Inside the Numbers: NBA Southeast Division

By: Kevin LaFrancis

The Southeast division is composed of not one, not two, not three, not four, but five vastly different franchises (cue the South Beach smoke and flashing lights). A top team, a bottom team, an average team, a team rapidly on the rise, and a team quickly in decline compose the most diverse division in the NBA. The Southeast division geographically covers D.C. down to Miami, but it attracts the attention of the entire nation. The nation watches in awe as LeBron continues to dominate and the Wizards continue to come up short. Here’s my take on the Southeast five.

Atlanta Hawks (Record: 7-4)

Josh Smith has helped lead the Hawks to a 7-4 record. (Photo:

Atlanta’s distinctive playing style makes them exciting to watch, even with the absence of longtime star Joe Johnson. The team has ended up winning most of their games, but immense flaws in execution will eventually overshadow the Hawks’ early success and lead to a run-of-the-mill record at the end of the year.  Atlanta allows the second-fewest points per game, and opponents have shot just 42% against them thus far. The Hawks have used a pressure defense to produce a league high 17 turnovers and cause the third-most 3-point attempts of any team. However, the team is prone to giving up too many open shots. Because Hawks players are covering their men tight, they are usually late to help out when teammates get beat. Also, they are struggling to rebound the basketball because they are too focused on the man they are guarding.

James Harden scored 45 points against the Hawks’ defense because they repeatedly made the mistake of not helping out teammates. Harden had open looks way too often. He consistently used hard dribbles to get by the pressure defense. When he got into the paint, all Atlanta could do was foul because players were never in the right position defensively (Harden attempted 17 free throws in the game). Atlanta has above average talent but below average execution. Kyle Korver struggles to defend. Josh Smith, the Hawks small forward, turns the ball over 3.5 times a game. Al Horford grabs almost 10 rebounds per game, jumping around like a sentence from Yoda to gather missed shots. Jeff Teague distributes the ball incredibly well on offense (6.9 apg). Head coach Larry Drew believes the Hawks are still trying to “establish an identity” and it “may take time to do so”. I believe, ultimately, this team will channel its athleticism and make the playoffs.

*Before Season Grade: C+
*Current Grade: C
End of Regular Season Projection: 2nd in Division, 7th in Conference

Charlotte Bobcats (Record: 6-5)

Kemba Walker has been the catalyst in Charlotte's early-season success. (NBA E/Getty)

Charlotte ended last season with a 7-59 record. Even the Wizards laughed at the Bobcats as Charlotte ended last season with the worst winning percentage in league history. Eleven games into this season, I am making a claim that even Skip Bayless would deem out of the question: The Bobcats will make the playoffs. Charlotte has their true leader in Kemba Walker. Walker averages 18.5 points, 5.8 assists, and 6 pounds of the chest per game. His energy is infectious. The team loves playing around him.

The Bobcats have their savvy veterans in Ben Gordon and Brendan Haywood. Although a lot of people have criticized Gordon as a weak defender, I have consistently disagreed. As long as his knee does not limit his mobility, he will benefit the Bobcats on both sides of the floor. Haywood knows his role well. He rebounds and scores in the paint. Charlotte has their true inside man in Byron Mullins, an underrated center (12.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Once the 7-foot Ohio State alum distributes more from the post, the Bobcats will become an elite offensive team. The team has a quick and physical guard/forward in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The rookie (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg) rebounds like a forward. He uses his height as an advantage against his smaller opponents, leading the team in blocks (1.64 bpg). He can cover shooting guards, small forwards, or power forwards. His versatility is a perfect complement to Ramon Sessions, a point guard that rarely gets beat off the dribble. Although Charlotte has yet to prove they can win against tougher competition, the team has a collection of players that can consistently contend.

*Before Season Grade: C-
*Current Grade: B-
End of Regular Season Projection: 3rd in Division, 8th in Conference

Miami Heat (Record: 9-3)

The addition of Ray Allen makes the Heat even more unbeatable. (US Presswire)

The buzzer sounds and four future hall-of-famers step onto the court before the start of every game. Three are in their prime, and the other is still a deadly 3-point shooter. Cameras flash like Mardi Gras celebrators on Bourbon Street. Announcers become speechless. The Miami Heat’s championship has relegated the rest of the NBA to the back of everybody’s mind. King James’s giant peach of an ego has grown out of hand. Wade’s overtly relaxed demeanor generates animosity from opposing fans. Bosh fields extensive Jurassic Park-based criticism for his appearance. There is a reason that Miami makes others heated. This team simply cannot be stopped.

The Heat score the most points in the league. LeBron continues to be the most efficient player in the game (24.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 6.5 apg). Bosh’s unprecedented performance thus far (20.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) has added to the Heat’s growing dominance over the league. The offense is indefensible. Dwyane Wade (18.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) attacks the rim better than any guard in the league. When teams collapse on Bosh, Wade, and LeBron, they pass it out to Ray Allen, the man with the most 3-pointers in NBA history. Allen has made an unbelievable 52.2% of his attempts from behind the arc. One of the few  players in the game to shoot a better percentage this season from long range is teammate Rashard Lewis (53.6%). The defense is underrated. James and Wade use their athleticism to contest every field goal attempt. Big men Shane Battier and Bosh do a great job hedging screens and quickly retreating to the paint. Guards help the big men get rebounds. They use their agility to disrupt passing lanes. I do not foresee any team that is confident or talented enough to beat this team four times in the playoffs.

*Before Season Grade: A
*Current Grade: A
End of Regular Season Projection: 1st in Division, 1st in Conference

Orlando Magic (Record: 5-7)

Glen Davis and the Magic have flopped after a good start. (Getty Images)

The Magic freed up immense cap room last year in a trade that sent all-star center Dwight Howard to the Lakers. But Orlando never filled the vacancy in the middle after the departure of Howard. In fact, they never filled the scoring (3rd to last in NBA) or rebounding (21st in NBA in rebounds allowed) voids either. Arron Afflalo leads the team in points (15.3 ppg), but has shot only 43% from the field taking mostly inside shots. He has turned the ball over 1.5 times more than last season with the same amount of playing time. The only positive contribution Afflalo has made to this team is his increase in rebounding, corralling more than 4 a night. I believe that Orlando is physically tough, but lacks the mental toughness it used to have when it won the Eastern Conference just three years ago.

For example, winning games on the road can be a mental battle that will reveal a lot about a team’s resilience. In 2009-2010, Orlando’s record in opposing buildings was 25-16. This year’s team possesses a dismal 1-5 record outside the Amway Center. Glen Davis (14.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg) takes too many jump shots. He needs to use his wide frame inside to draw fouls and make defenses collapse. When the Celtics won the championship in 2007-2008, Davis’s role as an inside contributor was critical to their success. As his role expanded, his distance from the basket expanded as well. Now, he rarely uses the asset that gave him a bigger role in the league. Davis has become a fantastic fundamental defender, guiding the Magic to the 7th best team defense in the NBA. He is always in the right position to take charges on opponents. Backup forwards Andrew Nicholson and Josh McRoberts have not yet learned well from Davis. Orlando has given up the 3rd most points in the paint. Unlike their in-state rivals from Miami, Orlando will not be competitive in the playoffs with their current roster. I hope that the Magic front office capitalizes on their increased spending room and makes radical changes.

*Before Season Grade: C
*Current Grade: C
End of Regular Season Projection: 4th in Division, 11th in Conference

Washington Wizards (Record: 0-10)

Kevin Seraphin has been a lone bright spot for the Wizards. (AP Photo)

When will the Washington Wizards win? It’s hard to say (the question and the answer). The tongue twister provokes entertaining water cooler conversation. The team’s defense is not as woeful as the record indicates. The team is middle of the pack, 12th in the league in points allowed. The offense is brutal to watch. First, guards A.J. Price (35.9%) and Bradley Beal (33.7%) take over 10 shots a game. It’s not like simply passing the ball will make a difference. The amount of shots is hardly their fault because the team’s shooting percentage is below 40%. No other franchise in the NBA shoots under 41%.

However, the Wiz are fully accountable for the types of shots they are taking. Just like Stuckey and Knight of the Pistons, these guards are shooting way too many off-balance and long distance shots. Second, power forward Kevin Seraphin does not get the basketball enough. Seraphin should touch the ball almost every possession of the Wizards offense. Not only is he making 49.5% of his shots, but he also knows how to attract defenses. Running the offense through Seraphin will produce instant positive results. Third, the Wizards do not use the back door enough. A.J. Price was most successful with the University of Connecticut in his junior year because he fooled defenders with his quick cuts to the basket. Bradley Beal was most successful with the University of Florida when he cut back door as defenses swarmed Patric Young inside. The Wizards are bound to win a game soon. Good defense will be enough to get a victory at some point. Even with a fundamentally sound offense and defense, this team is not going anywhere. Washington needs to go with the Paris Hilton approach: start buying to help fill its many needs.

*Before Season Grade: D-
*Current Grade: F
End of Regular Season Projection: 5th in Division, 15th in Conference




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