NBA 2017/18 Odds to Win The Southeast Division
#1 Washington Wizards (-115)
The Washington Wizards didn't do much to beef up their shallow bench over the offseason. They didn't have the cap space to do anything drastic.
They also didn't need to do anything too substantial.
Continuity is king when looking at the East in those terms, and the Wizards are bringing back their six best players: Otto Porter, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Between them, this team has some tricky and potent small-ball combinations that should be able to hang with anyone in the league.
Take the starting lineup. Last season, those five logged nearly 500 more minutes than any other combination in the league, through which time they outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions—a net rating that would have ranked second in the league on the year. If they all stay healthy, and the Wizards hit on one or two of their reserves behind Oubre, we could be looking at the East's second-best squad overall.
#2 Charlotte Hornets (+550)
Rolling with the Charlotte Hornets at No. 2 is, without question, a sizable gamble. A majority of people will be inclined to go with the Miami Heat, and that's fine. But the Hornets are a sneaky-good option not only in second place, but as the potential division winner.
For starters, Kemba Walker is among the most underrated players in the league these days. Once known as just an inefficient scorer, he's now an on- and off-ball three-point assassin.
He's shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc over the past two seasons, an accuracy rate that's not propped up by afterthought volume. On the contrary, he's hoisted 1,092 triples during that time—the sixth-most in the entire NBA. He's also an underrated defender, particularly when it comes to stamping out pick-and-rolls.
His system-friendly style alone is enough to put the Hornets in the playoff conversation. The addition of Dwight Howard, however, takes them to a new level defensively. Head coach Steve Clifford will have to get him to buy into a pick-and-roll-diver role, while figuring out how to stagger minutes between him and Cody Zeller, but the talent up front is there to anchor another top-10 defense.
If the Hornets get any more offense out of Nicolas Batum and/or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, we could be talking about them as the feel-good surprise story of the year.
#3 Miami Heat (+200)
No one will chide you for picking the Heat over the Hornets. How could they? The Heat finished last season on a 30-11 tear, over which time they tallied a better offensive rating than the Portland Trail Blazers and Celtics, and a better defensive rating than everyone except the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
So, ya know, great. But this Heat squad is also the same one that went 11-30 to start the year. Their actual ceiling probably falls somewhere in between those two drastic displays.
Besides, there's no guarantee keeping the core together was the right decision. James Johnson and Dion Waiters will make a combined $112 million over the next four years after laying down career performances in 2016-17. Get anything less than their best from them, and the Heat could be cattled.
Similarly, most of the Miami's success came while Justise Winslow was injured. His return threatens to gum up the offensive attack. He is capable of running some pick-and-rolls, and his defense will be a welcomed addition, but he's a terrible three-point shooter who, on his own, might torpedo the spacing head coach Erik Spoelstra goes to lengths to create.
Given all this uncertainty, it just feels ambitious to slot them over the Hornets, who have more established names in their employ.
#4 Orlando Magic (+2500)
The Orlando Magic aren't going to be good. Let's get that out of the way. They remain ridiculously light on shooters after adding Jonathon Simmons and Shelvin Mack, and most of the season will be devoted to figuring out whether they have a viable franchise cornerstone on the docket.
That evaluation period figures to be hell on their record. Rookie Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are their only candidates as of now, and the Magic will struggle to put all of them in the right situation.
Payton needs to be surrounded by shooters they don't have; Gordon should really play the 4, but he will be forced to spend some time at the 3 with Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic on the roster; and Isaac will be consigned to playing small forward almost full-time because of Gordon, even though he's really a 4 himself.
Confused? You're not alone. This roster is about as uneven as it gets.
#5 Atlanta Hawks (+1600)
This is not a typo. Yes, we just spent a few words ripping on the Magic, who technically own the Southeast Division's worst odds. But the Atlanta Hawks, in all likelihood, are going to be worse.
All of which is by design. New general manager Travis Schlenk has torn this team down basically to the studs, putting an emphasis on low-level contracts and young prospects like Taurean Prince, DeAndre' Bembry and future picks.
Though it's possible that the mix of Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder put the Hawks in 30-plus win territory, we shouldn't expect such overachieving to last. The franchise refuses to bottom out, but really, that's all a ploy. They'll look to hold a quasi-fire sale if they're "too good" by the February trade deadline, at which time Dedmon, Bazemore and Ersan Ilyasova become trade bait.
Hence why we're slotting the Hawks in dead last, behind even the Magic: There is almost no scenario in which this roster stays the same, or gets better, before year's end. Whether they admit it or not, the Hawks are tanking.
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