With the 2015-2016 NBA approaching, the basketball staff of My Mind on Sports is bringing you our season preview roundtable. In these roundtables we will answer key questions in each division concerning their respective teams. The first division was the Atlantic, then the Central, now it’s the Southeast Division. The Southeast Division consists of the Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic, and the Miami Heat.
1. Can the Hornets survive the loss of Michael Kidd Gilchrist?
Javeen Robinson: The Hornets can and will survive MKG’s injury because of the acquisition of Nic Batum, who can do similar defensive things and provides more spacing for the team. The Hornets also acquired Jeremy Lamb who has the length to bother opponents on the defensive side of the ball. However, the team will definitely miss Kidd- Gilchrist’s rebounding, defensive versatility, and hustle play mentality. There’s no such thing as having too many energy players, and Kidd-Gilchrist would have been a solid option of the bench.
Eddie McDonald: I don’t believe so. He was and is a part of the core of that team, who is very versatile, despite not having all the statistics to show for it. This team is on the rise, but this is a big blow. Charlotte will surely miss MKH, especially since the playoffs weren’t out of reach this season.
Wilson Tarpeh Jr.: No, there’s now a glaring hole in their starting lineup and on their roster as a whole. MKG is what “Double T” is to the Cavaliers only he’s not asking for nearly as much money. Fortunately for the Hornets there is a chance to still be somewhat good this year. Batum’s addition is now even more important with the loss of MKG. It also puts pressure on the Zellers, Lins, Lambs, Hairstons, and Kaminskys of that roster to come in and compete on that MKG or Walker like level. Marvin Williams now will most likely slide down and play the 3 now, so he has huge shoes to fill on the defensive side. It wouldn’t be a bad time for Williams to play like that young guy drafted way back when with a ton of upside, the Hornets need it.
Charles Maggio: They certainly could. I like the potential of these Hornets, from their starting five (with Kemba running the show) to the depth of their bench. College fans saw what Frank Kaminsky did on Wisconsin’s run to the title game, and Charlotte also has young, talented guards like Jeremy Lamb and P.J. Hairston ready to play productive minutes. Don’t overlook Aaron Harrison, either; if the rookie from Kentucky gets a roster spot, he could be one of the most surprising stories in the league this year.
Samar Gaines: I’m extremely high on MKG, I believe he is one of the five best wing defenders in all of basketball. I also believe he’s a very underrated offensive player with his ability to drive and finish. He would of been able to give this team a pretty unique flexibility that would of served them well this year. They may still be good enough to get the 8th seed in the east but even that isn’t guaranteed because of potential improvement of the Pistons and Magic.
2. Did the Hawks improve this offseason?
Javeen: Not at all. Some may consider Tiago Splitter an upgrade over any back big men the Hawks had last year, but he isn’t enough to mitigate the loss of Demarre Carroll. Nevertheless, I don’t think the Hawks will drop off much from last season. The culture and play style identity remains stable, and Thabo Sefolosha is coming back.
Eddie: Yes and no. They acquired Tiago Splitter from the Spurs, who will help on both ends of the floor. He is a guy who can score down low on offense and on defense, he is a rim protector and rebounder. With the acquisition, Al Horford will move over to the power forward position where he will excel. Atlanta had a decision to make as to keep Paul Millsap or DeMarre Carroll and they went with Millsap, despite Carroll performing well in the playoffs last year after a slew of injuries hit the Hawks. Carroll provided some versatility which will be missed this season.
Wilson: I don’t think so, I like the Splitter addition but that’s it. Losing Carrol may hurt much more than many think. His ability to slow down or at least fight with opposing team’s best perimeter players was huge for Atlanta. There’s also no Lou Williams, they still haven’t found someone to replace that bench production and that was a couple of years ago. In short no, I don’t believe they improved and I think they will struggle this season.
Charles: They didn’t improve by much. DeMarre Carroll was a significant loss, as he gave Atlanta significant production on both sides of the floor. The gritty swingman averaged double-digit points and five-plus boards a game in both regular season and postseason play. Atlanta’s additions of Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway Jr. were good moves, but Carroll’s departure makes the Hawks’ offseason less impressive.
Samar: Losing DeMarre Carroll to the Raptors hurt a lot, and the Hawks didn’t really do anything to replace him. I know they were able to bring in Tiago Splitter from the Spurs and he’ll help a lot, and Paul Millsap is an extremely talented player who potentially could slide over to the three from time to time, but I just don’t think that’s very realistic against most teams.
3. Will John Wall be a legit MVP candidate this season?
Javeen: He definitely deserves consideration, but I don’t believe the media will give him the nod. What Wall does for his team is simply amazing, especially when setting guys up on the offense and find shooters open in the corner with crisp and accurate passes. Wall’s defense will be a barometer for how well the Wizards do. His ability on that end is elite, but he will have to continually play hard even against lower competition. The revamped pace the Wizards play at will aid Wall in his case for MVP candidacy.
Eddie: Absolutely, yes. Wall is one of the more unappreciated guys in the league, despite being an elite, top point guard. He is constantly overlooked whether it’s for Team USA or the discussion of top point guards or overall players for that matter. I believe this will continue to light a fire under wall and motivate him to become even better. Washington will be one of the top Eastern Conference teams this season and Wall will be the main reason. He will be an MVP candidate
Wilson: If he and Beal remain healthy all season, the resounding answer is yes. He was playing at that level last season, but it somehow flew under the radar. Like Chris Paul, he makes being a floor general look very easy so it’s easy for folks to underappreciate what he brings to the table.
Charles: There are six guys I would definitely put over Wall in the MVP discussion right now: LeBron James, Steph Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant (when healthy) and Anthony Davis. Wall could win an MVP or two before his career is up, but this year just isn’t his year. The MVP race is simply too packed right now.
Samar: Of course John Wall will be in the converastion, in the same way that anybody not named StephCurry or James Harden was in it last year, you’ll get some media love maybe even a first place vote from a homer writer. But that’s as far as it will go with Wall.
4. Is this the year the Orlando Magic finally make the playoffs?
Javeen: I think the Magic will sneak into the eighth spot, but it won’t be easy with teams like the Pistons, Celtics, Pavers, and Bucks vying for the same spot. The key for Orlando is Vucevic’s back line defense. Can he consistently force rim attackers into bad angles or alter their shots? If he can, the Magic’s defense will soar, especially with very solid and athletic defending guards in Oladipo and Payton.
Eddie: The Eastern Conference is weak which will allow the Magic to squeak in the playoffs. A young core of Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Peyton, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic will be an exciting tandem. However, the Magic will likely get the 8th seed and be sent home early.
Wilson: No, they are a year and another player away from making the playoffs. The only way they do it this season is if that backcourt of Payton/Oladipo/Napier takes a huge leap and their first round pick this season produces well enough to make a run for Rookie of the Year.
Charles: Not yet. Orlando has a good young core, but the franchise is still rebuilding. They don’t get to the free throw line (they were last in the league last season at just 19.1 attempts a game), they aren’t efficient enough (14.9 turnovers a game last year) and they don’t have anybody who can shoot the three-ball at a great percentage. Scott Skiles’s team has a lot to work on to be good enough to make the postseason.
Samar: I think this team is a year or two off from being a legit playoff team. In saying that because it’s the east and because the 8th seed might only win 35 games Orlando could make it.
5. Are the Heat legit contenders to knock the Cavs out in the East?
Javeen: I’m not sold on the Heat just yet. I feel like the team goes as Chris Bosh goes, and he hasn’t played particularly well without LeBron. The chemistry between the fleet-footed Dragic and the methodical Wade just isn’t there yet, and who knows if it will ever come together. Whiteside, while talented, has been injury prone and is Miami’s only hope to protect the rim. Luol Deng, at this stage in his career, is not the plus player he used to be. Miami definitely has talent to challenge Cleveland, but I need to see more.
Eddie: The Heat are very much a legitimate threat to the Cavs. In fact, I’m going out on a limb and saying the Heat win the East. A healthy Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to go along with Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside spells trouble for Cleveland and the rest of the East. The pick-and-roll combo of Dragic and Bosh will be fun to watch. The defensive end of the floor will prove to be Miami’s best weapon this season. Also, Wade will look to prove the “experts” why he deserved to be ranked higher than the mid-40s. He will have one of his better seasons this year.
Wilson: The Heat are the biggest contenders in the East to take down LeBron and company. They may not finish second in the Conference due to their start. It’s only preseason, but they still haven’t had much in-game time to gel with their starters. Dragic and Wade are still trying to figure out their own rhythm amongst each other, while Bosh and Whitside are getting used to each other as well. It can and will work, it just may not be the first month of the season. What gives me confidence in their being the team to take down Cleveland is Whiteside, he’s the piece that changes everything on the board. While he doesn’t need to be a supreme offensive threat, if he’s improved enough to be able to catch it on the block and finish, it makes things easier on Wade and Bosh. The other x-factor in my eyes is Gerald Green. He’ll be coming off the bench, but he’s a walking bucket and actually “wants” to play defense. They’re a veteran group with some good youth mixed in, a deep bench. It’s all about health for Miami, but if they get to the postseason healthy, that may be the last team the Cavs want to face in the East.
Charles: Miami still has a way to go to topple the Cavs. The Heat are not deep enough to be a great seed in the East, mainly because of depth. Outside of Mario Chalmers, Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow, the bench is weak, with a mix of unproven and aging players. If the eight capable players the Heat have are enough to get past Cleveland, that’s an indictment on LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and the Cavs.
Samar: I love what Pat Riley has been able to do after basically being left for dead by LeBron James, not saying LeBron was wrong for leaving. While I’m not in love with the money they had to pay him, getting Dragic was big, finding Whiteside was pure luck but sometimes you need to be lucky, same with Winslow falling to tenth in the draft. This offseason saw them make smart small moves to help add depth to this team, and they have one of the five best coaches in the NBA. This team may not win big in the regular season, due to resting Wade and Bosh, but they will be on of the best teams in the East come playoff time.