At 20 games into the season fans were looking at a Heat team that had the fourth-worst record in the league.
The Miami Heat shocked the world after they went to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. They even pushed the Lakers to six games, but they ultimately did not have enough.
Now, the Heat – led by Jimmy Butler – will be hoping to regroup and avenge their Finals loss. Miami have lost Jae Crowder and Derrick Jones Jr who were key players last season. However, they have since bolstered their roster after bringing back Goran Dragic and Meyers Leonard, as well as bringing in Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless.
The upside for Miami is special as they managed to reach the finals off the back of young and inexperienced players. Just imagine what an extra year of development will do for Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn.
To add to that supporting cast, they still have quality veterans in Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala to go with the free-agent acquisitions. You would only think that Miami gets better and improves from last season.
The Orlando Magic are stuck in mediocrity. Led by all-star Nikola Vucevic, they have a mix of decent players and young prospects in Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross, however, they are not pieces that will be able to contend for a title.
It’s difficult to figure out the solution for Orlando to take the next step. They have the talent to become a playoff team, but have remained stagnant for years. They are a strong defensive side, but without a second star, their offence struggles mightily.
Without any significant changes and with Jonathan Isaac gone for the season, the Magic may find themselves back in the lottery.
Charlotte caught the league’s attention after they signed Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $120 million contract this offseason. How James Borrego is going to handle the logjam in the backcourt will be interesting. Terry Rozier and Devonte Graham surprised most people with increased usage, while Malik Monk made some strides in his third season. Now adding LaMelo Ball to the mix, one of these guards are going to have to accept a bench role.
The Hornets do have a solid collection of talent across the court. Miles Bridges performed well as the starting small forward while PJ Washington had an impressive rookie campaign as the power forward last season. Adding Hayward gives the Hornets a strong three-man rotation at the forward positions.
Charlotte have retained their centres in Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo who are still serviceable. The wildcard for the Hornets will be whether they can have another breakout player or rookie. While it seems like they are going with the flow, they could incidentally end up with a strong pool of talent developing for the future.
Washington made some major headlines after they dealt John Wall and a first-round pick for Russell Westbrook. The pairing of Westbrook and Bradley Beal certainly sounds intriguing. The issue is, it’s a win-now move which puts the Wizards in playoff contention but not championship contention.
Regardless, this team should be exciting to watch and when you throw in a second-year Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant who will improve and a healthy Davis Bertans, there is plenty of firepower in this team. They also have a competent bench with Ish Smith, Troy Brown Jr and Robin Lopez who can contribute with significant minutes.
The Wizards will have no problems putting the ball in the basket. The main issue will be whether they can get enough defensive stops to win games. Last season, they were the worst defensive team in the league which cost them on numerous occasions.
Considering that John Wall was absent last season, the addition of Westbrook should result in a massive improvement for the Wizards. Additionally, if coach Scott Brooks could improve the team defensively even slightly, that could lead to extra wins as they aim to make the playoffs.
The Atlanta Hawks are ready for a breakout season: you heard it here first. The Hawks will challenge Miami for the division title. Hawks fans should be excited to have a successful season for the first time since their 60-win season with Mike Budenholzer back in 2014-15.
The Hawks only won 20 games last season but there’s no reason to think that they can’t at least double their win tally.
It’s amazing what general manager Travis Schlenk has done to this organisation. On paper, you could argue the talent on the roster is one of the best in the East.
Atlanta have a legitimate deep rotation of 10 players with some free agent acquisitions dropping 2019-20 starters down to the bench. Players such as Kevin Huerter, Deandre Hunter, Cam Reddish all got valuable playing time last season. With the additions of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn, the trajectory of Atlanta has changed.
The Hawks found a gem when they drafted Trae Young and he took a massive leap in his second year to become an all-star. John Collins also took a further step in his third season becoming a well-rounded double-double threat.
Atlanta have had great cap management and they have drafted well, allowing them to cash in on quality free agents. In a move which has flown under the radar, Atlanta’s trade for Clint Capela is a major piece for their playoff aspirations and his partnership with Collins in the frontcourt should allow for an inside-out dynamic. With John Collins the only player off contract at the end of the season, Atlanta have a strong core for the next two seasons.
Whether you are a fan of the Hawks or not, it is going to be fun watching the team develop before our own eyes. I certainly believe they have a team which is capable of causing an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Overall, there are plenty of mediocre teams in this division when it comes to Orlando, Washington and Charlotte. These teams will certainly hover around the 8-12 seeds, not achieving anything major.
Miami will be poised to make another challenge for the title and while they won’t be deemed favourites against the likes of Brooklyn, Milwaukee and even Boston, the Heat will have no problems proving people wrong once again.
The story to watch out for definitely are the Atlanta Hawks. How far will they go and how high up the pecking order of the East will they be?
They have plenty of offensive options, especially with Trae Young and Rajon Rondo running the offense. The shooting the team possess is elite and Clint Capela can certainly be the defensive foundation for the Hawks.
There is just so much to look forward to in Atlanta.