Egan: NBA Season Preview, Part III

Here we go again, ring that bell! It’s time for Round 3 of OTT’s NBA Season Preview.

In case you missed Parts I and II, here they are: Part I (Atlantic Division)Part II (Central Division).

This time around we will preview the Southeast division. Starting in the left corner…

ATLANTA HAWKS
If you asked me earlier in the off-season, I would have told you the Hawks pretty much stayed quiet. But then a report leaked that one of the team’s scouting reports – on Luol Deng – said, “he has a little African in him.” And the general manger – Danny Ferry – is the one who said it. Since then, the owner sold the team and Ferry has been suspended. Last season, one of the biggest weaknesses for Atlanta was its defense. They kept that in mind and that is why they signed Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore. Both players are known for their defense and that should help out the Hawks this year.

They also drafted Adrien Payne in this past years draft. Payne, at Michigan State, showed that he was an offensive force. He is a shooting big man and has possible three-point range. Not only is he able to shoot, but also has a low-post game and likes to bang on the boards.

PREDICTION:
Atlanta will have about the same season that they’ve had for the past four or five years, winning a few games above .500. That’ll help them secure the seventh seed. Sorry, Atlanta your team is still in mediocrity and doesn’t seem to be coming out anytime soon.

* * *

CHARLOTTE HORNETS
The Bobcats…scratch that, the Hornets made the playoffs last year for only the second time in franchise history. Last season’s acquisition of big man Al Jefferson was the key reason. They went out and signed another prime-time player in Lance Stephenson. If Lance can keep most of his antics in check, like blowing sweet nothings in LeBron’s ear, then this will be a great pickup, giving them an outside threat and a great No. 2 scoring threat, while making Kemba Walker a great third offensive option. Stephenson isn’t just a great offensive player, he is truly a complete player and a triple-double threat every time he steps on the court.

They also added two draft picks this season – Noah Vonleh and P. J. Hairston. Vonleh is a great rebounder who also has the ability to score inside and out, whether it’s his low-post game or his jumper, he is going to score. Hairston is a shooting guard who is able to score outside well. He’s a great spot-up shooter who also tends to get to the free throw line, which will give him easy points.

PREDICTION:
Charlotte and Michael Jordan will continue to improve the team, have another successful season, and make the playoffs yet again. With their core of Stephenson and Jefferson, they will have no trouble putting up points and help Kemba Waker score more easily. With Jefferson getting double teamed in the post and Stephenson occupying all five sets of defender’s eyes on him, Kemba will have some sneaky baskets each game.

* * *

MIAMI HEAT
The Heat were definitely labeled losers of the off-season. They lost the best player in the world – LeBron James. That is huge and will definitely hurt them, as some view them as even missing the playoffs. They quietly added some other pieces around their two all-stars, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, by signing Josh McRoberts, Loul Deng, Shannon Brown, and Danny Granger. McRoberts is another big to play along side Bosh and should be able to score a little bit in the post, and can knock down the open jumper. Also, he is an excellent passer. He’ll exceed expectations and his presence will allow Bosh to become more of a low post player, like he was back in Toronto. Deng will be a nice third option to score when Wade is in the game. But expect Wade to miss at least 20 games this season — and that’s me being conservative. Deng is an excellent defender and will bother most teams number one scoring threat. Shannon Brown will provide some spark off the bench with some highlight plays and Granger will provide a sharpshooter coming off the bench, when he is in the game. However, just like Wade, Granger is injury-prone and will miss games this season. Napier, the former UConn star, is a nice addition and will continue to improve over the years. He is a little small, so that’ll hurt him on defense. However, he is able to score by getting past his defender and into the lane.

PREDICTION:
The additions they made, after LeBron left, will be enough for them to have a successful season again. They will endure some struggles during the season, especially when Wade goes down due to injury. But that’ll build character and chemistry for them, and lead them into the playoffs for another season.

* * *

ORLANDO MAGIC
This team is terrible and they know it. That’s why they have the same mentality as the 76ers: Build up a young core with early draft picks. Their biggest off-season acquisition was Ben Gordon, who is able to put up point in bunches, however that is the only thing he can do. They did have two draft picks within the top ten this year – Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton.

Gordon is an undersized, but athletic freak of nature. Some were comparing him to Blake Griffin, only shorter. Gordon likes to rebound, but is too small to defend low-post scorers. He’ll have to develop a low post game himself and a jump shot to become a great player that many assumed he’d eventually be. Payton is going to be a good point guard sooner rather then later. He is able to get into the lane and is good at finishing, he is also good at finding the open man for an easy basket. He also likes to defend, which you do not see from younger guys. The one area he needs to improve upon is his shooting.

PREDICTION:
They will be in the slums of the league, having trouble winning games. However, their young core of Payton, Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic will all improve. While struggling together they’ll build early chemistry that should help them in the future. If this nucleus is kept together for about four years, they’ll start making some noise in the league.

* * *

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Washington surprised most people and made the playoffs last year. Not only did they make it, but they also knocked off the Chicago Bulls… it still stings… and advanced to the second round. Their two young guards – John Wall and Bradley Beal – improved quickly and began their start to stardom. What was this team lacking during the playoffs? Experience and a player they could consistently go to in the half-court. So, if they added a player that is a NBA championship winning player, Finals MVP, 10-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer that would be huge for them. And that is exactly what they did when they signed Paul Pierce — a player that many of my readers probably hate and despise for his previous seasons as a Boston Celtic. He gives the Wizards a crunch-time player and give them a tough attitude that many teams will not like playing against. They had no draft picks, so their other roster moves came in signing two power forwards — Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair. Those two will bring two nice big guys off the bench to provide toughness and rebounding.

PREDICTION:
They will once again advance into the playoffs and be in a fight with Charlotte for the division. Paul Pierce will play a big role for this team and help the team build off of their previous season as they may finish with a top playoff seed.

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