Since there is absolutely no offseason in the NBA, this summer’s trade deadline and free agency period may have been the most talked about and most important in the history of the league. A whopping 8 (!!) All Stars from last year have changed teams, including maybe 4 of the top 10 players in the league in AD, PG, Kawhi and KD. All this movement has resulted in the 2019–20 season being considered as the most wide-open we’ve seen in years. On June 25, Caesars Sportsbook posted 2019-20 season win totals for all 30 NBA teams, so I’m going to do a breakdown of all six divisions. I’ll be giving a season outlook and an over/under prediction for each team, as well as sleepers and favorites to win each division. For my fifth article of the series, I’ll be looking at the Southeast Division.
Southeast Division Win Totals (Odds Courtesy of Odds Shark)
Miami Heat (2018-19 Season: 39-43, Finished 3rd in Southeast Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 42.5 Wins (-120) / UNDER 42.5 Wins (+100)
The Miami Heat finally have (a little bit of) star power again.
After a season in which they excelled on defense, ranking 2nd in scoring defense and 6th in defensive rating, and struggled mightily on offense, ranking 26th in both scoring and offensive rating, the Heat have made improvements on both ends of the floor and look primed for a playoff appearance this year.
With the addition of Jimmy Butler, the Heat made it clear that they’re serious about getting back to the playoffs. The Heat added Butler in a complex 3-team trade that saw them ship the openly discontent Hassan Whiteside to Portland and Josh Richardson to the 76ers, in exchange for Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard. Both Butler and Leonard should be upgrades for a Miami team that seemed to have few paths towards improvement coming into the offseason.
Sending Hassan Whiteside to Portland will open the door for 3rd-year Center Bam Adebayo to get more playing time and improve on his already impressive skillset. Last season, Adebayo was one of the better all-around big men in the league, despite starting just 28 games. Hopefully, with more chances for game action next season, the 22-year-old big man should improve on both ends and become a great frontcourt option alongside Jimmy Butler and James Johnson/Kelly Olynyk.
In the draft, the Heat selected Tyler Herro with the 13th pick. Herro was one of the more polarizing picks from draft night, with analysis all over the map. In my opinion, if he can put on some weight and work on his pull-up jumper and inside finishing, Herro has the skillset to become a solid contributor for Miami. At least, that’s the hope for Heat fans, who didn’t seem too happy in the immediate aftermath of the draft.
The Miami Heat sent Hassan Whiteside to Portland, which should turn out to be addition by subtraction. They basically traded Josh Richardson for Jimmy Butler, which is obviously a considerable upgrade. And they added Tyler Herro, who could become a very useful sharpshooter and offensive talent. These are all upgrades from this offseason, so I don’t see how people can be pessimistic about the Heat this year. I’m taking the over on the Heat this year and I like where they’re headed in the 2019-20 season.
Orlando Magic (2018-19 Season: 42-40, Finished 1st in Southeast Division, Lost Eastern Conference 1st Round 4-1)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 41.5 Wins (-110) / UNDER 41.5 Wins (-110)
The Orlando Magic were about as close to average as possible last season. Orlando finished 42-40, one game from a record of exactly .500. They ranked 8th in defensive rating and 22nd in offensive rating, for an average of 15th. Right in the middle. They finished 5th in scoring defense and 24th in scoring offense, for an average of ~ 15th. Right in the middle again. As I’ve said before, squeaking into the playoffs and being average are not good signs for most teams. But, do the Magic even have what it takes to make it back to .500 this season? I don’t think so.
For starters, the Orlando Magic’s offseason was pretty average, which is not a good sign. Yet again, they failed to bring in more shooting threats at the guard position. They did retain Terrence Ross, who shot 38.3% from 3 last season and averaged a career-high 15.1 points per game. But, outside of Ross, the Magic’s roster is full of long players who aren’t great shooters.
Another huge problem the Magic are facing is that they lack an identity at the point guard position. A rotating cast of DJ Augustin, Markelle Fultz, who still doesn’t have a clear timeline for a return, and Michael Carter-Williams is definitely not an ideal scenario for a team looking to return to the playoffs for the second time since 2012.
Overall, I think the Magic may have hit their ceiling last season at 42 wins and I’m not sure they can even match that total in 2019-20. I’m taking the under for Orlando and I hope they can either over-perform or tank and start fresh, because 41-41 is not the place to be in the NBA.
Atlanta Hawks (2018-19 Season: 29-53, Finished 5th in Southeast Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 32.5 Wins (-110) / UNDER 32.5 Wins (-110)
I have a strong feeling that the Atlanta Hawks are going to outperform expectations in the 2019-20 campaign.
Does that mean they’ll make the playoffs this year? Probably not.
The Hawks finished with a record of 29-53 last season, which was good enough for the 4th-worst record in the NBA. Their defense was one of the worst in the league, ranking 27th in defensive rating and surrendering over 119 points per game, the highest total in the NBA. On offense, the Hawks fared a little better, finishing 12th in scoring and 4th in made 3-pointers, but 23rd in offensive rating. Overall, it was a very disappointing result, with bright spots here and there to build on.
One of those bright spots was rookie PG Trae Young, who finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting and shrugged off a slow start on the way to averaging 19.1 points (2nd among rookies) and 8.1 assists (1st among rookies and 3rd among all players). Young had 9 games with 30+ points, 30 games with 10+ assists, and 7 games with both 30+ points and 10+ assists, more than any other rookie in the NBA since the 1984-85 season. While his defensive and shooting numbers were less than impressive, he showed his prowess as a distributor, finishing 3rd in assists among all players. I believe Trae Young is an outstanding young talent with room to improve, so Hawks fans should be excited to watch his game grow this season.
The Hawks’ John Collins was one of the most overlooked players in the NBA last season and he seems primed and ready to make it hard for defenses to ignore him. Last year, Collins made a substantial jump during his second season, averaging 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds in 61 games. The most impressive part of his progression was his improved 3-point shooting, where he jumped from 34% on less than 1 attempt to 34.8% on nearly 3 attempts per game. That 0.8% improvement may seem insignificant, but anytime you can shoot more threes AND do it more successfully, that’s a good sign for the future.
The Hawks’ other additions this offseason included DeAndre Hunter, who is a standout guard coming off of a National Championship at Virginia. Hunter should be a nice defensive piece around Trae Young and John Collins, and the Hawks added shooting with the addition of Allen Crabbe and (potentially) Cam Reddish. The signing of Evan Turner was a little puzzling, but he can potentially add depth as another frontcourt playmaker.
Overall, I like the direction that the Hawks are headed in and I’m excited to watch them play in the 2019-20 season. While I think the playoffs are still slightly out of reach this year, I think the Hawks will exceed expectations and win at least 33 games, pushing them over their total.
Washington Wizards (2018-19 Season: 32-50, Finished 4th in Southeast Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds:
OVER 28.5 Wins (-125) / UNDER 28.5 Wins (+105)
You expect me to believe this is a real NBA roster? Come on.
The Washington Wizards are going to have one of the worst seasons in franchise history this year. I’m confident in that.
Their offseason went about as bad as it possibly could have, especially since bringing back Thomas Bryant and signing Isaiah Thomas are really their biggest moves of the summer. That’s a terrible sign for a team that will already be very reliant upon Bradley Beal, who has played all 82 games in back-to-back years and led the NBA in minutes last season. Running your 26-year-old shooting guard, who just happened to be an All Star in back-to-back seasons the last 2 years, into the ground doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.
It also shows that the Wizards, who will most likely be without John Wall for the entire 2019-20 season, have only one way to get better: tank and start fresh.
On offense, it’s hard to see where their scoring will come from, especially without many new notable additions. As far as their defense goes, it’s difficult to foresee any improvements from last season’s disastrous performance, where they finished 29th in scoring defense and 28th in defensive rating.
It looks like Bradley Beal, Rui Hachimura, and Isaiah Thomas are going to have to be their biggest scoring threats, which is not a great sign.
Hachimura is a rookie that has potential to become a very solid role player and maybe crack the starting lineup by year’s end. Throughout this summer, Hachimura has looked impressive, as he was named to the Summer League Second Team and showed some major potential.
Like I said before, Beal is going to have to shoulder a large portion of the scoring, which he may be capable of. But asking him to put up close to 30 points a night would require that he shoot about 25 times per night. I can see him shooting around 25 times per game this year, but that may take a toll on his shooting percentages and efficiency. Beal has also been trending downward as a defender in the past few years, and an uptick in offensive usage doesn’t seem like it will help to reverse that trend.
As far as their signing of Isaiah Thomas, Washington’s lack of a scoring punch will be a good test to see if he can get his offensive production to look more like that of his days in Boston than the past few years.
Overall, the Wizards had a very disappointing offseason. With John Wall slated to miss the entire season and Bradley Beal already carrying a heavy workload, Washington looks to be headed for the bottom of the league in 2019-20. Take the under for the Wizards this year. If you’re a Wizards fan, I’m sorry in advance.
Charlotte Hornets (2018–19 Season: 39–43, Finished 2nd in Southeast Division, Missed Playoffs)
2019-20 Season Line & Odds: OVER 24.5 Wins (-105) / UNDER 24.5 Wins (-115)
Yikes. It’s got to be tough to be a Hornets fan right now.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking more like the Charlotte Bobcats after a disastrous 2019 offseason. After refusing to make Kemba Walker a max player, or trade him during the season for what was sure to be a much bigger haul, the Hornets settled for a sign-and-trade with the Celtics that brought them Terry Rozier (and his bad contract) and a protected 2020 second round pick.
I’m still baffled by this trade. Low-balling your homegrown All-Star and making it all but certain that he’ll leave via free agency or a desperate trade is not exactly what most fans would consider an ideal outcome. Especially if the Hornets knew they weren’t going to offer Kemba a max deal this summer.
Bottoming out in the NBA is one of the only ways to escape mediocrity, especially if you’re the Charlotte Hornets. No offense to anyone from Charlotte, but I don’t think it’s a very big free agent destination as of right now. But, giving Terry Rozier a 3-year, $56.7 million contract is the exact opposite of what you want to do to start a rebuild.
Despite reports that Kemba Walker would take less than the max to stay with Charlotte, the Hornets offered him an inexplicably low 5-year, $160 million contract, which was $60 million less than the projected 5-year, $221 million supermax deal he was eligible for. In addition to trading Walker, the Hornets lost Jeremy Lamb (signed with Pacers), Frank Kaminsky (signed with Suns) and Tony Parker (retired). Those four combined for 46.8% of their points last season, which is astounding, considering they let Kaminsky and Lamb, their second-leading scorer, walk in free agency.
The fact that the Hornets didn’t make any other additions in free agency is certainly concerning. This season has tank written all over it for them. But, with the new lottery odds, things have a chance to get A LOT worse before they get any better in Charlotte.