The 2008-09 RotoRob NBA Draft Kit continues today with Herija releasing the final of his superb division reports. Later, more team previews and cheat sheets are coming, so stay tuned.
I’d like to say I saved the best for last, but in reality, the NBA’s Southeast Division was hardly relevant last season despite producing three of the conference’s eight playoff teams. The primary reason for that was that no team people thought had a viable chance to represent the East in the Finals – Boston, Detroit or Cleveland – played there. The demise of the Heat didn’t help, nor did a Washington team minus Gilbert Arenas. That left Orlando as the only team of note, though the Hawks made some noise in the postseason. This year should be a little more interesting if the Heat can actually stay healthy, as it has the individual talent to push the Magic. The Wizards are window dressing, while Charlotte remains on loan from the NBDL. Zing!
ORLANDO MAGIC (52-30)
Lost in Conference Semifinals
The last member of the East’s 50-win club, the Magic had little trouble dispatching the Raptors in Round One before getting eliminated in five games by the Pistons. Orlando was run off the floor in Games One and Two, but routed Detroit in Game Three and played them tight in two close losses to finish the series. The Magic responded by making some peripheral changes to its roster while keeping the core intact. Maurice Evans (Hawks) is the biggest departure, but the losses of Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling leave the team thin behind Jameer Nelson. The club moved to address that with the signing of Anthony Johnson, but in scouting vernacular, he’s “just a guy.” The overlooked signing of Mickael Pietrus to take over as the team’s starting off-guard gives the Magic a great defender on the perimeter and another player that can knock down the open three.
Of course, the team revolves around Dwight Howard, who has physical gifts 99 per cent of the league can only dream about. He doesn’t turn 23 until December and is coming off a year where he averaged roughly 21 and 14 a night. He’s capable of more, though, and has been called out at times for a lack of intensity. If he can hone his killer instinct a bit we could be talking about 24-16 with three-plus blocks. Joining Howard in the frontcourt are Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Both men are good scorers and excellent spot-up shooters, but neither is a bruiser on the glass, which puts more pressure on Howard to control the paint. Depth is an issue here, with Brian Cook (another perimeter big man) and “El Busto” himself, Tony Battie, being counted on to provide help off the bench. Keith Bogans should see minutes at small forward and shooting guard, where we might also be treated to an occasional J.J. Redick sighting. Look for Orlando to capture the division again, but unless it finds some help for Howard on the boards don’t look for the Magic to advance deep into the playoffs.
Guy I like…Nelson – He raised his game in the postseason (16.2 PPG) and has fewer options behind him in 2008-09 with Mike Wilks done for the year and Johnson nothing but a journeyman. I look for Nelson to log most of the minutes at the point and average in the 15 PPG-6 APG range. If you’re looking for a deep sleeper, try Pietrus.
Guy I hate…Lewis – The move from Seattle wasn’t kind to Lewis, who had already gone from a guy that looked like he could do it all to primarily a perimeter scorer. He lost six points a game off his average from 2006-07 and is a sad rebounder for a power forward. Don’t look for things to improve much this year, either, as despite the big contract he’s the third offensive option in Orlando.
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (43-39)
Lost in First Round
Despite playing most of last year without Agent Zero, the Wizards still managed to put together a respectable effort both in the regular season and during a hard-fought six-game loss to Cleveland in Round One. The team didn’t let Arenas’ injury woes stop them from inking him to a lucrative six-year deal to stay in D.C., and they were rewarded with…well, another injury. Arenas’ rehab from knee surgery is expected to keep him out until at least December even though Hibachi has indicated he’s ahead of schedule and could be back in late-November. The Wizard also re-upped Antawn Jamison, which when combined with the Arenas move seem a bit curious as this current group has yet to get past the first round in a watered down Eastern Conference. After taking care of their own, the Wizards had little left to play with, losing Roger Mason and replacing him with Juan Dixon. Can you say “downgrade?”
Joining Jamison in the frontcourt is Caron Butler, who has developed into a legitimate star. Sure, he doesn’t get the attention of Arenas, but it’d be an uphill battle for anyone to convince me Arenas is more valuable to a club than Butler. The loss of Brendan Haywood to a wrist injury hurts as Etan Thomas has health concerns and never lived up to his potential. The upside is that it could open the door for talented 22-year-old Andray Blatche, who looked like a player on the rise last year. Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson should open the year as the starting backcourt until Agent Zero is up and running, but neither player creates much excitement. Dixon and Nick Young should handle the back-up duties. There’s a certain staleness about this team, and were it not for the overall mediocrity of the East I might pick them to miss the playoffs, but instead I’ll just say they’ll be a seventh or eighth seed this year.
Guy I like…Blatche – He made 15 starts last season, averaging 11.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in those games. With Haywood gone and Thomas coming off heart surgery, Blatche could get a chance to start sooner rather than later.
Guy I hate…Jamison – Once again this is a case where hate is too strong a word as Jamison should be a solid fantasy contributor this year, it’s simply that I feel he’ll take a step back statistically after landing his big contract. Jamison is more of a 19-8 guy than a 21-10 guy, so just make sure you take that into account on draft day.
ATLANTA HAWKS (37-45)
Lost in First Round
Despite finishing eight games under .500, the Hawks still made the playoffs last year and once there, nearly authored one of the most amazing upsets in league history. Atlanta drew eventual champion Boston in Round One and pushed the Celtics to seven games with the home team winning each time. For the first time in recent memory the Philips Arena was rocking, and the young Hawks fed off the emotion. Of course, the Hawks then built on that momentum during the offseason by losing valuable sixth man Josh Childress…to a team in Greece! It was an embarrassing backwards step for the Hawks, who must’ve thought Childress’ restricted free-agent status meant they could completely ignore him. They did match an offer sheet for Josh Smith, though not before creating some ill will on that front as well. Negotiating missteps aside, the Hawks do have some pretty solid pieces in place for 2008-09.
In addition to Smith, Marvin Williams finally showed some of the potential that made him the second overall pick, and Al Horford is the real deal. That group gives the Hawks one of the top up-and-coming frontcourts in the NBA. Depth could be an issue with Childress gone, though the signing of Maurice Evans helps, while Zaza Pachulia returns as their top reserve at power forward and centre. Veterans Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby hold things down in the backcourt, giving the Hawks reliable production and a nice counterbalance to their youthful frontcourt. Acie Law and Flip Murray are the respective backups. Speedy Claxton also remains on roster, but injuries have derailed his career, so they can’t rely on anything from him. The Hawks will be counting on internal improvement to keep them in the playoffs while teams like Milwaukee and Miami try to knock them out of post-season contention. At this point, I don’t like Atlanta’s chances.
Guy I like…Horford – He nearly averaged a double-double as a rookie despite playing just 31 minutes per game and rarely looking for his own offense. Horford’s willingness to bang on the boards and be content with scraps was admirable, but I expect him to log more minutes this year and be more involved offensively. Don’t think 15-12 is out of reach for this guy.
Guy I hate…Bibby – At some point in the past two seasons Bibby forgot how to shoot the ball, going from 47 per cent at his apex down to around 41 per cent. His points have gone south as well and didn’t bounce back when he came over from Sacramento. Bibby’s contract year status works in his favour, but I’m betting against a full-fledged renaissance.
CHARLOTTE BOBCATS (32-50)
OK, so we all know the Bobcats have done virtually nothing since entering the NBA four seasons ago, but did you know that despite a cumulative won-loss record of 109-219 and having never won more than 33 games, the Bobcats have never finished in last place? That’s incredible to me. They had 18- and 26-win seasons…and still finished fourth! Such is life in the Southeast Division apparently. In all fairness, the Bobcats have actually put together a roster with some fine young talent – in fact, Nazr Mohammed is the only player older than 28 on the team. Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace are both very good wing players that can do a lot of things well, and Emeka Okafor has averaged a double-double every year of his career. Raymond Felton has put up pretty decent numbers, but new head coach Larry Brown prefers that his point guards distribute the ball more than score, which may not play to Felton’s strengths as he’s more of a hybrid in the vein of Cleveland’s Mo Williams.
Adding to Felton’s problems is the selection of D.J. Augustin, who may be groomed as the future in Charlotte with Felton an RFA after the season. Three-point specialist Matt Carroll should back up Richardson at the other guard spot. The wild card in Charlotte is the health of Sean May, who missed all of last year following knee surgery. If he’s right, he can start at the four and allow Okafor to play centre and that lineup gives them a lot more potential than one with Mohammad starting. Jared Dudley should see plenty of run given his toughness – a trait Brown covets – while former third overall pick Adam Morrison will likely be given around 15 minutes a night to see if he can offer anything. If May can return to form and Brown can bring leadership to a perennially rudderless team, Charlotte could surprise.
Guy I like…May – Memories are short in fantasy sports, so we’ll excuse you if you’d forgotten how good May looked in spurts before getting injured. The guy has 16-8 potential on this team if he can stay on the court. Granted, that’s a big if, but it’ll only cost you a final-round pick to find out.
Guy I hate…Felton – I don’t think he’s losing his job to Augustin this year, but he’s not a pure point guard in any sense of the word, and I worry how he’ll fit with Brown doling out the minutes. He’s still worth drafting, but not until the latter portion of the middle rounds.
MIAMI HEAT (15-67)
From NBA champions to the worst team in the league in two short years, the Heat were snake bit by injuries to be sure, but it also mailed in huge portions of the season and shut down guys for the year with some dubious ailments. Would you believe Ricky Davis was the only guy to play more than 70 games for the Heat last season? Wow. Its reward for an awful season was getting to add Michael Beasley to holdover All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion. That forms a three-man core to rival nearly any in the league, though the fact that they’ve never played together generates some question marks. Miami’s seemingly endless point guard situation creates even more questions with the team counting on Marcus Banks and Mario Chalmers to get the job done (Miami has even brought in Shaun Livingston to see if he can resurrect his career after that horrible injury less than two years ago). Outside of a brief run with Minnesota, Banks has never proven to be anything more than a backup, while the rookie Chalmers is undersized and not much of a creator off the dribble.
Udonis Haslem is a solid power forward that will probably end up playing a lot of centre minutes so they can get Marion and Beasley on the floor at the same time. When they want a little more size, Haslem can move back to the four and have Mark Blount handle the centre duties. Things thin considerably after that foursome, though Dorell Wright should be a solid reserve at small forward, giving them a little more versatility. I expect the Heat to give the Wade-Marion-Beasley combo some time to click, but not too much. If Miami is struggling to contend come January or February expect Marion and his expiring deal to be moved in an effort to build around Wade and Beasley.
Guy I like…Beasley – This borders on a “no-brainer,” but I think some might devalue the rookie because Marion and Wade are going to get theirs. However, even assuming both will be healthy (questionable) and remain in Miami all season (doubtful), Beasley should still see plenty of touches and scoring opportunities as the third option.
Guy I hate…Haslem – I see three options for Haslem this year: (a) his minutes get slashed; (b) he plays out of position as an undersized centre; or (c) he gets traded. The first two are bad and the third is a complete unknown. He’s not the guy he was two years ago in terms of fantasy value.