NBA Southeast Division Preview: Can New-Look Hawks Extinguish the Heat?
It seems like yesterday the Golden State Warriors were celebrating a seventh Larry O’Brien Trophy, yet the 2022-23 NBA season is right around the corner.
Throughout the weeks leading up to opening night (October 18), I’ll preview all six of the league’s divisions, beginning with the Southeast.
Let’s get started!
Note: All teams are listed in order of NBA Finals odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
Miami Heat (+1800)
2021-22 Record: 53-29 (Lost in Conference Finals, 3-4).
Widely rumored to have been in on the Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes, the reigning Southeast champs Miami Heat enter 2022-23 with essentially the same roster that finished first in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Conference Finals, only to fall to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
Largely overlooked last season, the Heat’s core of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kyle Lowry has Miami poised for another lengthy postseason run.
Atlanta Hawks (+5000)
2021-22 Record: 43-39 (Lost in First Round, 1-4)
In an offseason full of blockbuster deals, the Atlanta Hawks wasted no time getting in on the action, acquiring All-Star guard Dejounte Murray from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for multiple first-round picks.
With Murray joining fellow All-Star Trae Young, Atlanta boasts one of the league’s most talented backcourts and is the biggest threat to Pat Riley and company for the Southeast crown.
Charlotte Hornets (+17000)
2021-22 Record: 43-39 (Missed Playoffs)
Charlotte’s outlook is clouded by the offseason arrest of restricted free agent forward Miles Bridges, whose NBA career is very much in jeopardy. With Bridges unlikely to suit up, and very little done to replace his 20.2 points-per-game, the Hornets could take a step back.
Head coach Steve Clifford, who is back for a second stint with the team, also has the task of improving a Charlotte defense that ranked 26th last season, surrendering 115.1 PPG.
Washington Wizards (+24000)
2021-22 Record: 35-47 (Missed Playoffs)
The Washington Wizards refuse to enter rebuild mode, inking star guard Bradley Beal to a five-year, $251 million max contract extension in the offseason, a move widely criticized by analysts. Washington also acquired point guard Monte Morris and forward Will Barton from the Denver Nuggets to shore up its starting five.
While the Wizards possess talented players in Beal, Kristaps Porziņgis, and Kyle Kuzma, it’s difficult to see this team being anything but mediocre if the past few years are any indication.
Orlando Magic (+50000)
2021-22 Record: 22-60 (Missed Playoffs)
The future is certainly bright in Orlando, with 2022 first overall selection Paolo Banchero joining an impressive collection of young talent. That said, this team still feels like a year or two away from competing for a playoff spot, let alone a division title.
Most Likely MVP Candidate: PG Trae Young (Hawks)
Already amongst the NBA’s elite scorers and playmakers, Young’s MVP outlook is bolstered by a Hawks squad that could push for 50+ wins with Murray in the fold.
Rookie to Watch: C Mark Williams (Hornets)
The easy answer here would be Banchero, but I’m more intrigued by Charlotte Hornets big man Mark Williams. Selected 14th overall out of Duke, Williams joins a Hornets squad that employs fellow centers Mason Plumlee and Nick Richards.
While I don’t expect Williams to earn a significant role out of the gates, the seven-footer possesses far more upside than his teammates demonstrated. One would assume Clifford comes to this realization eventually, right?
Favorite Futures Bet: Atlanta Hawks (+180) to win Southeast Division
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe the Miami Heat are the better team, but I think head coach Erik Spoelstra prioritizes health more than anything this season. That means a lot of DNPs for aging veterans like Lowry and Butler, and potentially a few more L’s in the loss column in pursuit of the greater good.