Will the Washington Wizards be able to build off of their strong season?
Heading into the 2016-2017 NBA season, it was tough to get a fix on the Washington Wizards. Scott Brooks was set to begin his first season as the Wizards head coach, while Washington’s two best players in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal were not on the same page.
At first the Wizards resembled a team that wasn’t in sync as they began the season with a record of 3-9. However the tide would begin to turn for Washington and once the calendar was set to shift to 2017, they had climbed back to the .500 mark. But after the Wizards dropped their first two games in January, they’ve gone on to become one of the hottest teams in the NBA as they have won 17 of their last 20 games. And heading into the NBA’s All-Star break, there isn’t a team in the Eastern Conference that wants to face them right now.
The Southeast Division has been up for grabs for the majority of the season, but things are changing since the Wizards have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse. The Wizards currently hold a 2.5-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks for the top spot in the division as they appear to be the most complete team there.
Wall has been one of the better point guards in the NBA since the Wizards made him the first overall pick in 2010. And this season has seen Wall earn his fourth consecutive trip to the All-Star Game as he is averaging a career-high in points per game with 22.9, while his 10.6 assists per contest are second in the league. Wall has 34 double-doubles to his credit this season which includes him recording one in each of Washington’s last eight games.
Like Wall, Beal is averaging a career-high points this season with 22.3 per contest which included going for a career-high 42 points on November 21 in a victory over the Phoenix Suns. Beal is showing that he is worth every penny when he and the Wizards agreed on a new five-year extension that is worth $128 million during the summer. This contract initially caused a rift between Beal and Wall, but now they’ve combined their forces to be one of the better back court duos in the NBA. And the fact that Beal and Wall are both healthy and on the same page is fueling the Wizards surge, along with several other factors.
The Wizards appeared as if they weren’t going to grow anymore under former head coach Randy Wittman which resulted in his termination and the hiring of Scott Brooks. Prior to joining the Wizards, Brooks was the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons where he compiled a record of 338-207 which was highlighted by guiding them to an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Brooks also knew how to deal with different personalities as he found a way to get point guard Russell Westbrook, shooting guard James Harden, and small forward Kevin Durant enough shots. And this ability to keep the team’s best players happy is what makes him perfect for the Wizards as he is a breath of fresh air.
Small forward Otto Porter Jr. was the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Wizards and he has been a project for them as his production has increased in each season. This season Porter is averaging 14.4 points per game, while he is connecting on nearly 46% of his three-point attempts which currently leads the NBA. But even with the emergence of Porter, along with the strong play of Beal and Wall, the Wizards now have unity which has fueled their surge.
This NBA season has produced some very intense battles between the Wizards and Boston Celtics. At the end of Washington’s game against Boston on January 11, there was a heated exchange between Wall and Celtics small forward Jae Crowder where both players had to be separated. This was just one of several incidents between these two teams this season which led to Wall and his teammates figuring out a way to respond.
As Washington was set to welcome the Celtics to the Verizon Center in D.C. on January 24, the entire Wizards team arrived to the arena wearing all black as is was dubbed that they were attending a “funeral”. The Celtics didn’t give the words of the Wizards any life, however Washington played inspired basketball throughout which led to one of their best victories of the season as they won 123-108 with them appearing to be a very tight knit group.
With the way that the Wizards are currently rolling, the only thing that can stop them right now is the NBA’s prolonged All-Star break which began for them last night. The Wizards have ascended to the third best record in the Eastern Conference as they are only trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics in the standings. And thus it will be interesting to see if Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld will be willing to make a deal prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline in the NBA as it wouldn’t be wise to mess up team chemistry; especially with front court contributions of power forward Markieff Morris and center Marcin Gortat whose 11.5 rebounds per contest are eighth in the NBA.
But there is a buzz around this Wizards team as everyone is on the same page, while they are eyeing their first division title since 1979 which was the last time that they reached the NBA Finals. And who knows how far that this team can go once the NBA Playoffs roll around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Y-Miami Heat 51-31 (3)
We all expected the Miami Heat to take a step back last season, but it was worse than expected for them. After making four straight trips to the NBA Finals, the Heat struggled last season; especially since small forward LeBron James decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. Injuries also derailed the Heat’s chances as power forward Chris Bosh missed 38 games due to blood clots. The Heat would finish the season with a record of 37-45 as they missed the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2008. But Heat president Pat Riley has been a busy man as far as improving Miami’s roster with an eye on returning to the postseason next spring.
The Heat entered the 2015 NBA Draft with the 10th overall pick and they were delighted when they were able to select small forward Justise Winslow. Last year as a true freshman, Winslow was a vital member of the Duke University men’s basketball team that won a national championship. And as other teams passed on Winslow, the Heat didn’t as Riley knows talent. At 6’6″, Winslow has great explosion and he is a player that the Heat will eventually groom into being their franchise player.
Last season the Heat acquired point guard Goran Dragic from the Phoenix Suns. In 26 games with the Heat, Dragic averaged 16.6 points per game. Dragic became a free agent over the summer and Riley made it his business to keep him in Miami with a five-year, $90 million contract. What Dragic provides the Heat with is a scorer at the point guard position that can take some pressure off of shooting guard Dwyane Wade.
For Wade, he opted out of his contract with the Heat last summer as he was seeking a new long-term deal. But for Wade, he is 33-years of age, and he is a player that is not the explosive player that he was a few years ago. The Heat didn’t give Wade the long-term deal that he was seeking, but they were willing to give him $20 million for the upcoming season which means that we should see a healthy and highly productive player due to the fact that he is motivated.
After being drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2010, center Hassan Whiteside bounced around the NBA’s Development League along with a stint overseas, but he appears to have finally found a home with the Heat. Last season in 48 games with the Heat, Whiteside became an overnight sensation as he averaged 11.8 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. This season Whiteside will have more attention thrown at him, but at 7’0″, he has tremendous athleticism and the Heat are expecting big things from him.
But the Heat need and are expecting Bosh to be healthy. For Bosh’s first four years with the Heat, he played in the shadow of James and Wade as he became more of the focal point of the team’s offense last season until he was lost due to the blood clots. But at the age of 31, Bosh is still an effective post-player and more importantly for the Heat, he is leader and his presence is needed.
The Heat also have veteran depth in the form of point guard Mario Chalmers, swingman Gerald Green, small forward Luol Deng, and Amar’e Stoudemire as they look to bounce back under head coach Erik Spoelstra to contend in the Eastern Conference.
As long as Spoelstra is able to manage the minutes for his veteran ball club, the Heat should be able to return to the NBA Playoffs and in the process, be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
X-Atlanta Hawks 47-35 (4)
The Atlanta Hawks are coming off of their best regular season in franchise history as they won 60 games and surprised many observers to earn the best record in the Eastern Conference. Under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks are a team without superstars, but they play as a collective unit and their unselfishness is what keeps them in games.
Prior to becoming the head coach of the Hawks, Budenholzer was an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs which is an organization that prides itself on unselfish play along with ball movement. But unlike the Spurs, the Hawks don’t have several players that can simply put the team on their backs in clutch situations.
Last season that Hawks had six players average at least 10 points, but no more than 16.7 per contest. The Hawks still have solid contributors in power forwards Paul Millsap and Al Horford along with point guard Jeff Teague, but none of these players have the ability to be consistent go-to-guy in Atlanta. With a career three-point percentage of .442, swignman Kyle Korver is one of the best long distance shooters in league history. And Korver should once again be lethal from long range as he’ll feed off of the presence of Horford and Millsap in the post and the penetration ability of Teague.
Like the Hawks did last year, they will beat up on their inferior opponents which will allow them to fatten up in the win column and become a playoff team once again.
X-Washington Wizards 47-35 (5)
The Washington Wizards are coming off of consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Semifinals and the last time that this occurred was in 1977 which was the previous year that Washington won their only NBA Championship. And for Wizards head coach Randy Wittman, he is hopeful that history will repeat itself in D.C. for the 2015-2016 NBA season, but it won’t be that easy.
The Wizards are a guard oriented team as they are led by point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal. Wall was second in the NBA last season in assists as he averaged 10 per game and his speed and elusiveness make him a matchup nightmare. And like Wall, Beal is one the fastest players at his position as together they can turn a basketball game into a track meet with their speed.
The Wizards big men consisting of center Marcin Gortat, along with power forwards Nene and Kris Humphries have the skill sets to play off of Wall and Beal. Gortat, Nene, and Humphries can each provide a presence in the post while they are each solid rebounders as the Wizards were tied for sixth in the NBA in rebounding last season at 44.7, and you can expect more of the same from them during the upcoming season.
But the Wizards must find a way to account for the loss of small forward Paul Pierce. Pierce opted out of his contract with the Wizards over the summer as he would join the Los Angeles Clippers. Pierce provided the Wizards with a veteran presence as a player that was not afraid to take the big shots and his presence will be missed. In 2013, the Wizards used the third overall pick of the NBA Draft on small forward Otto Porter. Porter has been unable to live up to the expectations that have been placed on him and for the Wizards to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, Porter is going to have to become a huge contributor for them.
As long as Wall and Beal are able to remain healthy, the Wizards will be a relevant team in the Eastern Conference, but they are still not ready to be a legitimate championship contender.
For the first time since their first three years in the NBA, the Orlando Magic are coming off of three consecutive seasons in which they have lost at least 50 games. Over the last three NBA seasons, the Magic have lost 178 games, but as bad as Orlando’s recent stretch has been for them, they could be on the verge of turning the corner.
Scott Skiles is set to begin his first season as the head coach of the Magic. The Magic will mark the fourth different NBA team that Skiles has coached and this will be a homecoming for him due to fact that he played in Orlando for six seasons. Skiles has always been a no-nonsense head coach which is exactly what this young Magic team needs.
In center Nikola Vucevic, power forward Tobias Harris, and shooting guard Victor Oladipo, Orlando has three players that are on the verge of becoming breakout players as the rebuilding plan of Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is almost ready to take flight. Vucevic and Harris provide a solid presence in the post for the Magic while Oladipo is developing into an all-around wing player.
Last year as rookie point guard, there were some growing pains for Elfrid Payton, but he could be one of the top assist men in the NBA this season as long as he gets the basketball to Harris, Oladipo, and Vucevic consistently.
The Magic might not be a playoff team in 2016, but under Skiles they will be a tough out on a nightly basis in the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets 35-47
After briefly flirting with success, the Charlotte Hornets to a step backwards last season. After making the NBA Playoffs in 2014 and posting a winning record, the Hornets only won 33 games last season as they’ve once again become an afterthought and they will need a dose of luck in order to be contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The Hornets have a solid inside-out combination or center Al Jefferson and shooting guard Kemba Walker and when Charlotte made the playoffs in 2014, it was mainly due to the efforts of these two players. Last season the duo combined to score 34 points per game, but it comes down to the supporting cast around them in order for the Hornets to have a realistic chance.
In 2012, small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the second overall pick of the NBA Draft by Charlotte, but he has failed to become an impact player. In three seasons with Charlotte, Kidd-Gilchrist has only averaged 9.0 points per game and to make matters worse, the Hornets will be without his services for the majority of the upcoming season due to the fact that he recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum. After Jefferson and Walker, the Hornets are a team that is mainly comprised of NBA journeymen and youngsters who are attempting to get their feet wet which does not bode well for the basketball fans in Charlotte.
The Hornets first six games this season are against playoff teams from last year and a slow start in Charlotte could be a harbinger of bad things to come for them.
X-Miami Heat 49-33 (3)
The last four NBA seasons have seen the Miami Heat franchise soar to new heights. In the past four years the Heat claimed a pair of NBA Championships in four trips to the league’s final series. But things will be drastically different this time around as forward LeBron James left the Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. The departure of James leaves a big hole for the Heat as he led the team last season in points (27.1), rebounds (6.9), and assists (6.4). With the James departure, Heat team president Pat Riley had to get creative in fielding a team for the upcoming season.
Riley signed small forward Luol Deng to somewhat cushion the blow of losing James. For his 10-year NBA career, Deng has averaged 16 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Deng’s numbers are nowhere near to what the Heat lost with James which means that power forward Chris Bosh will be the focal point of the Heat’s offense this season. When the “Big Three” of James, Bosh, and Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade joined up in 2010 it was Bosh that was the forgotten player. Prior to joining the Heat, Bosh has averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in the first seven years of his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors and you can expect him to go back to being more of a scoring threat this season. In originally joining the Heat, Bosh sacrificed some of his overall game for the greater good of the team and he was rewarded with a pair of NBA Titles. Now you can expect to see more of Bosh back in the post.
For Wade, he is 32-years of age and there are questions in regards to his knees. There has been a drop off in the overall production of Wade in the past few seasons. For Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, he must monitor Wade’s minutes in order to keep him fresh.
With James’ superior ball handling in Miami for the last four seasons, the Heat were able to skate by without having a dominant point guard. But that will not be the case this season. Heat veteran point guards Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers combined to average 7.9 assists last season, but is either player ready to step up? If not, Riley and Spoelstra are high on rookie point guard Shabazz Napier who showed an uncanny knack of being a floor general in college at UConn and the Heat are hopeful that his transition to the NBA will be a quick one.
The Heat are no longer runaway favorites in the Eastern Conference, but for the players that remained they are out to show the world that it wasn’t just James that propelled them to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals.
Y-Washington Wizards 47-35 (5)
Last season saw the Washington Wizards qualify for the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2008. Under head coach Randy Wittman, the Wizards have a good blend of youth and veterans that should allow them to contend for the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1979.
The Wizards have a very explosive starting back court in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal. But the only knock on the duo is that they have been unable to remain healthy. Last season Wall played in all 82 games and is ready to go for this season while Beal is currently out as he is recovering from a wrist injury. What Beal and Wall give Wittman and the Wizards when they’re healthy is over 36 points of production. Beal and Wall also have tremendous ability to attack the basket while they’re good perimeter defenders.
Behind Wall, the Wizards have veteran point guard Andre Miller who has seen it all during his time in the NBA. Miller is entering his 16th NBA season and the Wizards are his sixth team in the league, but he commands a ton or respect from his teammates when he is on the floor.
The Wizards front court situation will be interesting this season. Last season center Marcin Gortat and power forward Nene Hilario combined to averaged 15 rebounds per game while each player can also score in the post. Behind Hilario and Gortat, the Wizards have a pair of veterans in power forwards Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden that have made careers for themselves in the NBA on their ability to crash the boards and you can expect more of the same this season. The Wizards lost starting small forward Trevor Ariza in free agency as he signed with the Houston Rockets, but they were able to lure veteran small forward Paul Pierce to Washington. Pierce is set to embark on his 17th NBA season and he brings a championship pedigree with him to the Wizards that includes winning the NBA Championship in 2008 as a member of the Boston Celtics. Pierce brings a toughness with him along with his ability to deliver in clutch situations. But mainly the Wizards will need to see improvement from small forward Otto Porter Jr. Porter Jr. was the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft but he only averaged 2.1 points per game as a rookie while only appearing 37 contests without making a start and it is time for him to step up.
The Wizards may not dominate in the regular season, but what they are is a team that will be scary in the NBA Playoffs.
Y-Atlanta Hawks 43-39 (7)
After a very interesting off-season the Atlanta Hawks are happy to get back to playing basketball. Racist remarks by the Hawks majority owner Bruce Levinson forced him to sell his shares in the team and it also resulted in general manager Danny Ferry taking an indefinite leave of absence which has shaken the team to its core. Now it will be up to Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer to keep the ship righted in Atlanta.
Two out of the last three seasons have seen Hawks center Al Horford succumb early in the campaign to a season-ending injury. Horford is returning to the Hawks after tearing a pectoral muscle as he looks to regain his form in the post that has seen him average 14 points and 9.5 rebounds in his seven-year NBA career. In Horford’s absence last season, Hawks power forward Paul Milsap picked up the slack. Milsap averaged 17.9 points along with 8.5 boards and it is scary to think what these two can combine to be this year. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague is very underrated as his numbers continue to improve while shooting guard Kyle Korver still has one of the best strokes from beyond the three-point arc.
Sports can be therapeutic and in light of the controversy, the Hawks should come together and gel as the season progresses.
Charlotte Hornets 41-41
The buzz is literally back in Charlotte as the Bobcats have switched their team name to the Hornets. The original Charlotte Hornets left town in 2002 when they moved to New Orleans. In 2013, the New Orleans Hornets would change their team name to the Pelicans which paved the way for the name of the Hornets to be returned to Charlotte. The Hornets also have something to build off of as they made the playoffs last season under first year head coach Steve Clifford. The Hornets also return their top three scorers from last year which gives them optimism for the upcoming season.
Last season Hornets power forward Al Jefferson exceeded career highs in points and rebounds as he scored nearly 22 points per contest along with grabbing nearly 11 boards each game. Jefferson gives the Hornets a legitimate low-post threat and he can also score in a variety of ways. Prior to Jefferson’s arrival in Charlotte, Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had to carry the load offensively, but that is not the case anymore as he can freelance more. In the off-season the Hornets signed shooting guard Lance Stephenson and he will bring a much needed rugged attitude to Charlotte. For Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, he is hopeful that small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be able to take the next step in his game this season. Gilchrist was the second overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, but his overall game has yet to catch up with his sheer athleticism.
Under Clifford, the Hornets got a taste of the playoffs last year and they will look to capitalize on that this season.
Orlando Magic 29-53
The Orlando Magic are in the process of building a contender and it is going to take some time. Jacque Vaughn is entering his third season as the head coach of the Magic and he has only been able to compile a record of 43-121. This season it will be tough for him and Orlando to improve on that win-loss mark.
The Magic will field one of the youngest teams in the NBA this season and they will be without their leading scorer from a year ago in shooting guard Arron Afflalo who was traded to the Denver Nuggets in the off-season. Last season as a rookie, Magic point guard Victor Oladipo averaged 13.8 points per game along with 4.1 assists and Vaughn is hopeful that the youngster will continue to make progress while also becoming a better floor general. But Oladipo will begin the season on the sidelines as he is recovering from a facial fracture that he recently suffered in practice. The Magic used the fourth overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft on power forward Aaron Gordon who has tremendous athleticism, but is ready to be an impact player in the NBA? Magic center Nikola Vucevic has ascended into being one of the league’s better rebounders while small forward Tobias Harris has become viable off of the bench as they both are building blocks for Vaughn and Magic general manager Rob Hennigan.
The fans in the Magic Kingdom will have to endure another season of dealing with the growing pains of the young Magic, but hopefully there can be some excitement sprinkled in here and there.
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth