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October 28, 2008
NBA Season Preview 2008-09
Southeast Division

by Kevin Pelton

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1. Miami Heat (Projected Record: 47-35)
Offensive Rating: 109.2 (19th)
Defensive Rating: 106.1 (3rd)

Projected Rotation

(WARP is projected Wins Above Replacement Player, while Win % is projected per-minute rating. Imp/Break/Dec measure the percentage of comparable players who improved, broke out or declined dramatically during the following season. For more explanation, see my introduction to the SCHOENE projection system.)

PlayerWARPWin %PPGRPGAPGImpBreakDecBest Comp
Marcus Banks0.50.43210.01.72.80.400.070.11Jon Sundvold
Dwyane Wade10.60.61623.13.76.60.350.000.15Grant Hill
Shawn Marion10.50.60314.38.92.20.200.000.17Donyell Marshall
Udonis Haslem1.00.4389.97.01.20.500.020.06Alan Henderson
Mark Blount-1.60.3636.93.20.50.390.040.12Thurl Bailey
Michael Beasley9.10.59616.29.41.0( R )
James Jones0.30.4336.82.30.60.410.040.07Bostjan Nachbar
Mario Chalmers3.50.5265.71.52.7( R )
Dorell Wright2.80.5146.53.61.30.520.060.04Kenny Walker
Jamaal Magloire-1.00.3292.42.80.31.000.500.00Eric Montross
Daequan Cook-0.70.3856.31.70.90.700.250.00Gerald Green
Chris Quinn1.60.5183.60.81.40.510.080.08Chris Duhon
Joel Anthony-0.10.4101.81.70.10.480.020.09Felton Spencer

The Miami Heat enters the 2008-09 season well positioned for one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history. Winners of just 15 games a year ago, the Heat is likely to return to the postseason and has a strong chance at winning the Southeast Division should everything break right (or, injuries being a major concern, not break at all). Miami turned things around quickly, first with last year's deal for Shawn Marion and then by finishing second in the lottery and getting the chance to draft stud Michael Beasley. Add in a healthy Dwyane Wade--knock on wood--and the Heat has a trio that stands with any in the league.

SCHOENE expects Miami to be especially stingy at the defensive end of the floor after ranking 26th in Defensive Rating a year ago. As I mentioned in the introduction, the Heat is ridiculously good on the defensive glass. Even with the damper I put in to adjust teams' defensive rebounding, Miami still projects to break the record for defensive rebound percentage set last year by San Antonio by grabbing 78.0 percent of available boards. (This is slightly less impressive than it sounds because the record has been broken three years running as offensive rebounding declines. The Heat actually held it after the 2005-06 season with a totally different group.) Marion leads the way there as well as in Miami's runner-up projection in terms of turnovers forced. While the Heat's offense won't be nearly as scintillating barring a complete return to form for Wade, this still looks like an outside contender in the East.

Notes:

  • The biggest challenge for rookie head coach Erik Spoelstra is figuring out a frontcourt rotation. The Heat's top three players up front (Beasley, Marion and Udonis Haslem) are probably all best suited to play power forward, while none are really centers. My take is that, like Mike D'Antoni in the first season of Phoenix's run, Spoelstra just has to go with it. None of Miami's true centers are even assets off the bench, let alone in starter's minutes. The difference is too large to be particularly concerned with potential matchup problems from time to time.
  • It's sort of spooky seeing Grant Hill as Wade's best comp. At least Penny Hardaway isn't in Wade's top 10. Anyways, the projection system is conservative when it comes to Wade's production but more aggressive in projecting him to 69 games after back-to-back 51-game seasons. If the healthy Wade we saw in the Olympics holds up over the grind of an 82-game season, the Heat could be really good.
  • If playing Beasley or Haslem at center does anything for Miami, it is keeping Jamaal Magloire as far away from the court as possible. Even with the highest projected improvement of any player in the league, Magloire still doesn't come out within shouting distance of replacement level.
  • Strangely, the Heat projects as nothing special on the offensive glass--below average, in fact. Beasley is the lone standout offensive rebounder on the roster.

2. Orlando Magic (Projected Record: 46-36)
Offensive Rating: 110.0 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 107.9 (11th)

PlayerWARPWin %PPGRPGAPGImpBreakDecBest Comp
Jameer Nelson5.10.51912.23.86.30.470.020.09Sam Vincent
MickaŽl Pietrus2.10.4669.74.91.00.490.040.11Devean George
Hedo Turkoglu7.90.55019.75.54.90.230.000.03Steve Smith
Rashard Lewis4.70.49517.55.32.40.280.000.02Glen Rice
Dwight Howard17.30.70421.713.11.50.590.000.00Tim Duncan
Keith Bogans-1.00.3856.22.31.10.320.080.05Wesley Person
Tony Battie-1.30.3654.54.00.40.390.070.13Jerome Whitehead
Anthony Johnson-0.40.4024.31.72.80.420.080.06Damon Stoudamire
Courtney Lee-0.60.3915.91.90.9( R )
Brian Cook-0.20.3852.10.80.20.670.240.14Tracy Murray
J.J. Redick-0.20.4004.00.70.50.640.180.05Rodney Buford

The Orlando Magic returns the core of last year's 52-win division champs, having lost reserve guard Maurice Evans (replaced with MickaŽl Pietrus in what is an even swap at worst) and point guards Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling (replaced by Anthony Johnson, where Orlando does take something of a hit). The Magic also gets Tony Battie back to provide a veteran frontcourt reserve. So why the expected six-game drop in the standings?

The biggest reason is that health was generally on the Magic's side last season. Stars Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu missed a combined one game; the model projects Howard and Turkoglu to miss six games apiece this year (the highest projected games possible) with Lewis missing seven. Based on their projected performance, that's 2.4 fewer wins right off the bat. It's certainly not impossible that all three will remain healthy (though Lewis has had his share of injuries in the past), but SCHOENE deals in probabilities, and the expectation is they will miss more time.

Both Turkoglu and Lewis are projected to take steps backwards this season. That seems reasonable in the case of Turkoglu, who is coming off of a career year. Meanwhile, Lewis's comps are not very encouraging, having dropped off an average of more than four percent the following season. A strong effort from the bench could help offset a decline from the Magic's top three, but every Orlando reserve is rated replacement level or below. That doesn't entirely square with conventional wisdom in the case of Bogans, a useful starter a year ago, and Battie, though he is at an age where many players have seen their games slip. While the Magic still rates as a very likely playoff team, Cleveland and Philadelphia appear to have vaulted ahead of Orlando as the biggest threats to Boston and Detroit.

Notes:

  • Despite the presence of Howard, the Magic projects as the worst offensive rebounding team in the league. Orlando was 27th a year ago and gets almost no offensive boards from its other perimeter-based starters, though Pietrus will help in this regard.
  • I'm not sure how much, if anything, to read into J.J. Redick's solid preseason. As I mentioned last week, be wary of hot shooting in limited games. Alas, hot shooting pretty much is the entirety of Redick's value. Granting that they are based on limited minutes, Redick's comps aren't exactly encouraging: Terry Teagle is the only player in the top 10 to really amount to much of anything.
  • Combining the last two notes, Redick has the lowest projected offensive rebound percentage in the league at 0.5 percent. That's one out of every 200 available offensive boards. Yikes.
  • Having finished third and 11th last year, respectively, Lewis and Turkoglu are projected to finish one-two in the league in threes, with Turkoglu dramatically increasing his attempts. At 839, the Magic is projected to make more than 160 more threes than any other NBA team.
  • Because he played just 41 minutes in the regular season, Marcin Gortat does not have a projection. Gortat topped that total during the playoffs and acquitted himself passably, though Battie's return figures to squeeze him out of the rotation for the most part.
  • The torn ACL suffered recently by third point guard Mike Wilks was a tough setback for one of the NBA's good guys. On the court, the Magic will be hard-pressed to find a third point as capable as Wilks of stepping in to the rotation if needed.

3. Washington Wizards (Projected Record: 40-42)
Offensive Rating: 108.5 (22nd)
Defensive Rating: 108.9 (13th)

PlayerWARPWin %PPGRPGAPGImpBreakDecBest Comp
Gilbert Arenas2.10.50415.23.34.40.340.000.22Ray Williams
DeShawn Stevenson-0.10.41510.63.03.30.470.030.07Voshon Lenard
Caron Butler10.90.60119.56.44.70.240.000.05Penny Hardaway
Antawn Jamison7.80.54419.89.81.50.340.020.02Kevin Willis
Etan Thomas2.90.5315.05.20.40.350.030.06Kelvin Cato
Antonio Daniels1.50.4507.42.74.30.380.030.14Sherman Douglas
Andray Blatche3.70.5476.94.61.10.620.100.03Darko Milicic
Nick Young0.60.43610.52.11.20.730.240.13Butch Carter
Darius Songaila-0.40.3922.81.80.80.420.050.09J.R. Reid
Juan Dixon1.50.4796.41.82.30.630.130.03John Crotty
Brendan Haywood1.00.5777.24.90.70.430.060.10Erick Dampier
JaVale McGee-0.90.3603.02.00.2( R )
Dominic McGuire-0.30.3991.42.00.70.680.320.02Viktor Khryapa
Oleksiy Pecherov-0.20.3862.01.10.10.810.420.03Devean George

As they demonstrated last year by making the playoffs largely without the services of star Gilbert Arenas (and certainly without ever having an entirely healthy Arenas), the Washington Wizards are a resilient bunch. If the Wizards make the playoffs again even with Arenas expected to miss up to the first couple of months of the season following another knee surgery, and with starting center Brendan Haywood sidelined for four to six months after shoulder surgery, it will truly be another resilient effort. SCHOENE thinks there's a pretty decent shot of that happening, pegging the Wizards to make the playoffs 47.7 percent of the time and even sneak up and win the Southeast a few times.

Certainly, Haywood's anchoring presence in the paint will be missed. One of the nice things about this system is it allows the chance to run "what if?" scenarios like what the Wizards would do if Haywood were healthy. The difference comes out to about four games, which seems reasonable; Haywood was worth 8.1 WARP a year ago, but the Wizards have above-replacement, um, replacements in Etan Thomas and Andray Blatche. What is surprising is the difference is largely on the offensive end; the defense scarcely moves with Haywood. Subjectively, I suspect Haywood's blocks may be more valuable than Blatche's. However, 82games.com does indicate the Wizards were 4.4 points better per 100 possessions on offense with Haywood last year as compared to 1.5 points better on defense, so maybe there's something to this notion.

Between the loss of Haywood and the unlikelihood of Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler quite duplicating last year's phenomenal seasons, the Wizards offense projects to take something of a tumble. However, Washington could make up for it with improvements on the defensive glass and opponent shooting (teams shot a league-high 38.6 percent from three against the Wizards last season. There's virtually no correlation in opponent three-point shooting from year to year, though Washington allowed 37.7 percent shooting in 2006-07). If everybody is healthy come playoff time, the Wizards might have their best chance of advancing in a few years.

Notes:

  • Projecting Arenas and Haywood is a challenge. I've got Arenas in for 41 games and 1,148 minutes, and I have no idea whether this is optimistic, pessimistic or neither. Haywood is down for 15 games and 300 minutes; it's entirely possible he might not play at all in the regular season. I made no adjustment to Arenas' numbers from last year since there's no reason to be convinced he will be much healthier this season.
  • Jamison is, I guess, more of a historical oddity than I figured. Kevin Willis is a strange comp, given that he's a total non-shooter while Jamison has three-point range. Comparing his numbers to Jamison's, they're not all that close, but nobody was any closer. Jamison's comps are generally much worse shooters...except Clyde Drexler. Go figure.
  • Nick Young figures to take a dramatic step forward this season. The talent is there, and with Roger Mason departing for San Antonio, so is the opportunity--especially while Antonio Daniels is starting at the point in Arenas' absence.

4. Charlotte Bobcats (Projected Record: 38-44) Offensive Rating: 109.3 (18th) Defensive Rating: 110.5 (21st)

PlayerWARPWin %PPGRPGAPGImpBreakDecBest Comp
Raymond Felton4.90.50613.72.77.40.680.090.04Jarrett Jack
Jason Richardson5.70.51319.65.33.40.300.000.04Glen Rice
Gerald Wallace7.60.54918.95.83.50.380.020.13Bonzi Wells
Emeka Okafor7.10.55413.110.40.80.480.020.05Samuel Dalembert
Nazr Mohammed3.20.5078.26.81.10.360.000.14LaPhonso Ellis
Jared Dudley2.30.4886.23.91.40.510.070.05J.J. Anderson
D.J. Augustin-0.60.3998.01.53.4( R )
Matt Carroll-1.90.3607.42.50.80.430.050.05Rasual Butler
Sean May2.00.5754.72.80.90.410.020.08Channing Frye
Adam Morrison-0.80.3584.31.00.80.860.540.00Allan Houston
Ryan Hollins0.70.4692.21.70.20.590.140.08Keon Clark
Jermareo Davidson-0.20.3971.81.00.20.650.20.04Clifford Robinson

Entering their fifth year of existence as a franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats still feel like a team in search of a direction. Having three coaches in as many years will do a lot to create that sentiment. After a year of Sam Vincent, Charlotte has turned to Larry Brown to try to take the team to the postseason for the first time. SCHOENE thinks that's a distinct possibility (about a one-in-three chance). Yet I'm still not sure how the pieces fit together. Are the Bobcats playing to win now? To develop? Both? Can D.J. Augustin and Raymond Felton coexist, or is one bound to be traded? Is Emeka Okafor a franchise player?

Charlotte has developed a pretty solid group of six players, the starters and sixth man Jared Dudley. While I don't like Nazr Mohammed nearly as much as the numbers do, because of his poor help defense, you could do a lot worse; see the top team in this division for an example. A lack of star power does hold the Bobcats back to some extent, and depending on how Sean May returns from microfracture knee surgery, the bench could be a problem.

The wild card is Brown, who had a reputation as a turnaround master before going to New York and tanking. Was Brown trying to run off Isiah Thomas and make a point? Or has he lost some of his touch in his late 60s? Hold off on passing judgment for at least a couple of months. I did the research when Brown was coaching the Knicks and found that his most recent three new teams averaged a .419 winning percentage before the end of the calendar year and won at a 60 percent clip thereafter.

Notes:

  • Because both May and Adam Morrison missed all of last season due to injury, I penalized them slightly by taking away a year of development and projecting their stats simply as I would have last year. Morrison is projected to 69 games, May to 60, both at 10 minutes per game.
  • I hate to pile on the poor guy, but having updated all of my numbers, I can report that Morrison's rookie season rates as the least valuable in the NBA dating back to 1979-80. That's not exactly the same as worst, since it obviously takes ability to stay on the court long enough to pile up negative WARP, but it's certainly not a good thing.
  • Despite an underwhelming group of comparables (Mike Bibby being the exception), SCHOENE likes Felton to take a solid step forward. Based on his college stats, Augustin does not project as an instant contributor.
  • The Bobcats projected to be almost exactly average on offense, coming up right at league average in each of the Four Factors. In fact, Charlotte's defensive Four Factors are extremely average as well, with the exception of allowing a higher effective field-goal percentage defensively.

5. Atlanta Hawks (Projected Record: 34-48)
Offensive Rating: 107.0 (25th)
Defensive Rating: 109.4 (15th)

PlayerWARPWin %PPGRPGAPGImpBreakDecBest Comp
Mike Bibby3.30.48313.83.56.20.380.080.06Norm Nixon
Joe Johnson3.50.47318.84.25.80.450.000.06Michael Finley
Marvin Williams2.20.45714.95.91.90.670.100.04Al Harrington
Josh Smith12.60.64017.08.63.80.680.050.00Kevin Garnett
Al Horford5.50.52510.510.11.80.650.100.02Kwame Brown
Maurice Evans0.80.4379.43.21.20.360.020.04Morris Peterson
Zaza Pachulia0.50.4326.55.30.80.640.190.05Obinna Ekezie
Ronald Murray0.30.4268.01.83.10.480.000.08Larry Drew
Acie Law-1.80.3344.31.02.00.710.200.06Daniel Ewing

Having returned to the playoffs and taken Boston to seven games in the first round, the Atlanta Hawks entered the offseason with plenty of reason for optimism. Things were going along fine until Josh Childress grew tired of restricted free agency and decided to exercise his own unique form of unrestricted free agency by signing to play in Greece with Olympiakos. Suddenly, the Hawks lost their top reserve (and calling Childress a reserve understates his value to Atlanta) with few options to replace him.

New GM Rick Sund made a pretty good save to replace Childress with Maurice Evans at a bargain price. Still, Childress' absence will hurt the Hawks dearly. Running the same "what if?" scenario I described earlier takes Atlanta from 34 wins to 40--and a strong shot at the postseason--with Childress. Even that 40-win total might seem a little low, but three close wins against the Celtics at home should not overshadow a 37-win regular season for the Hawks.

With Childress, Atlanta would still have major depth issues. I have projections for just nine players because Mario West was the only other player on the roster to play 250 minutes last year. An injury to any of the Hawks' frontline players could spell doom. Backup point guard is a question mark, with Acie Law needing to take a giant step forward to be a regular contributor and Flip Murray too erratic to be counted on at the position. Based on all of that, Atlanta is likely to return to the lottery after last year's exciting playoff run.

Notes:

  • I had forgotten how effective Kwame Brown was during the 2003-04 season. It was thereafter that his career went off the tracks. For the most part, the players similar to Horford who were at least as effective on a per-minute basis have been very effective, including Carlos Boozer, Shawn Kemp and Charles Oakley. Horford seems more likely to go down the Oakley career path; we'll see whether he can ramp up his possession usage to more of a go-to role this season.
  • Joe Johnson's projection is definitely on the low side. As John Hollinger noted recently, Johnson saw his two-point percentage go down from 50.4 percent to 45.3 percent last season, and such decreases tend to be temporary.
  • Thanks in large part to Horford's relatively foul-free play in the paint, the Hawks are projected to put opposing teams on the free-throw line less often than any other team.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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