The five teams in the Southeast division had busy off-seasons; thus the outlook for the division is very different than what it was last season. Four teams are realistically competing to win this division, rather than one team dominating the division, which was the case for the Miami Heat last season. These are the top ten headlines to watch out for coming into this season:
1. Is Dwyane Wade Capable of Carrying The Heat?
It isn’t 2006 any longer. Dwyane Wade is 32 years old, and has dealt with knee injuries throughout the last two seasons. Wade will be expected to carry this Heat team that relied on LeBron James as their star in each of the last four seasons. In the 2012-2013 regular season, Wade averaged 21.2 PPG through 69 games, shooting 52% from the field. However, Wade’s numbers went down in the playoffs as he dealt with nagging injuries. He averaged 15.9 PPG on 46% shooting through 22 postseason games. Wade’s minutes were limited last season, as he only played in 54 games in an attempt to keep him healthy for the playoffs. Through those 54 games, Wade averaged 19 PPG on 55% shooting from the field. However, Wade again did not step up in the postseason, averaging only 17.8 PPG, coming up short of a championship. This season will prove whether we have seen the best of Wade already, or if he still has the ability to carry a team to success.
2. Will any team from the Southeast emerge as a true championship contender?
The Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear favorites in the Eastern Conference this season. However, that doesn’t mean another team can’t surprise them. The Southeast division is competitive and has four playoff contenders within it; however, those four teams are predicted to fall in between the four and eight seeds in the East. Every team in this division lacks a superstar, which is the main factor that is holding back each team from competing for a spot in the championship. It will be interesting to see if any team will break out and easily win the Southeast and compete against the Bulls and Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference crown. However, there is too much uncertainly from each team to claim that any of them are a possible championship contender yet.
3. Will the Wizards stay healthy?
Bradley Beal is expected to miss the first six weeks of the regular season, and he is just the beginning of the Wizards’ injury issues. Martell Webster is out for the first three months of the season after under-going back surgery, Kris Humphries injured his hand in a preseason game, Glen Rice Jr. sprained his ankle, John Wall is dealing with knee tendentious, and there are a number of veteran players on Washington’s roster who have had injury problems recently, such as: Paul Pierce, Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Nene. The Wizards will not be competitive in the East without their key starters and role players staying healthy.
4. Will Al Horford’s Return Allow the Hawks to compete in the East?
Al Horford averaged 18.6 PPG on 57% shooting, 8.4 RPG and 1.5 BPG in 29 games last season. His season came to an abrupt end when he tore his pectoral muscle. Atlanta has been doomed of mediocrity throughout the last three seasons, being eliminated from the playoffs in the first round each of those years. However, power forward Paul Millsap emerged as an all-star last season, and now will join a healthy Horford to make one of the best frontcourts in the league. With a healthy Horford back in the line-up, it seems as if the Hawks may be able to progress out of their mediocre history and compete for a top seed in the Eastern Conference.
5. Will Lance Stephenson still produce in Charlotte?
Lance Stephenson was the member of an Indiana Pacers team that made the Eastern Conference finals two years in a row. He not only played alongside one of the best players in the league in Paul George, but he also played with one of the most well rounded teams in the NBA. Stephenson will face a new situation in Charlotte, where he may have to be one of the stars on the team. Stephenson has proved that he is a great defender, and one of the most versatile guards in the league, however, he is never been in a situation where he needs to take anywhere near the majority of his team’s shots. He averaged 13.8 PPG on 49% shooting last season, which is extremely efficient. However, it is uncertain how those numbers will change now that he will be expected to carry more responsibility on offense.
6. Is there a “Big 3” emerging in Orlando?
The Magic are the only team not expected to compete for the division title. However, their young talent will be expected to continue to improve this season, and Orlando may become a contender within the next few years. Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic are the young stars that headline this Magic team. These three combined to average 42.6 PPG and 21.6 RPG last season. In addition to their stats, the three combine for an average age of 22.6. Watch out for this trio to put up good numbers and continue to improve together throughout the season.
7. Will Paul Pierce find a comfortable role on the Wizards?
Paul Pierce averaged only 13.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG and 2.4 APG last season compared to his 2012-2013 campaign, where he averaged 18.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 4.8 APG. Pierce is 37 years old, and has been out of the prime of his career for over three years now. Pierce, not known for his three-point shooting, will replace Trevor Ariza at small forward for Washington this season. Ariza played as a passing outlet option for the Wizards, knocking down 180 three pointers last season. It is uncertain how Pierce will fit into Washington’s offense, since he clearly will not thrive playing the same role that Ariza played.
8. Will Luol Deng effectively replace LeBron James in Miami?
During the 2012-2013 regular season, Loul Deng averaged 16.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG. Deng is a good two-way player, however, he isn’t good enough for one team to be sold on him. Last season he jumped from Chicago to Cleveland, and now he finds himself replacing “The King,” LeBron James, in Miami. Deng is nowhere near the talent of James, who produces better stats than Deng in every stat line. However, Deng is not being asked to produce on James’ level, but rather, he is being asked to produce enough in order to help Miami be competitive in the Eastern Conference. It will be interesting to see if Deng, alongside Wade, Bosh, and an array of talented role players will be able to compete for an Eastern Conference championship.
9. Is Elfrid Payton the Magic’s long-term solution at point guard?
Jameer Nelson was Orlando’s starting point guard for eight years. However, Nelson is 32 years old now, and the Magic felt it was time to release the veteran point guard in order to find a new, long term option at the position. Elfrid Payton is 20 years old, and was Orlando’s lottery draft selection in this summer’s draft. Payton is a high-energy, crafty scoring point guard. However, he has not proven whether his skills will transition to the NBA smoothly, or if they ever will. Payton’s success at point guard would allow the Magic to set their pieces for the future, and allow other players, such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo (who was tried out at point guard), to not play a position they will not thrive at.
10. Will Kemba Walker emerge as a star point guard?
After leaving the University of Connecticut as one of the biggest stars in college basketball and winning a national championship, Kemba Walker has not developed into a star in the NBA. Now with shooting guard Lance Stephenson joining him in the backcourt, and with a much-improved roster all-around in Charlotte, it seems that Walker may be poised for a breakout year. Walker averaged 17.1 PPG and 6.1 APG last season, which are stats that would rank him around the middle of the pack of point guards in the league. Walker has proven he has star talent in the past, and that special talent may be seen again this season.