While not the most talented division in the East, the Southeast certainly has the most interesting teams. With three of these teams pushing for the playoffs, it’s likely one of them will spring a surprise against the ‘Big Three’ of the East.
A phenomenal run around February/March saw the Wizards briefly break the hegemony of the top three – and watching John Wall and co. demolish the Raptors at the ACC, it wasn’t hard to see why. Offensive, entertaining basketball played by a strong starting five was enough to create a fortress in Washington rivalling the White House. John Wall’s playmaking, Beal’s aptitude from behind the perimeter, and the tenacity of Otto Porter Jr, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat can launch another successful season for the Wizards, who’ve made little change – and ensure the creation of a ‘Big Four’ in the East.
The Hornets will go into the season as one of the most underrated, or ‘slept on’, teams. Their offseason moves should comfortably propel them into the playoffs. The continuing prominence of Kemba Walker – one of my favourite players to watch – is a given, while Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are useful contributors on rebounds and scoring. The front court strength and depth is admirable – Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky back up the brilliant acquisition of Dwight Howard. However, I’m most excited about the Hornets’ draft pick – Malik Monk. An excellent scorer, his fast driving to the hoop and shooting ability will be key to Charlotte’s playoffs hopes.
A late playoff run ended in heartbreak as the Heat missed out by just one game. The Heat look a team in between tanking and challenging – not good enough to go past the first round of the playoffs, not poor enough to land a good draft pick. Quizzically, there was little in terms of significant player change. Deadwood like the injury-prone Chris Bosh was let go, and a host of rather uninspiring additions arrived – perhaps the most significant being Kelly Olynyk. To have a chance for anything higher than eighth seed, the Heat need both Gordon Dragic, coming off a fantastic EuroBasket, and Dion Waiters to have monster seasons. But likely is, that the Heat will be involved in a similar race to last season.
The Atlanta team that laboured to 5th spot in the East last season has been stripped of talent. Departures including Dwight Howard, Jose Calderon, Mike Dunleavy, Tim Hardaway Jr, Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha have ensured 2017/18 will be a miserable campaign for Hawks fans. The incoming Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli don’t inspire too much confidence either. It’s looking likely to be up to Dennis Schroder to drag any results out of this side – perhaps aided by draft pick John Collins at the four.
With due respect, this current Orlando team is a forgettable one. 13th in the last campaign, I don’t expect too much movement. A starting five featuring Elfrid Payton – an underrated point guard, Jonathon Simmons – admittedly an excellent pickup from the Spurs, Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon – both exciting on their day, and Bismack Biyombo – doesn’t look too bad, but where’s the star player? The one who’ll win games for them? Perhaps trying to emulate the Atlanta team of a couple of seasons ago, the talent is equally spread on the Orlando floor, with strength in-depth – in the form of Nikola Vucevic, DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier. Orlando have certainly improved, but not as much as the teams around them.