Tag Archives: Paul Millsap

2017-2018 Northwest Division Projections

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X-Oklahoma City Thunder 53-29 (3)

The 2017-2018 NBA season proved to be a strange, but interesting one for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder had to deal with the notion that they no longer had the services of small forward Kevin Durant as after nine seasons with the franchise he decided to leave in free agency to join the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder only had one superstar to carry the load now in point guard Russell Westbrook who went out of his way to answer the bell. Last season Westbrook won the NBA’s MVP Award as he averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double for an entire season. Westbrook would help the Thunder to their seventh playoff appearance in the last eight years. But in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Houston Rockets and point guard James Harden proved to be too much for the Thunder as they eliminated them in five games. Westbrook showed that he was good enough to get Oklahoma City to the postseason, but he alone would not be enough if this franchise was serious about winning an NBA Championship.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti has never been one to shy away from making a deal in order to improve his club and this off-season was no different.

In July, the Thunder were able to acquire All-Star small forward Paul George from the Indiana Pacers as Oklahoma City once again had a star duo to help them compete in the Western Conference. However Presti was not done there as last month saw the Thunder acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. And in the span of two months things have really changed in regards to the outlook for the Thunder.

For Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, he no longer has to worry about Westbrook needing to do everything by himself as his ability to penetrate the lane will be magnified as Anthony can now play the role of being a spot up shooter. And if the Thunder don’t want to consistently use Westbrook as the team’s primary ball handler, George can provide them with some quality minutes in the point forward role.

Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony

The biggest thing for the Thunder is attempting to find their chemistry. Anthony, George, and Westbrook have all been members of the United States Men’s Basketball team which should help to expedite the process due to familiarity with one another, while Donovan knows how to stay out of the way of his players in order to allow them to be themselves. I don’t see Westbrook averaging a triple-double this season, but he should still be able to facilitate. Westbrook, George, and Anthony have all shown that they can be the guy during their respective NBA careers, but who is going to be “the guy” in those key moments for Oklahoma City?

The Thunder did lose some depth to acquire both Anthony and George which included them trading center Enes Kanter to the Knicks, but they still have center Steven Adams, while they signed power forward Patrick Patterson. Adams has shown that he is willing to do all of the dirty work. In four years with the Thunder, Adams’ numbers have continued to increase, and although that his offensive numbers might dip this season, he should still be a factor on the boards as he has the potential to average 9 rebounds per game, while also being a presence in the paint due to his shot blocking ability.

Last year the Thunder averaged 106.6 points per game which was 11th in the NBA, while they shot just above 45% from the floor which was 17th. Both of those stats should increase as the additions of George and Anthony will allow Oklahoma City to play and even more wide-open brand of basketball. And as soon as George, Westbrook, and Anthony are able to get on the same page, the more dangerous that the Thunder will be for this NBA season.

Y-Minnesota Timberwolves 52-30 (4)

It has been a long dry spell for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they have gone 13 seasons without a postseason berth, but things finally appear ready to change. The spring of 2016 would see former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau named as the new head coach of the Timberwolves as well as being the team’s president of basketball operations. And after losing 51 games last season, Thibodeau has gone out to upgrade the Timberwolves roster which not only puts them in position to make the playoffs, but also to contend for an NBA Championship.

Jimmy Butler

The Timberwolves were able to pull off one of the biggest splashes of the summer in the NBA when they acquired All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls. In exchange for the services of Butler, Minnesota sent guards Kris Dunn and Zach Levine as well as the draft rights of power forward Lauri Markkanen to Chicago which will be worth it. In six seasons with the Bulls, Butler’s points per game have increased during each season, while he is one the better two-way players in the NBA.

What Butler gives the Timberwolves is a proven finisher who knows Thibodeau’s system. Thibodeau drafted Butler in 2011 as a late first-round pick while he developed into one of the better players in the game and that aspect will help to give Minnesota some credibility.

Aside from Butler, Thibodeau signed a pair of his former players with the Bulls in point guard Aaron Brooks and power forward Taj Gibson. Like Butler, Gibson knows Thibodeau’s system like the back of his hand, while he can also help Minnesota improve in the toughness category. Gibson falls into the category of being a player that will do whatever it takes to win. Gibson has shown the ability throughout his NBA career to rebound, defend, as well as consistently hit baseline jump shots, and he should be able to feed off of the talented players around him this season.

Brooks didn’t spend as much time with the Bulls that Butler and Gibson did under Thibodeau, but he does fit the mold of being a gritty player.The Timberwolves will be Brooks’ seventh NBA team in 11 years which gives you an idea of how mentally tough that he is. What Brooks gives the Timberwolves is a quality player off of the bench, who has the potential to explode for 20 points on any given night.

And aside from the editions of Gibson and Brooks, Minnesota will now consistently get consistent scoring off of the bench as they signed shooting guard Jamal Crawford. Crawford is the is the only three-time winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award as he is instant offense as soon as he enters the game. And just like Brooks, Crawford has the ability to go for 20 points on any given night.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins

The additions that the Timberwolves have made are solid, but the success of this team will still hinge of center Karl-Anthony Towns and small forward Andrew Wiggins. This side of New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis, Towns is the most exciting young big man in the NBA. Towns was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 and he was able to avoid the sophomore slump as he was 12th in the NBA in scoring at 25.1 per game and sixth in rebounds at 12.3 per contest last season. Before the Timberwolves made all of their moves during the off-season. it would have been easy to pencil in Towns to average 25 points and 15 boards, but his points per game production should take a slight dip with the addition of Butler.

Like Towns, Wiggins was a Rookie of the Year during his first year in the NBA, and his production has continued to increase. At 6’9″, Wiggins is a matchup nightmare for opponents due to his length as well ability to score. And with the addition to Butler as well as the maturation of Towns, Wiggins could be scary good this season.

But for all of the big moves that the Timberwolves made during the off-season, there most significant one was signing point guard Jeff Teague. After Minnesota traded point guard Ricky Rubio to the Utah Jazz over the summer, they needed a floor general that could operate the team’s offense in the fashion that Thibodeau wants which is exactly what Teague can do. Teague is coming off of arguably his best season in the NBA as he averaged 15.3 points and 7.8 assists for the Indiana Pacers. Now Teague will be charged with consistently getting the ball to Butler, Towns, and Wiggins which should not a problem for him as he has always proven to be a team first point guard which goes back to his time with the Atlanta Hawks.

Defensive basketball has always been a hallmark of Thibodeau’s teams which was not the case last season as Minnesota was 18th in the NBA in points allowed at 106.7 per contest. However the addition of Butler will help to change that due to his ability to clamp onto the opponent’s best perimeter scorer. And although that it will take this squad some time to get on the same page, Minnesota will be a very dangerous team in the second half of the NBA season as well as the playoffs.

Y-Denver Nuggets 44-38 (7)

The Denver Nuggets have been competitive, but they have missed the NBA Playoffs in each of the last four years. The Nuggets went 40-42 last season and they missed the postseason by one game. And as Denver fell just one win short of the postseason, they’ll look back at the fact that they went 1-3 versus the Portland Trail Blazers which was the team that edged them out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. But as the Nuggets were able to overachieve under head coach Mike Malone last season, will they have enough for the upcoming campaign to take that next step in order to reach the playoffs?

The Nuggets traded their leading scorer from last season in small forward Danilo Gallinari to the Los Angeles Clippers, but they still have the potential to have one of the more underrated front courts in the Western Conference.

Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets drafted center Nikola Jokic in 2014, he appeared to be an afterthought. But once Jokic left Europe in 2015, he was able to adjust to the NBA game rather quickly. Last season Jokic was able to average 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, while also chiming in with 4.9 assists per contest. And after Jokic barely missed out on averaging a double-double last season, he should be able to pull it off during this campaign, while also being in the mix to be an All-Star.

Last season the Nuggets acquired center Mason Plumlee from the Portland Trail Blazers who throughout his NBA career has been severely underutilized. Plumlee knows how to crash the boards as well as score in various ways due to his ability due to produce buckets without having a play called for him.

Like Plumlee, power forward Kenneth Faried is a member of the all-energy team, but he has been limited over the past few years due to injuries. However if Faried is healthy, he can provide the Nuggets with more depth coming off of the bench due to his ability to crash the boards as well as by making plays that will never show up on the stat sheet.

Paul Millsap

Over the summer the Nuggets were able to sign power forward Paul Millsap who has always shown the ability to produce in the paint. For Millsap’s 11-year NBA career, he has averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, while he also has the ability to pass from the perimeter as well as in the paint.

Since small forward Wilson Chandler broke into the NBA in 2007 with the New York Knicks, he has gone on the be an underrated player at his position. Chandler has averaged 14 points for his NBA career which included tallying 15.7 per contest last season to go along with 6.5 boards. And what Chandler gives the Nuggets is a slasher from the small forward position who should be able to feed off of the passing ability of Jokic as well as that of the point guards in Denver.

Malone has a solid blend of primary ball handlers to work with in veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and Emanuel Mudiay. Nelson has 13 years of experience to share with Mudiay who only has two years under his belt. And this duo must find a way to facilitate for this Nuggets team; especially for Mudiay as the potential success for Denver will be in his hands.

The Nuggets will be a team to pay attention to for the entire NBA season as they will make each opponent work for everything in every game.

Y-Portland Trail Blazers 42-40 (8)

After overachieving during the 2015-2016 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers underachieved last season. The Blazers had to fight, scrap, and claw in order to earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season with a record of 41-41. For Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, he relied on his back court of point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum to carry the team last year as they combined to average 50 points per game, but will this strategy be able to get Portland back to the NBA Playoffs?

Damian Lillard

Lillard is one of the most exciting point guards in the NBA and he became the focal point of the offense two years ago when the Trail Blazers lost several key players in free agency. However after Lillard averaged 6.8 assists per game during the 2015-2016 NBA season, he only averaged 5.9 per contest last season. Lillard focused too much on isolation ball which destroyed the rhythm of Portland’s offense. And heading into a new season, Lillard must find a way to make the players around him better, while also not losing his ability to score.

Playing alongside Lillard has afforded McCollum the opportunity to become a solid scorer for Portland. In each of the last two seasons, McCollum has averaged more 20 points per game. But the duo of McCollum and Lillard taking nearly half of the Trail Blazers shot once again won’t cut it.

Jusuf Nurkic

Last season the Blazers acquired center Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets and he showed the ability to play off of Lillard and McCollum. In 20 games for Portland, Nurkic averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds before his season came to a premature end after he suffered a broken leg. Nurkic is still working his way back from the injury, and once healthy, he has the ability to have an impact at both ends of the floor.

Aside from Nurkic, the Trail Blazers have size on their front line which includes small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, center Meyers Leonard, and power forward Ed Davis. Portland was tied for 13th in the NBA in rebounding last season at 43.7 per game, but with their size, there needs to be a change in philosophy in regards to how this team plays. Offensively Portland should concentrate more on having Lillard drive the lane in order to set his big men up for easier shots, while they also need to get nastier at the end of the defensive of the floor where they surrendered 108.5 points per game last season which was 25th in the NBA.

Unlike last season, Portland might not be able to recover from having a slow start due to the Western Conference being tougher which means that they must develop team chemistry early on in order to keep up.

Utah Jazz 41-41

The past NBA season saw the Utah Jazz emerge as a force in the Western Conference. The Jazz were able to win their first Northwest Division Title since 2008, while they won their first playoff series since 2010. The Jazz showed all of the signs of a team that was trending upward until they had to deal with the harsh reality of the NBA.

Small forward Gordon Hayward who led the Jazz in scoring at 21.9 points per game decided to leave Salt Lake City as a free agent to join the Boston Celtics. The Jazz are one of the NBA’s smaller market franchises, and the allure of Hayward playing for his former college head coach in Brad Stevens as well as being in Boston was enough for him to leave town.

The Jazz won’t be able to replace the contributions of Hayward as he was a solid two-way player. But for Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, he heads into a new NBA season trying to keep his squad on track, while making the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Rudy Gobert

The departure of Hayward means that center Rudy Gobert will now be the guy for Utah. Gobert was a first-round pick by the Jazz in 2013 and he has been a project. However Gobert is coming off of his best season in the NBA as he led the league in blocks last season at 2.6 per contest. Gobert stands 7’1″, but his wingspan makes him 7’9″ and his ability to block shots makes him Utah’s best interior defender since Mark Eaton. However Gobert could become more of a threat at the offensive end of the floor as he should get more shots now in the post as there are not too many centers in the Western Conference that will be able to deal with his size and presence.

Aside from Gobert, the Jazz have size on their front line in the form of power forward Derrick Favors. Like Gobert, Favors has ability to be a shot blocker and rebounder, but his overall production took a dip last season due to injury. Favors is a seven-year NBA veteran, but he is still a youngster at the age of 26. And if Favors is healthy this season, points will be at a premium this year for Utah opponents due to his presence as well as that of Gobert on the interior.

Ricky Rubio

The Jazz were able to acquire point guard Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves over the summer as he has morphed into a quality point guard, and the Jazz’s style of offense which focuses on movement will benefit him. Utah still has veteran swingman Joe Johnson, but the one thing that’ll hinder their chances this season is that they no longer have a play maker like Hayward who can consistently create for his teammates.

The Jazz will definitely take a step back as the loss of Hayward, along with a stacked Western Conference will make it tough for them to get back to the postseason.

X-Division Winner

Y-Playoff Berth

Source: Basketball-reference.com

 

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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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2015-2016 Southeast Division Projections

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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.

Justise WInslow

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.

Chris Bosh

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.

Mike Budenholzer

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.

Bradley Beal, John Wall

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.

Orlando Magic 36-46

 

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

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.

Elfrid Payton

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.

Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker

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.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

Y-Division Winner

X-Playoff Berth

 

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These Hawks Are For Real

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Mike Bundenholzer

The Atlanta Hawks have made the NBA Playoffs in each of the last seven seasons, but they have continued to fly under the radar. Last season the injury bug hit the Hawks real hard, but under first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer they surprised many observers with a trip to the postseason. The Hawks would give the Eastern Conference’s top team in the Indiana Pacers all that they could handle in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out in seven games. The Hawks didn’t hang their heads after exiting the postseason as they gained tremendous confidence that has carried over to this season.

The Hawks currently have a record of 29-8 which is the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks have done this by playing team basketball and simply believing in one another. All five starters for the Hawks are currently averaging in double figures for points as it has been a different guy every night that has emerged to carry the team in Atlanta.

(L-R), Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague

Last season Hawks center Al Horford was averaging 18.6 points and 8.4 rebounds before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season after just 29 games. Horford has returned this season and his offensive production is down which is to be expected if all five starters are averaging double figures in points, but he gives the Hawks a presence in the post. In seven seasons with the Utah Jazz, power forward Paul Millsap flew under the radar as the Western Conference is loaded with quality big men. Millsap signed with the Hawks as free agent in the summer of 2013 and last season he made his first NBA All-Star team. Millsap is averaging 17 points and 8.1 rebounds this season as he has teamed with Horford to give the Hawks a tough combination on the interior. Like Millsap, the Jazz were the last NBA team that small forward DeMarre Carroll was employed by before joining the Hawks. Carroll is also in his second season with the Hawks and he is enjoying a career year as he is averaging 11.4 points and 5.8 boards per contest. And just as Millsap and Carroll once played for the Jazz, the same can be said about Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver. Korver is in his 12th NBA season and he has become one of the better three-point shooters that the game has ever seen. This season is flirting with that rare air as he is looking to hit on 90 percent of his free throws while hitting at 50 percent on his field goals and from downtown. But the player that has emerged as the glue for the Hawks is point guard Jeff Teague.

Jeff Teague

The Hawks drafted Teague with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft out of Wake Forest University without that much fan fare, but he has worked at his craft and he has continued to improve in each season. When the Hawks lost Horford last season, Teague was one of the players that stepped his game up. And in the postseason versus the Pacers, Teague emerged as he averaged 19.3 points per game. Teague’s postseason performance from last spring has carried over to this season as he is currently leading the Hawks in points per game (17.5) while he is 10th in the NBA in assists with 7.2.

When Budenholzer became the Hawks head coach in 2013, he brought with him a winning pedigree. Budenholzer had been an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs since 1996 and during his time there he was a part of four NBA Championship teams. In San Antonio, Budenholzer worked under Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich who preaches team first basketball. With Popovich leading the way the Spurs have won five NBA Championships and they have done it with the team first philosophy as they don’t rely on one player to carry the load which is what the Hawks are doing this season and so far it has been a success.

After a 7-6 start to the season, the Hawks have won 22 out of their last 24 ballgames and their surge cannot just be attributed to playing in the Eastern Conference or the Southeast Division. During this run the Hawks have knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers twice and defeated the Chicago Bulls on December 15. The past three weeks have also seen the Hawks run the gauntlet versus the Western Conference. In consecutive road games in late December, the Hawks knocked off both the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets which was immediately followed by a home victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Hawks have kicked off 2015 on the right note with road victories over the Portland Trailblazers and Clippers which was followed up with a home win against the Memphis Grizzlies. This past Friday night the Hawks went on the road and defeated the Detroit Pistons who were the hottest team in the NBA. And just yesterday the Hawks throttled the Washington Wizards who are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference by the score of 120-89.

The Hawks are destined to make the playoffs and they have the people in Atlanta once again gravitating to them. Last summer controversy surrounded the Hawks as their majority owner Bruce Levinson self-reported himself to the NBA in wake of an inflammatory email that he sent in 2012. The Hawks are searching for a new owner as they have been a ship without a captain, but with a chief officer like Bundenholzer, the remaining deck mates have been able to not listen to the white noise outside and focus on playing basketball. Like the Clippers last season in wake of the Donald Sterling scandal, the Hawks are rolling along in spite of their owner. The Hawks main competition in the Southeast Division are the Wizards with whom they have proven that they can beat and it will be a race with the Bulls and the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the conference.  The Hawks have not been out of the first round since 2011 while they have not been to the NBA Finals since 1961 when they still called St. Louis home. The one thing that could hold the Hawks back is that they have a weak bench as they really rely on their starters. There’s still a good chunk of the regular season to go, but the Hawks have shown that they won’t be a pushover this time around.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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