as well as put backs, it’ll be a positive for the Hornets; especially since they were tied at 15th with the Miami Heat last season in rebounding.

Center Frank Kaminsky continues to be an improving bench player, while the return of small forward Nicolas Batum will be a welcome addition for the Hornets as he provides them with another quality facilitator.

The Hornets should be a competitive team all season long which will keep them in contention for a postseason berth.

Orlando Magic 35-47

The Orlando Magic have been swimming upstream in the Eastern Conference for far too long. The Magic have not made the NBA Playoffs since 2012, while they have not advanced past the first round since 2010. The Magic have been plagued for far too long by bad front office decisions which has included them missing on their first-round picks consistently. But as Frank Vogel is set to begin his second season as the head coach of the Magic, does he possess the necessary formula to get things turned around in Orlando?

Aaron Gordon

In 2014, the Magic used a first-round pick on power forward Aaron Gordon. Gordon quickly developed a reputation as far as being a dunker. But dunking the basketball alone won’t keep a player in the NBA for long and Gordon falls under that umbrella. However in each of Gordon’s three years in the NBA, his production has improved and he has the potential to be a breakout player for the Magic. Gordon is only 22-years of age and now he is beginning to add finesse to his athleticism.

Aside from Gordon, three more emerging players for the Magic are small forward Evan Fournier, center Nikola Vucevic and point guard Elfrid Payton. Fournier led the Magic in scoring last season at 17.2 per contest and he figures to be one of their better scoring options during this campaign. During the seven-year NBA career of Vucevic he has averaged just a shade under 10 rebounds per game at 9.9 per contest. Vucevic should once again be one of the better rebounders in the Eastern Conference which will benefit the Magic. Payton was selected in the first round by the Magic in 2014 and like Fournier, his production continues to increase. But in order for the Magic to cast their reputation of being an afterthought in the Eastern Conference Playoff race, Payton must become more assertive in regards to being a floor general. Payton was able to average 6.5 assists last season, but for the Magic to push for a postseason spot this time around, that number must improve to at least 8 per contest.

Frank Vogel

Throughout Vogel’s coaching career in the NBA, his teams have been solid at the defensive end of the floor. However Orlando was 22nd in the NBA last season in points allowed which is something that must changed if they are going to be a playoff team.

The Magic are still a young team and hopefully for their sake they will be able to take advantage of a weak Eastern Conference in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Atlanta Hawks 34-48

Very quietly each of the last 10 NBA seasons have seen the Atlanta Hawks reach the playoffs. But a big reason why the Hawks success has gone unnoticed is that they have never won a championship, more less a trip to the NBA Finals. Mike Budenholzer has four years under his belt as the head coach of the Hawks, and after he spent nearly two decades with the San Antonio Spurs as an assistant coach, he has brought some of those successful philosophies with him to Atlanta. The Spurs believe in ball movement as it more about the team than the individual, and as the Hawks have embraced this philosophy under Bundenholzer, it has led to plenty of regular season success. But the 2017-2018 NBA season will prove to be the toughest that Budenholzer has had to endure so far with the Hawks.

Three of the Hawks top scorers from last season are no longer with the team which includes power forward Paul Millsap who was the team’s leading scorer and center Dwight Howard who led the club in rebounds. And with the departure of so many key players, the keys to the Hawks franchise have now been handed over to point guard Dennis Schroder.

Dennis Schroder

Schroder was the Hawks first round pick in 2013, and it is now his time to be the guy. Schroder has always possessed explosiveness at the point guard position and now it is time for him to develop some leadership. Schroder has the ability to penetrate a defense in order to get to the basket, but it is up to him to now improve the players around him on the Hawks better by becoming a better facilitator.

But unfortunately for the Hawks, the talent pool around Schroder is not that deep. Schroder should enjoy a career year, but the lack of talent in Atlanta will more than likely result in this team missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2007.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Feel The Heat

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After the first 41 games of this NBA season for the Miami Heat, they appeared to be headed for one of their worst campaigns in franchise history. The Heat were 11-30 and they were barreling towards having one of the top picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. The Heat’s roster is comprised of youngsters and relative unknowns who appeared to not have the ability to cut it at this level. But what has happened for the Heat since then has been downright magical.

The Heat would go on to win their next 13 games which included a victory over the Golden State Warriors who are the defending Western Conference Champions. And even after Miami’s 13-game winning streak, they have yet to slow down as they’ve gone 20-4 since their dreadful start. And now the Heat are just a .5-game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with nearly a month remaining in the regular season.

Erik Spoelstra

The coaching job that has been done by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra cannot be overlooked. In 2012 and 2013, Spoelstra led the Heat to the NBA Championship, but he never got the credit that he deserved due to the fact that Miami had small forward LeBron James, shooting guard Dwyane Wade, and power forward Chris Bosh on the roster for those titles teams. And when James decided to opt-out of his contract with the Heat in 2014 to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami’s chances of winning another title faded. The Heat still had Bosh and Wade as they were able to make the playoffs last season. But things changed drastically when Heat team president Pat Riley allowed Wade to leave last summer as a free agent to join the Chicago Bulls. Riley wasn’t willing to break the bank for an aging Wade, while health issues forced Bosh to unofficially retire as the only player left from Miami’s last title team is veteran power forward Udonis Haslem.

The Heat have attempted to rebuild, but one of their building blocks in small forward Justise Winslow would only appear in 18 games this season after he suffered a torn labrum. However Riley is one of the best to have ever done it in the NBA when it comes to being able to evaluate talent and put a team together.

Center Hassan Whiteside was a relative unknown who had spent the majority of his professional basketball career playing the NBA’s Development League. However Riley saw talent in Whiteside and signed him in 2014. Whiteside has gone of to be an overnight sensation for the Heat. Whiteside led the NBA in blocks last season at 3.7 per contest, and he’s leading the league in rebounds this year (14.1). Whiteside is a double-double machine as he has posted at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in 52 games this season and he has turned into a building block for the Heat.

Goran Dragic

For nearly eight years point guard Goran Dragic was an underrated player during his time with the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns. Riley acquired Dragic from the Suns in 2015 and after he struggled to play alongside Wade and Bosh, he has begun to flourish on South Beach. Dragic is averaging 20.2 points this season which is a career-high, to go along with 6.1 assists per contests as he has given Miami a solid floor general.

Throughout the basketball journey of shooting guard Dion Waiters he has been a player who has been overlooked. In Waiters’ last collegiate season with the Syracuse Orange, he was the Big East Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year. Waiters was selected fourth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Cavaliers, but he quickly clashed there with point guard Kyrie Irving who he accused of playing “buddy ball” with center Tristan Thompson. And not long after James returned to Cleveland, Waiters would find himself traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he was bench player in the shadow of small forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook.

Dion Waiters

Waiters would sign with the Heat last summer, but for only $2.89 million which was shocking with money being thrown around the league as the result of a new television deal. But Waiters has done nothing but shine in Miami as he is averaging 15.9 points per game and he has brought the tough-minded approach that he developed on the playgrounds of Philadelphia to Miami.

Pat Riley

Riley would receive a ton of criticism last summer when he re-signed point guard Tyler Johnson to the tune of $50 million over four years. However Johnson has turned into a key contributor off of Miami’s bench as his 13.8 points per game are fourth on the team.

Aside from Dragic and power forward James Johnson, none of the regular contributors for Miami are more than 30-years of age. The Heat have a team of players that have yet to figure out how good they can be and thus they are playing with house money which is a credit to Riley and Spoelstra.

Riley has once again made the Heat into playoff contenders by using his thinking cap as opposed to relying on help. In the four years that James was with the Heat, the Cavaliers had the first overall pick in the NBA Draft three times, yet they were unable to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference once. However the Heat are in the mix for their second playoff appearance without James as they’ve gone about their business in a different way. The Heat never whined and publicly complained about James leaving like Cavs owner Dan Gilbert did, nor have they ever won the NBA’s Draft Lottery. But since Riley has been a part of nine championship teams as a player, head coach, and team president, he knows how to win. And even though that James has gone on to win an NBA Championship since leaving Miami, the Heat are still a franchise that cannot be overlooked due to Riley’s influence.

Riley has lobbied for Spoelstra to be the NBA’s Coach of the Year and he has a valid case as this was written off a few months ago. When critics questioned Spoelstra’s coaching ability during James’ tenure with Miami, Riley backed his coach, and it’s time that the rest of basketball world gives him some credit as well. The Heat might not be a title team at the present time, but if you give Riley the opportunity, he will bring another Larry O’Brien Trophy to South Beach sooner than you think.

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2016-2017 Southeast Division Projections

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X-Atlanta Hawks 46-36 (6)

Believe it or not, the Atlanta Hawks will enter the 2016-2017 NBA season with the second longest active playoff streak in the league. The Hawks have made the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons and they’ve done it under the guidance of three different head coaches. Mike Budenholzer is set to begin his fourth season as the Hawks head coach and this is expected to be his toughest campaign with the club.

The Hawks must find a way to replace the contributions of center Al Horford who after spending nine seasons with the club, left as a free agent to join the Boston Celtics. During Horford’s time with the Hawks, he averaged 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest, and aside from his production on the court, his leadership will also be missed in Atlanta.

Atlanta Hawks

To replace Horford, the Hawks signed veteran center Dwight Howard. Howard is a 12-year NBA veteran that has been one of the better rebounders of this era. Howard has averaged 12.7 rebounds for his career, and when the season is over he should be in the top 20 of the NBA’s all-time list for rebounding. Howard has also averaged 2.1 blocks for his career as he is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. But the thing that has held Howard back during his career has been his scoring and free throw shooting.

Howard has averaged 17.8 points per game for his career, but he has never been a player that has developed his offensive game. And if Howard ever decides to figure it out at the offensive end of the floor, he can boost his productivity along with the chances of the Hawks. But the Hawks should get Howard’s best effort being that he is a native of Atlanta.

Paul Millsap

Along with Howard, the Hawks have power forward Paul Millsap who is a double-double machine. And although that Millsap has is a more proven scorer than Howard, the two should help Atlanta clean up on the glass after they were only 24th in the NBA in the category last season.

The Hawks will be the eighth different NBA team that point guard Jarrett Jack has suited up for, and at each stop along the way he has been an underrated player. Jack is coming off of a career-high in assists last season as he averaged 7.4 with the Brooklyn Nets, and he should give Budenholzer another quality ball handler. Jack’s presence will definitely benefit the team’s young point guard Dennis Schroder. Schroder’s numbers have improved in each of his three NBA seasons, and now he has a quality veteran such as Jack to learn from.

Kyle Korver

Atlanta still has shooting guard Kyle Korver who even at the age of 35 is one of the best long range shooters in the NBA. Korver has a career three-point field-goal percentage of nearly 43, and he should continue to thrive in Budenholzer’s offensive system that relies on ball movement.

Nobody is expected to run away with the Southeast Division, but the Hawks will definitely have a say in who will win it.

Y-Washington Wizards 45-37 (8)

The Washington Wizards entered the 2015-2016 NBA season with solid expectations to be a contender. But when it was all said and done the Wizards had to settle for a record of 41-41 as they missed out on the postseason by three games. The Wizards inability to reach the playoffs would cost head coach Randy Wittman his job and he would be replaced by former Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. In seven years with the Thunder, Wittman compiled a regular season record of 338-207, while he also led Oklahoma City to the Western Conference Championship in 2012 and the Wizards are helpful that his presence will be the spark needed to get them back to the playoffs.

Bradley Beal, John Wall

But one of the keys for any potential success by the Wizards during the upcoming NBA season is the health of their starting backcourt in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal. Both Wall and Beal have been injury prone during their respective NBA careers which was evident by the fact that the combined to miss 32 games last season. However if Wall and Beal are healthy and can get on the same page, it should be all systems go in D.C.

Marcin Gortat

Around Beal and Wall, center Marcin Gortat has shown that he can be a quality contributor as he has averaged 12.9 points and 9.3 rebounds in three seasons with the Wizards. Small forward Otto Porter has continued to improve in Washington as he has been getting more minutes, and his growth will be vital to any success that the Wizards intend on having as he could be a force for them at both ends of the floor in the front court, while center Ian Mahimi and power forward Markieff Morris should provide some size up front.

The Wizards should show some improvement this season, but I doubt that it will be enough for them to contend with the big boys of the Eastern Conference.

Orlando Magic 38-44

If the Orlando Magic could ever get out of their own way, then they might be able to end their current four-year playoff drought. One of the main issues that has hurt the Magic has been their issues at the head coaching position. The last five years have seen Orlando employ five different head coaches and after Scott Skiles left after a promising start with the Magic, it is now up to former Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel to get one of the youngest teams in the Eastern Conference to reach its full potential.

Frank Vogel

Vogel’s first order of business was a surprising move as he traded shooting guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Ersan Ilyasova, and the draft rights to power forward Domantas Sabonis to the Oklahoma City Thunder for power forward/center Serge Ibaka. Oladipo appeared to be a building block for the Magic, but Vogel and team general manager Rob Hennigan decided to go in a different direction.

What the Magic will be getting with Ibaka is a solid defender as he can rebound and block shots, while also knocking down the occasional three-point shot which will help Orlando spread the floor. Ibaka should be able to play alongside center Nikola Vucevic who led the Magic in scoring (18.2), and rebounding (8.9) last season. Vucevic has been an underrated player primarily due to the fact that he plays in a smaller market, while the Magic haven’t made the playoffs. But under Vogel, I do believe that Vucevic’s production can increase which would lead to him getting more public recognition.

Oladipo’s departure should result in more playing time for Evan Fournier at the shooting guard position. In each of Fournier’s four NBA seasons, his points per game average has increased. And if Fournier is able to average at least 18 points per contest, it could point the Magic in the direction of the playoffs.

Elfrid Payton

Along with Fournier, the Magic have speed in their backcourt in the form of point guard Elfrid Payton who has a quirky style of play, but Vogel should find a way to get the most out of him in his system.

The Magic do have a solid group of veteran players that includes small forward Jeff Green and point guard D.J. Augustin, while power forward Aaron Gordon is out to show that he is more than merely a dunker.

Vogel is a head coach that knows how to get the most out of his talent and he’ll have a challenge ahead of him this season in Central Florida.

Charlotte Hornets 37-45 

The Charlotte Hornets came out of nowhere last season to win 48 games for the first time since the 1999-2000 NBA campaign. But as good as the Hornets were in the regular season, they were still unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs which is something that they’ve been unable to do since 2002. The Hornets will enter the upcoming NBA season looking to build off of their trip to the playoffs last year, while also looking to do something they’ve been unable to since 2002 which is to qualify for the postseason in consecutive years. But for Hornets head coach Steve Clifford and his crew, it won’t be an easy task.

The Hornets lost veteran center Al Jefferson in free agency as he signed with the Indiana Pacers, and it is time for their youngsters in the front court to step up. In recent years the Hornets have used first-round picks on small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with centers Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky. But none of these players have been able to step up and consistently contribute for the Hornets.

Kemba Walker

Charlotte still has the luxury of having point guard Kemba Walker who is coming off of averaging 20.9 points per game last season. Although that Walker is listed as a point guard, he is more of an “off-guard” as he is a shooting guard that is in a point guard’s body.

Aside from Walker, the Hornets other main scoring option is small forward Nicolas Batum who is more of a facilitator and not really thought of as a consistent scoring option.

And with Walker expected to be the Hornets main scoring option, other players such as Zeller and Kaminsky need to find a way to contribute in other facets of the game such as rebounding which is a category that Charlotte was 14th in the NBA in last season at 43.9 per contest.

The Hornets will be fighting an uphill battle all season long, and it will be a miracle if Clifford finds a way to get this team to the playoffs.

Miami Heat 36-46

As the Miami Heat are set to begin the 2016-2017 NBA season, they are indeed a team that is at the crossroads. Seven of the last eight NBA seasons have seen the Heat make the playoffs, and since 2006, no team in the league has won more titles (3) than them. But the Heat will definitely be a long shot it regards to winning an NBA Championship this time around.

After losing small forward LeBron James in free agency in 2014, the exodus continued this summer when shooting guard Dwyane Wade left Miami to join the Chicago Bulls. Wade’s decision came down to money as Heat team president Pat Riley wasn’t willing to budge in regards to offering him more than $40 million over the next two seasons. Wade leaves Miami as the leader in nearly every statistical category as he was hands down the best player in franchise history.

Aside from Wade, I doubt that you’ll ever see power forward Chris Bosh in a Heat uniform again. Bosh has been limited over the past two NBA seasons due to blood clots, and the Heat are refusing to give him clearance in regards to resuming his basketball career. Bosh feels that he can still get it done, but Riley and Heat owner Mickey Arison understand the severity of his issue which has all but signaled the end of his time in Miami.

Aside from combining to average 38.1 points per contest last season, the biggest thing that the Heat will miss from Wade and Bosh is the leadership that each player brought to the organization. And for Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, he is facing one of his toughest challenges in Miami.

The Heat have very quickly become a young team that needs someone to step up and take charge. The last two seasons have seen center Hassan Whiteside emerge as a force for the Heat. Whiteside led the NBA in blocks last season with 3.7 per game, while he averaged 14.2 points, and 11.8 rebounds. The Heat rewarded Whiteside with a four-year, $98 million contract, but is he ready to be the guy?

Hassan Whiteside

In two seasons with the Heat, Whiteside has had his maturity questioned on many occasions, and now he is in a position where he has to be a leader for this team, on and off the court on a nightly basis, and it will be interesting to see if he’ll be able to answer the bell.

Just like Whiteside, shooting guard Tyler Johnson was paid by the Heat over the summer as he received a four-year, $50 million deal. Johnson only averaged 24 minutes per game last season, and his playing time will increase now that he has been compensated. Small forward Justise Winslow was Miami’s first-round pick in 2015, and after showing flashes at both ends of the floor as a rookie, it’s time for him to take his game to the next level.

Goran Dragic

As point guard Goran Dragic is set to begin his second full season with the Heat, will he be able to finally shed to label as a player that can only put up big numbers on bad teams? Prior to joining the Heat in 2015, Dragic had averaged 20.3 points per game during the 2013-2014 NBA season as a member of the Phoenix Suns. But since Dragic has joined the Heat, he has only averaged 14.8 points per contest. However with the departures of Wade and Bosh, Dragic should see an increase in shots for him as the Heat are desperate for someone to step up and be “the guy”.

And whereas the Heat have a huge void to fill with the departure of Wade, shooting guard Dion Waiters could have new life. Waiters joined the Heat this past summer on a two-year deal. And after Waiters spent the past two years as a role player with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he could be ready for a bigger role for the Heat as he’ll definitely get more shots to score.

Anyway that you slice it this will be a trying season for the Heat who find themselves in the middle of a rebuild.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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At The Crossroads

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After missing the NBA Playoffs last year for just the second time since 2004, the Miami Heat rebounded this season to win the Southeast Division. The Heat would advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in a fierce seven-game series. But by the time that the Heat were finished off by the Raptors, they had been depleted by injuries. Heat team president Pat Riley has made it his business to keep Miami in title contention as they’ve won the NBA Championship three times since 2006. And even though that Riley has one of the best basketball minds in the business, he’ll have his hands full this summer as far as keeping the Heat as one of the top teams in the NBA.

Chris Bosh

As of right now the Heat have nearly $50 million committed to player salaries for next season, but that could be changing. Power forward Chris Bosh has missed 67 games over the last two NBA seasons due to complications from blood clots. Bosh did not appear in the playoffs for the Heat, and there is a possibility that he might be forced to retire. In the summer of 2014, Bosh re-signed with the Heat for $118 million over five years. However if Bosh does retire, nearly $24 million would come off of the books towards next year’s payroll. But what the Heat would lose from not having Bosh on their roster is his leadership on the court, and in the locker room as he was a vital member of their championship teams in 2012 and 2013.

Like Bosh, shooting guard Dwyane Wade has been a part of much of the Heat’s success recently. Wade was the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Heat and he has gone on to become the best player in franchise history. Wade has been a member of each of the Heat’s championship teams which included him being the NBA Finals MVP in 2006. Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in points (20,221), assists (4,944), and steals (1,414). But at the age of 34, injuries have really caught up to Wade as he has never played a full season in the NBA.

Dwyane Wade

Last summer, Wade was seeking a long-term contract from the Heat which he didn’t receive as Riley wasn’t ready to commit to that on an aging player. The Heat and Wade would agree on a one-year deal for $20 million. Wade averaged 19 points per game in the regular season. But in the NBA Playoffs, Wade was showing signs of once again being “Flash” as he averaged 21.4 points per game as he attempted to will the Heat to victories which should make for a very interesting round of negotiating this summer between him and Riley.

After being a basketball nomad, center Hassan Whiteside has emerged as one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the NBA. Whiteside was a second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 2010, but he spent more time in the NBA’s Development League than anything else.  In 2014, the Heat would pick Whiteside up off of the scrap heap and in 48 games with the team, he would average 11.8 points and 10 rebounds. Last summer Whiteside signed a one-year deal with the Heat for 981k and he easily outperformed that by averaging 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds while leading the NBA in blocks with 3.7 per game.

Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside has tremendous athleticism, but there have been maturity issues for him which has seen him draw the ire of Riley, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, and veteran players such as Bosh. Whiteside did suffer a knee injury in the playoffs against the Raptors which could give the Heat leverage in their contract negotiations with the 26-year old this summer.

As of right now the biggest impact players that the Heat can count on for next season are point guard Goran Dragic and small forward Justise Winslow. The Heat acquired Dragic from the Phoenix Suns during the 2014-2015 NBA season, but he hasn’t had the kind of impact that the Heat were hoping for as he wasn’t the focal point of the offense with Wade and Bosh on the roster. However that could potentially change next season. Last summer, the Heat used the 10th overall pick of the NBA Draft on Winslow. Winslow appeared in 78 games during the regular season for the Heat, but he only made 8 starts. As a rookie, Winslow averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds as a role player, but you can see the potential there for him to develop a more important role on both offense and defense for Miami.

The Heat should be active players in free agency this summer, and with Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in July, you can expect Miami to put on the full-court press as far as attempting to persuade him to come to South Beach. However it will be more difficult as I don’t see Durant leaving the Thunder with their deep run into the playoffs that currently has them three victories away from their second trip to the NBA Finals with him on the roster.

Pat Riley

Riley knows a thing or two about building a contender as he has only been a part of four losing seasons either as a head ocach of team executive. Riley got creative in putting Bosh, Wade, and LeBron James together in the summer of 2010, and there’s no telling what he has up his sleeve this summer for the Heat. But one thing for sure is that Riley will find a way to put a quality roster together.

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Who Is Hassan Whiteside?

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Periodically the sports world will give us a feel good story. And one of the feel good stories in the early part of 2015 belongs to Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside has taken the long road to success in the NBA. After one year of playing college basketball at Marshall Univeristy, Whiteside declared for the 2010 NBA Draft where he was selected in the second round by the Sacramento Kings. Over two seasons with the Kings, Whiteside only appeared in 23 games where he averaged 1.5 and 2.1 rebounds per contest. Whiteside would bounce around the NBA’s Developmental League along with a brief stint in Lebanon and China respectively. Whiteside was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies last September. With the Grizzlies, Whiteside only appeared in one game and he didn’t tally any stats. The Grizzlies would go on to release Whiteside in November and he would be picked up by the Heat who would assign him to the Sioux Falls Skyforce od the NBADL. Whiteside would then be a bit player for the Heat in the month of December as he averaged 3.1 points and 3.9 rebounds before finally beginning to breakthrough in January.

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Hassan Whiteside

On January 4, the Heat defeated the Brooklyn Nets 88-84 and in the game Whiteside totaled 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 blocks. A week later in a 104-90 victory over the Clippers, Whiteside had 23 points and 16 rebounds. On January 25, the Heat knocked off the Chicago Bulls 96-84 as Whiteside had 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 blocks. For the month of January, Whiteside averaged 13.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks including a 16-point, 24-rebound performance in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on January 30.

Whiteside’s strong January has carried over to the month of February as he is averaging 18.3 points and 13.0 per contest. In the Heat’s 102-101 loss to the Minnesota TImberwolves this past Thursday night, Whiteside contributed with 24 points and 20 rebounds. In just 23 games this season with the Heat, Whiteside is already the team’s leading rebounder as he is averaging 8.3 boards per game.

After losing small forward LeBron James to free agency last summer, the Heat have struggled as they are just 21-28, but Whiteside has emerged as a difference maker as he is making the most of this opportunity. And as Heat team president Pat Riley attempts to rebuild this team into a title contender, he appears to have found a vital cog in Whiteside.

Even when the Heat were a title contender with James, they were lacking an interior presence. The Heat still have All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, but he was asked to alter his game since coming to Miami in 2010. Prior to joining the Heat, Bosh was more of a low-post presence during his time with the Toronto Raptors. But now Bosh tends to play more on the perimeter; even spotting up for three-point shots. Now Whiteside has become a presence on the interior for the Heat and he is cleaning up the glass while also making opponents thinking twice about driving to the hole.

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Pat Riley

Whiteside is still a bit raw, but he is giving the Heat more athleticism in the frontcourt that they sorely need. Whiteside will be 26-years old this June and his game will only continue to improve. Riley doesn’t believe in long-term rebuilds; especially with veteran players such as Bosh and shooting guard Dwyane Wade still on the Heat’s roster. Riley will more than likely be active this summer in trying to improve the Heat, but it appears that the center position is one less thing for him to worry about as Whiteside has emerged. The Heat have Whiteside under contract through next season and they have him on the cheap as he is earning 769k this season and $981k for the 2015-2016 NBA season. Riley has been around the NBA for a long time and his track record speaks for itself as he has been a part of nine NBA Championship teams as a player, assistant head coach, head coach, and executive. Riley got Whiteside for next to nothing and I don’t see the young, athletic center leaving anytime soon.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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