The Miami Heat won the Southeast Division last season, their 15th divisional title in franchise history. The Atlanta Hawks made a surprise Eastern Conference Finals run in ‘20-’21 but fell back down to reality last season and battled alongside the Charlotte Hornets in the play-in tournament for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Washington Wizards traded for Kristaps Porzingis at the trade deadline and the Orlando Magic picked Paolo Banchero with the #1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. What can we expect from the Southeast division this season?
Tier 1: The contenders
Miami Heat Over/Under 48.5 wins
The Heat (53-29) were #1 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, losing to the Boston Celtics at home in Game 7 of a hard-fought Conference Finals. They are largely thought to take a step back this season but they bring back the NBA’s best coach (via 2022 NBA GM survey) and solid players such as 6-time All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and 2022 6th Man of the Year Tyler Herro. There are some legitimate questions on if Kyle Lowry is on too steep of a decline and who on earth will play the power forward position role. Does Miami feel confident about Caleb Martin playing a big role? Or does Bam eventually move to the 4 and the Heat go big? That’s obviously for Erik Spoelstra to figure out and decide.
What I do know, though, is that “Heal Culture” is a real thing and they always seems to compete at the highest level — no matter the doubts that are out there. If they can stay healthy, Miami should win the Southeast division yet again. If not, could Atlanta be on the rise and dethrone the Heat as best in the Southeast division?
Tier 2: Intriguing but will have to prove it
Atlanta Hawks Over/Under 45.5 wins
Last season the Hawks struggled with some injuries and struggled to play above .500 basketball, squeaking into the playoffs through the play-in but got swept to division foe Miami Heat. I’m sure the Hawks flew into the offseason knowing that big changes were needed to the roster. Well guess what? A big change was made.
Atlanta traded three first round picks to pair their All-Star Trae Young with former San Antonio Spurs All-Star guard Dejounte Murray. They then quickly turned around and traded Kevin Huerter to Sacramento for Justin Holiday. Murray and Holiday help mitigate Trae Young’s defensive struggles at point guard and bring new talent to the roster.
Also, can John Collins and Deandre Hunter stay healthy and step up for the Hawks? If all pieces to the puzzle work out, they shouldn’t be too far behind the Heat for the division title.
Tier 3: Not good but not bad either
Charlotte Hornets Over/Under 35.5 wins
The Charlotte Hornets have been on the upward trajectory the past two seasons. Lamelo Ball won rookie of the year and then followed it up with an All-Star appearance in his second season. They were a league pass attraction that many were intrigued to watch — a lot in part because of their amazingly, loud, obnoxious TV play-by-play announcer Eric Collins. But after back-to-back seasons of losing big in the play-in, they fired Head Coach James Borrego.
Steve Clifford is back as head coach. Clifford is mostly known to be a defensive-minded coach and inherits a team that ranked 22nd in the NBA in defense last season. The vibes are not very good in Charlotte at the moment (especially with the Miles Bridges’ changes and uncertainty) but with third year pro Lamelo Ball leading the charge there is still enough excitement to hope for the best.
Washington Wizards Over/Under 35.5 wins
The Washington Wizards have been in purgatory for far too long — good enough to not tank but not good enough to compete in the playoffs. That doesn't change again this season. One of the NBA’s best scorers, Bradley Beal, is now paired with a new number two option Kristaps Porzingis.
Individually, the Wizards have good and talented players to like. Collectively, this is a team that will struggle on defense and will continue to live in mediocrity with Monte Morris running the point. Is this the year they move on from Bradley Beal and start the rebuild? Can Porzingis stay healthy and benefit from a new environment? Will Kyle Kuzma continue to grow? That trio is good enough to win some games in the regular season but not in April.
Tier 4: Still rebuilding
Orlando Magic Over/Under 26.5 wins
After a 22-win season, the Orlando Magic won the NBA lottery and took Paolo Banchero with the #1 overall pick. He is without a doubt an immediate impact player with great size, speed and skills.
Pairing Banchero with Summer 2022 Eurobasket and NBA Preseason rising star Franz Wagner, the Magic have young pieces to be very excited about but there is still lots of work to be done for second year Head coach Jamahl Mosley to lead the Magic out of the NBA basement.
Players to watch
Jimmy Butler. A veteran, battle-tested All-Star. Unfortunately he got rid of his extensions, though.
Lamelo Ball. NBA League Pass darling. Rookie of the Year. All-Star. Need I say more?
Trae Young & Dejounte Murray. A perfect pair like peanut butter and jelly? Or two things that can’t co-exist like Diet Coke and Mentos? Let’s watch and see.
Kristaps Porzingis. It is always a temptation to check-in and see how your ex is doing. Honestly I hope the best for Kristaps.
Paolo Banchero. #1 overall pick as the #1 option. Banchero is going to get his.
The Heat will squeak by the Hawks and win the division title, yet again. Sure, there’s a chance that Trae and Dejounte catch fire and end up being one of the most fun duos in the league — but not enough to lift the Hawks above Miami... just yet. Atlanta has a lot of quality players, but the Heat have culture and just when you think they are on the decline and aging, the win and win often.
Division Award Winners
MVP. I’ll go with Jimmy Butler. Heat are running out of time winning with him and I like the idea of Jimmy as a small ball 4-man for the Heat.
Defensive Player of the Year. It’s obviously Bam Adebayo — the Heat big man was on the 2021-22 NBA All-Defensive Second Team, missing the First Team by just one point. Bam is the anchor for one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. Per NBA.com, when Adebayo was on the court, the Heat held teams to 104.9 points per 100 possessions, which would be the top defense in the league.
Sixth Man of the Year. Tyler Herro is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and is still in the best position — especially in his division — to win the award again.
Most Improved Player. Finally I can pick a non-Miami player... let’s go with Franz Wagner! He has been on a terror lately after helping lead Germany to a Eurobasket Final and playing well for Orlando so far this preseason. The Magic are in full rebuild mode with lots of young talent so look for Franz to get some numbers and more media attention than ever before.
Rookie of the Year. Number one overall pick Paolo Banchero has the size, speed and skills to be a great forward in the NBA. There will be growing pains playing on a young, losing team... but the opportunity is there for him to hit the ground running and score a bunch of points for the Magic.