Welcome back, everyone! We’ve taken a break for awhile over at QCH while the NBA news has been circulating much slower. With just over a week until the beginning of Training Camp on October 1, we’re diving back into basketball for what appears to be a much more respectable season than we’ve seen in the last few for Charlotte.
Dakota Schmidt, Greg Pietras, Mathew Lewis and myself (Spencer Percy) do our best to forecast what the Southeast division will look like this coming season.
Spencer Percy — Lebron James. As long as Lebron stays in Miami, the heat will be competing for championships every season. Lebron is as much of a ‘do-it-all’ player as I’ve ever witnessed in any sport. Doesn’t hurt that the Heat have two other top-30 players on their roster as well in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The addition of Michael Beasley and Greg Oden this summer was interesting and should add real depth to the Miami bench + frontcourt. If Oden is able to stay healthy, play half of the season (and playoffs) and be a force for Miami on the glass then this team just got a ton better. Rebounding has been the Heat’ achilles heal, especially in the playoffs, since the arrival of the ‘Big 3′ and Oden could potentially niche that problem in the bud. Beasley, on the other hand, is an interesting (somewhat risky) acquisition – presumably shouldn’t pose a distraction in this star-studded locker room.
Dakota Schmidt — As the reigning two-time NBA champion, the Miami Heat’s strengths are pretty much set in stone. The main focus for Miami is centered around the trio of James, Wade, and Bosh but the organization has done a terrific job in terms of adding depth to combine with that dynamic trio. While his future in the league is still an extremely huge question mark, Miami’s addition of Greg Oden could pay huge dividends for the Heat’s front-court as he shares minutes with Chris Anderson.
Greg Pietras — Having the best basketball player in the world helps. Beyond their obvious star power, they’ve now got a clear, well-established identity on offense and defense and three years of building chemistry between their core players. They’re a professional group playing at their peak, both individually and as a team.
Mathew Lewis — Pretty straightforward. LeBron James. The best player in the game (and I would argue possibly ever) and he’s in the prime of his career if not still ascending. Chris Bosh and especially Dwyane Wade carry concerns but let’s be real – they still have the best player in the world and three of the top 30 (hello #NBARank!) players in the League.
Spencer Percy — Roster depth. Of course, it’s been well documented that Miami just doesn’t have the cap space to add real value to this bench because of James, Wade and Bosh. Being said, that doesn’t change the fact that they cannot afford a serious injury from one of the key three players on this team. An old Shane Battier, James Jones and James Ennis are the Heat wings once you get to the bench. An injury to Wade or James, or both, for a significant amount of time could put this team in foreign territory.
Dakota Schmidt — While I just mentioned how the duo of Greg Oden and Chris Anderson can pay dividends for Miami this season, it’s still considered a weakness when you compare it to this rest of the team. While the defensive minded core could fit in pretty nicely with Chris Bosh, the simple addition of Greg Oden probably won’t push the team out of the rebounding cellar (finished last in the league in total team rebounds). Last season in the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami was pushed to the limit by Indiana because of how Roy Hibbert and David West were easily able to expose Miami’s front-court.
Greg Pietras — Injury concerns and depth are the biggest roadblocks here. They’ve overcome short-term injuries to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the playoffs before, but losing one of their top three for the season could be a death sentence.
Mathew Lewis — Depth, as usual. However, the Heat came by a possible steal in Greg Oden/Benjamin Button. If he averages even 20 minutes/game and is healthy for the postseason it improves the Heat’s chances to three-peat dramatically.
Eastern Conference Prediction:
Spencer Percy — 1st. Staying healthy is really the only factor standing in between Miami and yet another championship. Indiana definitely got better this summer by gaining another low-post scoring weapon in Luis Scola, but Lebron, Wade and Bosh at full strength is always the favorite.
Dakota Schmidt — 1st. For a reigning NBA champ who didn’t make any dramatic changes, it’s only right to keep Miami at the top of the Eastern Conference. Teams like the aforementioned Pacers are going to be extremely competitive with the Heat and that #1 spot, but it’s still tough to predict Miami to not finish at the top of the East.
Greg Pietras — No. 1, with nobody else particularly close.
Mathew Lewis — Uno.
Spencer Percy — Two low-post offensive threats with plenty of shooters to space the floor with around them. Make no mistake, the Hawks are going to be a much more efficient offensive team without Josh Smith. The addition of Paul Millsap gives them a replacement PF for Smith that will hang around the basket more and be much more willing to draw an extra defender then kick it out – John Jenkins and Kyle Korver could both be in for inflated shooting % seasons due to the new scenery around them. Al Horford will pose the same threat to opposing defenses that Millsap will. Pick-and-rolls on this team with Jeff Teague + Paul Millsap/Al Horford are going to be fun to watch. Would not surprise me at all to see the Hawks finish as one of the top-5 most efficient offenses in the league when this season concludes – a big piece to this puzzle will hinge on how much this Mike Budenholzer offense mimics San Antonio’s, where Budenholzer comes from.
Dakota Schmidt — Front-Court. One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 offseason was how Atlanta was able to sign veteran forward Paul Millsap with a 2 year/$19 million dollar deal. The offensive duo of Millsap and Al Horford probably won’t be as electrifying as the now departed Josh Smith, but they’re some of the more efficient big men in the league.
Greg Pietras — Three-point shooting and ball movement should be a strength for the team again. They averaged the fifth-most attempts from long range last year and hit at very good clip (37.1 percent), and they retained their best shooter in Kyle Korver. They get those open looks by sharing the ball, notching the second-most assists last year while playing at an average pace. Losing Josh Smith will hurt them in that area, but incoming power forward Paul Millsap is also a willing passer.
Mathew Lewis — The front office. I love what Danny Ferry did this offseason in relinquishing the uber-frustrating Josh Smith and replacing him with arguably a better player in Paul Millsap. And he did it by committing only $19 million over two years. Al Horford and the aforementioned Millsap should form one of the best offensive front courts in the League (similar to what Millsap enjoyed in Utah). They’re surrounded by shooters and cheap assets, two things rival GM’s are always looking for in today’s NBA. I love the flexibility Atlanta has going forward.
Spencer Percy — Rebounding. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are both mediocre on the glass, and that’s being kind. Horford sported a rebounding rate of 15.7 last season, which was best for 47th in the league. Millsap, at 13.7, ranked him at 80th in the NBA. The frontcourt in Atlanta may be talented on the offensive end, but defensively + getting on the glass may be what holds Atlanta back the most this season.
Dakota Schmidt — After the departures of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in the last two offseasons, Atlanta’s depth at the wing is definitely looking depleted as we enter the 2013-14 season. In a small role, John Jenkins looked pretty solid in his rookie season with the ability to knock down the perimeter jumper (38% from three) while being able to penetrate to the rim. The big question about Jenkins will be his ability to transition into a starting shooting guard for a playoff contending team. As another three-point threat, veteran Kyle Korver should be easily able to step in and continue to be an incredible perimeter target for Jeff Teague. After Jenkins and Korver, the combination of DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Jared Cunningham fill out that spot at the wing. Carroll was an extremely solid pickup because of his defensive tenacity and ability to defend multiple positions but Scott and Cunningham are going to have to fight for an opportunity in Mike Budenholzer’s rotation.
Greg Pietras — Despite their efficiency from long range, they didn’t have a particularly good offense last year. A big part of that was their terrible free-throw shooting; they drew fouls at a low rate (27th in FTA last year) and didn’t convert when they got them (71.5 percent). Their new additions probably won’t help them much in that regard, either.
Mathew Lewis — Star power. Horford is a very good player, but not a star. The same goes for Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Lou Williams. Could the Hawks be the Denver Nuggets of the East this year? Possibly. But I would argue where they are in 2-3 years is more important.
Eastern Conference Prediction:
Spencer Percy — 6th. Atlanta will compete with Brooklyn for the 5th spot in the east, but it’s hard to see them cracking any higher than that. Even at their ceiling, can’t see them outperforming Miami, Indiana, Chicago or New York over the course of a season.
Dakota Schmidt — 6th. In a convoluted Eastern Conference, the Hawks are one of the many teams who are going to be vying for a spot between the 5th and 8th seed.
Greg Pietras — The No. 5-8 seeds all seem to be up for grabs this year, with several 2013 playoff teams detonating their rosters. The Hawks mostly stayed steady, though, and they have a good chance at keeping their slot at No. 6 (or even improving).
Mathew Lewis — 6th. The Knicks may implode and allow the Hawks to sneak up a spot to 5th but let’s leave their fans be for now. Amar’e Stoudemire is making $22 million this year so it would just be piling on.
Spencer Percy — Wings, on wings, on wings. The Wiz have a backcourt rotation that is crowded, but full of talent and potentially very fun. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, Eric Maynor, Glen Rice Jr., Jan Vesely and Leandro Barbosa. Wow, that’s a lot. It’s presumed that everyone on that list will make the 15-man roster for the regular season, and if so, there’s plenty of depth. Of course, all of this is constructed to put players around John Wall that can run the floor + score to take as much pressure off Wall as possible.
Dakota Schmidt — Depth from the wing. With a drastic difference between the two teams, GM Ernie Grunfeld has done an extremely nice job of pairing John Wall with a plethora of perimeter targets. The addition of Georgetown forward Otto Porter combined with the likes of Bradley Beal, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, and Glen Rice, Jr. will allow Randy Whittman to experiment with differing rotations. With that said, Beal and Wall are going to continue to progress as a young backcourt this season which could be extremely scary for the rest of the Southwest Division and the Eastern Conference.
Greg Pietras — Interior defense should be a strength for the Wizards again this year, depending on injuries (see my prediction below). A late-season resurgence saw the team improve its D to elite levels, eventually finishing fifth overall in defensive rating. The frontcourt of Nene and Emeka Okafor did a terrific job of protecting the paint, with the team giving up the fifth-fewest attempts within five feet of the rim. Washington also did a good job of controlling the defensive boards, with a top-ten mark in DRB%.
Mathew Lewis — Length. Washington was already a very good defensive team and that was before they added Otto Porter to the mix. Washington is one of the longest teams in the NBA, with guards John Wall and Bradley Beal on the perimeter and Emeka Okafor (pending recovery) and Nene down low. Throw in Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza, and Chris Singleton along with Porter and that’s a lot of wingspan. This aids the Wizards team defense tremendously, as shots are constantly contested from all areas on the floor.
Spencer Percy — Low-post presence. With Emeka Okafor now out indefinitely, it’s hard to trust Nene to pick up that slack. Since coming to Washington Nene hasn’t been healthy at least half of the time + his production hasn’t been anything to do backflips over when he has been on the floor. Let’s imagine the best case scenario that he misses around 20 games – that leaves the Wiz frontcourt with Kevin Seraphin, Al Harrington and Jason Collins. Seraphin and Harrington aren’t even centers. You catch the drift here – if Nene doesn’t stay healthy then Washington is in trouble around the basket, but being totally honest, this smells like a team that will be depleted on defense from last season. Especially without Okafor.
Dakota Schmidt — Front-court. The recent injury to veteran Emeka Okafor leaves Washington with a little dilemma that will have to be solved before the start of the season. As they currently sit, Washington will most likely be trotting out the duo of Kevin Seraphin and Nene during opening night in early October which is not a great looking for a potential playoff team. With Nene battling various and nagging feet, shoulder and knee injuries in the offseason, it will be intriguing to see the level of impact he’ll be able to make when he’s looked at as the leader of an extremely young front-court with Emeka Okafor recovering from his herniated disk.
Greg Pietras — As good as their defense is, their offense was an ugly mess. Having John Wall for an entire season will likely help that, but he can only do so much. The team was dead last in points per possession last year, due to their high turnovers, low-efficiency shooting and poor performance at the free-throw line. It’s probably too early to count on much from rookie Otto Porter, so they’ll need guard Bradley Beal to improve on his stellar play from the second half of last season.
Mathew Lewis — Shot efficiency. With John Wall’s ability to incessantly get into the paint, Washington needs to do a better job of creating and knocking down open high percentage shots. Of course, Wall was hurt much of last season which forced the likes of A.J. Price and company to create off the dribble in lieu of the young star, which in turn led to less open looks and often just simply inefficient attempts at the basket (3rd in the NBA in attempts from 19-23 feet). With Wall healthy and Beal a year under his belt the Wizards should improve on the offensive end. However, league average is the kind of improvement fans should expect – nothing more.
Eastern Conference Prediction:
Spencer Percy — 8th. I predicted Washington to grab the last spot in the east last season, but with injuries plaguing them all season that never had a chance. So, even with Okafor out I think the Wiz have a chance to be a playoff team. They’re in a mix of teams that include Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto.
Dakota Schmidt — Similar to Atlanta, Washington will be one of the teams who will be competing for one of the lower playoff seeds. With a wide variety of perimeter weapons, I fully expect to see John Wall be one of the most lethal distributing PG’s in the NBA.
Greg Pietras — An injury to John Wall derailed the first half of last season, and Okafor’s herniated disc could do the same this year. He’s currently out indefinitely, but says he’s “positive” he’ll play this year. If he can return within a few months and play at the same level as last year, I see them sneaking into the seventh or eighth seed. If he’s out the entire year, they’ll probably find themselves in the lottery again.
Mathew Lewis — The Wizards battle for the final spot by fall just short (of losing 4-0 to the Heat).
Spencer Percy — The only thing most people know about this team is that they’re extremely young. As young as Charlotte is, Orlando laps them in that category to be the youngest in the league. A core of Oladipo, Harkless, Harris and Vucevic make for one of the more mysterious sleeper teams in recent memory. Nikola Vucevic’ potential is well documented – a 7-foot bruiser that is a top-10 rebounder + possesses an array of moves to score around the basket. Harkless is still raw, especially offensively, but he blocks shots and gets steals at a very high rate – potential to be lockdown wing defender. Orlando hopes Harris develops into the prototypical stretch-4, very similar to what they had with Rashard Lewis during the Dwight Howard era – Tobias isn’t there yet, as he definitely has to improve his jump shot, but he’s the type of mold you want out of a young kid — High character + hard working.
Dakota Schmidt — While it’s an extremely cliche thing to say about the youngest team in the NBA, the youth and potential that’s associated with the Magic is probably the team’s biggest strength. The young core of Oladipo, Harris, Harkless , Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson are going to be hoping to excite Magic fans for the future.
Greg Pietras — Low expectations. The Magic are entering the second year of a rebuild, so any improvements they make will just be icing on a sort of crappy cake. On the plus side, they do have some interesting pieces. Nikola Vucevic is already an elite rebounder, and Tobias Harris had a nice scoring run for them late last season. Where rookie Victor Oladipo will play most of his minutes is still up in the air, but he should have a good chance at Rookie of the Year regardless.
Mathew Lewis — Youth. The transition to the post Dwight Howard era has gone relatively well in my opinion. New GM Rob Henigan has done an admirable job of acquiring talent since the departure of Howard and has positioned the team to swing a big trade or possibly sign a top level free agent in the near future. Tobias Harris blossomed upon his arrival from Milwaukee and rookie Victor Oladipo was considered the best prospect of this year’s class by many. Vucevic is another nice player who is cost-controlled and cheap ($1.8 million this season, while Harris is only costing them $1.5 million). The future is looking up in Orlando.
Spencer Percy — Ball handlers. Jameer Nelson is clearly the best on the team at handling the rock + being able to dribble through/past defensive pressure, but the waters get murky from there. I’m not convinced at all that Oladipo is going to be a PG in this league, nor am I convinced that Orlando actually believes he can become that. The Magic better pray that Nelson stays healthy, because if the bulk of the ball handling is put on Oladipo, well, it could be record setting turnovers happening in central Florida this season.
Dakota Schmidt — Direction: While the main focus of the Magic is centered around that aforementioned young core, they still have a variety of veterans (i.e Glen Davis, Arron Afflalo, etc) who could be stealing precious minutes from some of the young talent. As we currently sit, Afflalo is projected to be the starting shooting guard for Orlando with Oladipo coming off the bench. That strategy is currently understandable because of his raw abilities on offense but that will have to change in the future as he continues to improve. Meanwhile, the power forward position will be a battle between the rehabbing Glen Davis and Tobias Harris. While Harris should have the edge because of his outstanding play in Orlando, “Big Baby” Davis will still be required to have some sort of playing time if Orlando does want to separate from the chunky forward.
Greg Pietras — Like the Bobcats of the last few years, they’re a team in flux without a strong identity. A lot of the pieces don’t quite fit together at the moment, but GM Rob Hennigan did a good job with what he had last season. The Magic still need some shaping, but they should have a clearer idea of what they are by the end of the year.
Mathew Lewis — Stretching the floor. Orlando will be young and athletic (much like Washington) but without J.J. Redick they will have a hard time converting threes. Harris has shown some ability to hit the shot in addition to the veteran Jameer Nelson, but with Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo on the wings the Magic will more than likely continue to struggle from beyond the arc.
Eastern Conference Prediction:
Spencer Percy — 13th. I like what Orlando is doing and the future is presumably much brighter than the dumpster of the east, but this core is too young for me to expect them to consistently compete through an 82-game schedule. I expect Orlando to start hot and raise some eyebrows before settling for somewhere around 28-32 wins.
Dakota Schmidt — While Orlando is probably going to improve from their horrendous 20-62 record, they’re still going to hang around the cellar of the Eastern Conference as their youngsters continue to progress.
Greg Pietras — Gunning for that No. 1 spot.
Mathew Lewis — 12th. The Magic could be a fun #LeaguePassAlert team but I think they struggle to compete for the 8th and final playoff spot.