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2007-08 Division Preview

Today, the Queen City Hoops division preview kicks off…and it means less work for me. How can that be? Because I have lined up bloggers from the other teams in the division to give some thoughts on their teams, the Bobcats, and the division overall. We start things of by looking at the rest of the division. Then, their thoughts (and mine) on the Bobcats season and some win-loss records predictions. On to the information/opinion (biased as only a good fan can be).

The Bloggers' Squads
(in alphabetical order)
The Atlanta Hawks
Thoughts from Jay Busbee of Right Down Peachtree
A Talllle Of Two Cities

Yes, that headline has too many L’s. It’s all too familiar to both Hawks and Bobcats fans.

Atlanta and Charlotte are two sides of the same coin, and not just because we’re both slagged off as the epitome of the soulless “New South” city by people who really want to live down here anyway. Both the Hawks and Bobcats are young teams, both boast a proven scorer, both have roster of a wildly inconsistent players, and both have a tradition of, well, sucking out loud.

But things are changing in both cities. Neither team’s a guaranteed ‘W’ for anyone anymore, and when the two hook up, fans in both cities can look forward to some uptempo hoops. Will they win? Not as much as any of us would like, unfortunately. But so far, both cities are going about the building—can’t really call it ‘rebuilding,’ can we?—process in the right way, and it’ll pay dividends eventually.

But we’ve still got a season or three to play before then, so let’s get rolling with our breakdown:

Primoz Brezec vs. Zaza Pachulia. Folks, I haven’t caught this many z’s since I watched that Al Gore movie! (Thank you, I’ll be here all week.) Seriously, both Brezec and Pachulia are the leading edge of the new-breed European centers, undersized but fundamentally sound. Of course, the leading edge tends to be a bit raw in the development phase, and while both of these Z-merchants are capable of a double-double, both will struggle against beefier centers. Against each other, they might just cancel each other out and vanish completely.
Edge: Push.

Power Forward:
Emeka Okafor vs. Marvin Williams
Sean May’s absence is going to hurt Charlotte, removing a key low-post cog. But if Okafor can stay healthy and Brezec can play up to his capabilities, they’ll be fine. Thin, but fine. Atlanta, on the other hand, is kind of hoping that other teams forget that you can score in ways other than outside jump shots. Williams is just keeping this spot warm until #3 pick (now #2 with Greg Oden out for the year) Al Horford gets ready…which could come before Thanksgiving.
Edge: Charlotte in a big way.

Small Forward:
Gerald Wallace vs. Josh Smith. Wallace is a free shooter and always a threat to drop 40 on you, but Josh Smith is what the overheated NBA commentators call a “specimen”—a physical freak who can jump out of the gym and block an incoming mortar round. The question now is how well and how consistently he can score; he’s still young and prone to frustration, so smart teams will get in his face as soon as he gets off the bus. If he can keep a clear head, though, he could be the bargain-bin Pippen to Joe Johnson’s discount Jordan.
Edge: Atlanta, just barely.

Shooting Guard:
Jason Richardson (CHA) vs. Joe Johnson (ATL): Richardson is going to shoot from anywhere on the Charlotte side of the South Carolina border, and he’ll get his points. Johnson’s a more complete player, but he’s also the most anonymous superstar ever to play in the NBA. Not that he needs to be signing endorsement deals in the huddle, but it’s on his shoulders to step up and be the leader that the Hawks so desperately need.
Edge: Atlanta

Point Guard:
Raymond Felton vs. Speedy Claxton and Acie Law. The point guard spot has haunted the Hawks ever since they passed on Chris Paul. They’ve got Speedy Claxton—who’ll be downgraded to “Kinda Fasty” before long—and now Acie Law IV to handle the duties. Point guard is a notoriously difficult spot for rookies to jump into—except for, um, Chris Paul—so don’t look for Law to get the keys too soon. Over on the Charlotte side, Felton is a steady, known commodity—which is something the Hawks could use right about now.
Edge: Charlotte

Sam Vincent may have never coached an NBA game in his life, but that doesn’t mean he’s much worse off than Mike Woodson, who’s won barely more than one of every four games he’s coached. It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Woodson, who’s got the talent to make a run; Vincent will get a bit of rope.
Edge: Um…pass.

Miami Heat
Thoughts from…me (The Heat blogger I rounded up committed, but it must have been a Britney Spears' commitment)
Of the teams to have to sub for, the Heat are the easiest though. Why? Because their entire fortunes rest on but 2 players – Flash and the Diesel. If Shaq and Wade are healthy, this team can win 50 plus games and make noise in the playoffs. If either misses significant time, the rest of the supporting cast is too weak to pick up the burden, and they will struggle to make the playoffs. Considering that Wade's return continues to be pushed back, I am going with scenario two.

Orlando Magic
Thoughts from Brendan Sonnone of Believing in Magic
The Orlando Magic finished last season with a 40-42 record and its first trip to the playoffs since 2003. After being swept by the Detroit Pistons in the first round, the Magic realized how much it would take to become a contender in the Eastern Conference and so the team shook things up in the off-season. Orlando let go of Coach Brian Hill and replaced him with Stan Van Gundy, who will implement a more up-tempo offense while still preaching defense. While coaching change up was big, the additions and losses to Orlando personnel was greater. The team lost big man, Darko Milicic, and veteran Grant Hill. The team won’t miss Hill too much, but the athleticism Milicic added will be hard to replace. Orlando made a huge splash in free agency, signing sharp shooting forward Rashard Lewis to an enormous six year contract. Lewis will team with Dwight Howard to form one of the best inside-outside combos in the league. Howard is poised to make a leap as one of, if not the, best center in the league. However, Lewis and Howard can’t do it by themselves. Point guard Jameer Nelson needs to step up, and youngsters J.J Redick and Trevor Ariza must also show signs of improvement to their overall game. If Orlando’s big men can compliment Howard (which might be harder now that Tony Battie’s shoulder is an issue) in the post and the before mentioned role players can take their game to another level, expect to see the Magic to make a run at Southwest Division title and 45-50 wins.

Washington Wizards
Thoughts from The White President of We're Off To See The Wizards
Offensively, With DeShawn Stevenson returning, the Washington Wizards finally don't have to mesh a new player into their starting lineup. The Wizards should have a little more explosiveness off the bench with two nice rookies in Nick Young and Dominic McGuire, but they may have trouble getting into Eddie Jordan's lineup their first year. Other additions include a healthy Darius Songaila (who looked good in Eurobasket…but that's Eurobasket) and Oleksiy Pecherov, who honestly didn't look that great this summer. Other than that, it should be the same old big 3 high scoring offense.

Defensively, like Gilbert Arenas' number, the Wizards play Zero. Guys like Gerald Wallace, Chris Bosh, and other versatile power forwards absolutely DESTROY the Wizards every year. Wizard defenders get beat all the time and when they help out they leave deadly shooters wide open. This really prevents them from being an elite NBA team and it hurts to watch.

People in Washington blame Gilbert Arenas' injury for the poor final record last year, but truthfully the Wizards were falling apart much before that. They always have injuries and a lot of highs and lows, and Gilbert's ego is going haywire. They should start off much better than last years 4 wins in 13 games, but should follow a similar path overall. I can only see them winning a few more games, even if Gilbert plays in every game. I think the top 3 teams will be pretty close but I have to put the Wizards first by a hair.

The Bobcats
(as seen through various shades of tinted glasees)

Thoughts from Brendan Sonnone of Believing in Magic
A season after they totaled just 33 wins, the Charlotte Bobcats are now ready to make a legitimate run at the playoffs for the first time franchise history. Sam Vincent will bring a fast paced offense to Charlotte in his first year as a head coach and he has plenty of talent to work with. The Bobcats added shooting guard Jason Richardson in a trade on draft day, and he might be the go to scorer the team has lacked. Entering his third year, Raymond Felton will join Richardson to form a scary duo in backcourt, perhaps one of the best in the conference. Gerald Wallace and Adam Morrison form a solid one-two punch at the small forward position. Wallace is a terrific defender and Morrison is capable of putting up big points, but he needs to show improvement in his second year. The biggest question mark for the Bobcats is Emeka Okafor, who anchors the team down low. He is a great defender and rebounder, but injuries have been a problem with him. If Okafor can stay healthy and Vincent find a way to form team chemistry, the Bobcats could be a dark hoarse in the East this year.

Thoughts from The White President of We're Off To See The Wizards
I have seen them play when the come to the Verizon Center (where they practically pay you to attend a Bobcats game) and Gerald Wallace is a beast against the Wizards. With the NCAA all star team of a roster, they are one step away (and one year away I think) from turning their fortunes around and sneaking into the playoffs. The key for them is Gerald Wallace. He needs to turn his 18ppg into 23ppg. Richardson will help the young players, especially with some veteran leadership and his playoff experience from last year. I think the Bobcats will surprise some teams, but I just don't see them making a drastic move this year.

Hopefully the B-Cats can bring the glory days of Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, & Alonzo Mourning back to Charlotte. Oh and one final prediction: At some point in the season, Adam Morrison will begin to cry…

Thoughts from Jay Busbee of Right Down Peachtree
See above where Jay did the position by position break down of the Hawks and Bobcats.

Thoughts from me
The Bobcats had better talent than their record indicated last season. As I have pointed out previously, the Bobcats were a playoff caliber squad much of the year – once Crash bounced back from his early season injury and Emeka was healthy. They had dug themselves too big a hole early in the season to make much noise though, but it did cause expectations to be raised for the coming year. And the addition of Jason Richardson took expectations even higher. The new coach is even talking 4th in the East. Is that a real possibility?

In a word: No. In multiple words: Not any more. Prior to the loss of Sean May for the season, I would have entertained such thoughts…on one condition – That the team would have to have unprecedented good health for its core players, Emeka, Crash, Jason Richardson, and Sean May. And that would have been quite a leap, considering their respective injury histories. The problem is, the Bobcats lack depth at the point and in the frontcourt. Emeka and Sean May were the only solid low post threats on the team, and now one is gone. I never thought I would say this, but the team was really hurt by letting Jake Voskuhl leave. It may sound crazy, but he provided solid minutes for the club last year, and they will have a hard time replacing it.

The new starting five of Ryan Hollins, Emeka, Crash, Jason, and Felton still looks solid. And sliding Emeka to the 5 and getting Herrmann in the game looks intriguing. But there I go again, I keep saying Emeka. He is the key to the team – without him, they really struggle on defense and struggle to win. The thing is, he cannot play 48 minutes a game and he almost certainly will miss 10 or so games this year. In the 14 minutes a game he is on the bench and 10 or so games he is in a suit, the Bobcats are not a good team – maybe even a bad one. They were outscored by 4.8 more points per 100 possessions without him last year.

Were Sean May available for the season, I could still see the Bobcats dealing with the inevitable injuries and winning 41 to 43 games. But without him (and no suitable replacement), the Bobcats are looking at another season outside the playoffs. I see them continuing to improve in the win column, from 33 to 39, but not enough to print those first playoff tickets.

With that, we segue into the prediction of records:
Thoughts from Jay Busbee of Right Down Peachtree
Washington (46-36)
Miami (42-40)
Atlanta (40-42)
Charlotte (37-45)
Orlando (36-46)

Thoughts from Brendan Sonnone of Believing in Magic
Orlando Magic (45-37)
Washington Wizards (43-39)
Miami Heat (41-41)
Charlotte Bobcats (41-41)
Atlanta Hawks (33-49)

Thoughts from The White President of We're Off To See The Wizards
Washington Wizards (46-36)
Orlando Magic (44-38)
Miami Heat (43-39)
Charlotte Bobcats (36-46)
Atlanta Hawks (26-56)

Queen City Hoops Projections:
Washington Wizards (47-35)
Orlando Magic (44-38)
Miami Heat (40-42)
Charlotte Bobcats (39-43)
Atlanta Hawks (38-44)

Aggregate Projections:Washington Wizards (45.5-36.5)
Orlando Magic (42.25-39.75)
Miami Heat (41.5-40.5)
Charlotte Bobcats (38.25-43.75)
Atlanta Hawks (34.25-47.75)

And with that, I am spent for the night. I will try and put together some follow-up thoughts tomorrow and please weigh in thoughts on the various projections.
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