Thursday, 26 October 2006

2006 NBA Preview: Southeast Division

While not as deep as the Central division, this division includes the defending champs, and a couple of young and improving teams.

Atlanta Hawks - The young talent is accumulating in Atlanta. Josh Smith improved each of his first 2 years, and looks posied to be an Andrei Kirilenko type player. Marvin Williams may not have been the right choice over Chris Paul in the draft, but that doesn't mean he's not immensely talented (though injured at the moment). And we all saw what Joe Johnson can do when he played great at PG last year. They're still not anywhere near a playoff spot, but they've got some good, young pieces.

Charlotte Bobcats - The Bobcats cupboard is not bare either. Thanks to starting off going just for youth, along with some solid drafting and FA signing, the Bobcats are a talented, young team. In April, PG Raymond Felton averaged over 17 points and 9 assists per game. I don't know that his numbers will be that good this year, but throw in a scorer in Adam Morrison, and that helps. Gerald Wallace is very possibly the most underrated player in the NBA. He takes high percentage shots, rebounds well, and is great defensively. Inside, they've got depth, with guys like Emeka Okafor, Primoz Brecez, Sean May, Melvin Ely, etc. They're probably a year away, but if things go right, a playoff trip is not out of the realm of possibility.

Miami Heat - If you thought Dwyane Wade carried a big load last year, well, he'll have to do it again. Basically the whole team is back, which is good because they won the title, and bad because they were already old, and now they're just a year older. And with Jason Williams out to start the year, backcourt depth will be very thin. Regardless, they should be able to basically coast through the season and get to the playoffs, where they'll look to regain the magic of last year. As long as they got DWade, they got a chance.

Orlando Magic - Like the Hawks and Bobcats in the division, this is a very young team that will probably be better next year than they are this year. Unlike the Hawks and Bobcats, they're a pretty solid team now as well. It all starts inside with Dwight Howard, a big-time force. He's already perhaps the best rebounder in the NBA, and continues to improve his offensive game. Something like 18 and 14 per game this year is not out of the question at all. Also down low is Darko Milicic. He's another guy I like, and I think Detroit would be a lot better of they had kept him. Darko is immensely talented, and should be a force for the Magic in the future. The backcourt is anchored by Jameer Nelson, who's also young and continues to improve. If Grant Hill can give them at least half a season, they've got a very solid chance to make it to postseason play.

Washington Wizards - The Big 3 returns, and they will once again have to carry the load for the Wizards. Gilbert Arenas is one of the top players in the NBA, Caron Butler averaged 19 and 7 after the All-Star Break, and Antawn Jamison can score from anywhere. But can everyone else chip in? The bench is extremely weak, so they need to stay healthy. Darius Songaila provides some nice front court depth (even if they did overpay), and Antonio Daniels is a very solid 6th Man. If they can stay healthy again, I like them to finish about where they did last year... 4th or 5th seed.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Miami Heat
2. Washington Wizards
3. Orlando Magic
4. Charlotte Bobcats
5. Atlanta Hawks