Thursday, October 25, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Southeast Division)

This project has officially become unwieldy. But no stopping now -- we're halfway done. And, as always, the statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, unless otherwise noted.

Atlanta Hawks

2006-07: 30-52
Coach: Mike Woodson
Starting lineup
PG Speedy Claxton (5.3/1.9/4.4)
SG Joe Johnson (25.0/4.2/4.4)
SF Josh Smith (16.4/8.6/3.3)
PF Marvin Williams (13.1/5.3/1.9)
C Zaza Pachulia (12.2/6.9/1.5)
C Al Horford (rookie, 3rd pick)
F/G Josh Childress (13.0/6.2/4.3)
PF Shelden Williams (5.5/5.4/0.5)
SG Salim Stoudemire (7.7/1.2/1.0)
PG Acie Law (rookie, 11th pick)
PG Tyronn Lue (11.4/1.9/3.6)

The Hawks have been dreadful for years, but may have finally assembled enough young talent to approach a playoff spot this season. If Josh Smith (pictured with ball) has improved his ballhandling and shooting skills, he could make the leap and become a premier small forward in his fourth season. Joe Johnson is the team's established scorer, and if he and Joe Johnson become more aggressive, they may become one of the best one-two punches in the league. Third-year man Marvin Williams possesses all the tools to become an effective power forward on a winning team, just as he was on the 2005 NCAA championship team at North Carolina. Rookie Al Horford, like Zaza Pachulia, are tough defenders, but the nod at starting center goes to Pachulia, who possesses the more sophisticated offensive game, for now at least. Speedy Claxton, an effective if undersized floor general, is the caretaker at point guard until rookie Acie Law is ready to take over. Tyronn Lue is also an option at the position and part of a deep bench that's led by versatile sixth man Josh Childress (pictured, background).

Charlotte Bobcats
2006-07: 33-49
Coach: Sam Vincent
Starting lineup
PG Raymond Felton (14.0/3.4/7.0)
SG Jason Richardson (16.0/5.1/3.4)
SF Gerald Wallace (18.1/7.2/2.6)
PF Emeka Okafor (14.4/11.3/1.2)
C Primoz Brezec (5.0/3.2/0.4)
G/F Matt Carroll (12.1/2.9/1.3)
PG Jeff McInnis (4.3/1.6/3.3)
F Walter Herrman (9.2/2.9/0.5)
G/F Derek Anderson (8.0/2.3/2.7)
SF Jared Dudley (rookie, 22nd pick)
C Ryan Hollins (2.4/1.1/0.0)

Season-ending injuries in preseason have robbed the team of its best low-block scorer in Sean May and Adam Morrison, its top scorer off the bench. That's tempered any enthusiasm over the acquisition of Jason Richardson, a potent scorer and rebounder from Golden State. Richardson struggles defensively though, and he and Gerald Wallace, the team's leading scorer from last season, must learn to mesh their similarly athletic offensive skills. Wallace and Emeka Okafor, unlike Richardson, are defensive stalwarts. Okafor is a major force on the boards but must work on his offensive game in the post with May out. Primoz Brezec, the last-minute choice at center, is a defensive liability, is a reliable shooter who can stretch the defense but a liability on defense, which might be mitigated by Okafor's presence. Slashing, playmaking point guard Raymond Felton has quietly become one of the league's better point guards despite the lack of an outside shot and his diminutive 6-foot stature. The bench is short but sixth man Matt Carroll (pictured) is a dead-eye shooter who could provide instant offense, and Walter Herrmann uses his strength as well as his shot to provide scoring from either forward spot.

Miami Heat 2006-07: 44-38
Lost to Chicago 4-0 in first round
Pat Riley
Starting lineup
PG Jason Williams (10.9/2.3/5.3)
SG Dwyane Wade (27.4/4.7/7.5)
SF Ricky Davis (17.0/3.9/4.8)
PF Udonis Haslem (10.7/8.3/1.2)
C Shaquille O'Neal (17.3/7.4/2.0)
SF Dorell Wright (6.0/4.1/1.4)
C/F Alonzo Mourning (8.6/4.5/0.2)
PF Mark Blount (12.3/6.2/0.8)
PG Smush Parker (11.1/2.5/2.8)
SG Daequan Cook (rookie, 21st pick)
G Anfernee Hardaway (last played in 2005-06: 2.5/2.5/2.0)

The Heat traded for Ricky Davis to provide a third scoring option behind Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal (pictured). He has been a selfish player in the past, but he's never been around personalities quite as strong as Wade, Shaq and coach Pat Riley. He's a slasher and a much more athletic player than Antoine Walker, whom the Heat sent to the Wolves in return, and will help make the Heat offense less reliant on Shaq's ability to draw defenders down and create room for outside shooters. Jason Williams, a distributor and outside shooter but a liability on defense, and Udonis Haslem, a tough rebounder who takes pressure off Shaq on the boards but struggles with his shot at times, return as starters. Alonzo Mourning is back to ensure the team doesn't miss a beat while Shaq's on the bench, and Mark Blount, a capable offensive player who came over in the Davis trade, will see minutes in the frontcourt as well. Dorell Wright has the athletic ability to develop into a valuable sixth man but must watch his turnovers and improve on defense. Smush Parker, who started most of last season for the Lakers, is backing up at point and Anfernee Hardaway is attempting a comeback after two years out of the game.

Orlando Magic
Lost to Detroit 4-0 in first round
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Starting lineup
PG Jameer Nelson (13.0/3.1/4.3)
SG Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
SF Hedo Turkoglu (13.3/4.0/3.2)
PF Rashard Lewis (22.4/6.6/2.4)
C Dwight Howard (17.6/12.3/1.9)
PG Carlos Arroyo (7.7/1.9/2.8)
SG J.J. Redick (6.0/1.2/0.9)
G/F Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
F Pat Garrity (2.2/1.3/0.4)
C Adonal Foyle (2.2/2.6/0.4)
PF Bo Outlaw (2.0/2.6/0.4)

The two big changes for the Magic this offseason were the additions of head coach Stan Van Gundy (pictured, right) and the signing of free-agent Rashard Lewis (pictured, left), both of whom signal a change toward a more open, faster-paced style of play. Lewis challenges defenses with a consistent long-range jumper and an ability to create off the dribble, and he can post up if the occasion calls for it, too. He's sieve defensively, though, and the team has mirrored that deficiency throughout training camp. Dwight Howard will be playing center full time this year, and with Tony Battie out for the season, the All-NBA Third Teamer will carry a heavy load this year. Point guard Jameer Nelson returns to direct the attack, and while he'll welcome the opportunity to make quick cuts to the basket, his lack of playmaking ability could be an albatross for the Magic all season, or at least until backup Carlos Arroyo takes over primary ballhandling duties. Keith Bogans has overcome his shooting woes, at least for the time being, and will start at two-guard. Small forward Hidayet Turkoglu isn't an outstanding player, but his all-around skills and ability to play four positions make him an invaluable asset. The team has a choice of wing players off the bench -- they can go with either sharpshooting J.J. Redick or defensive stopper Trevor Ariza. Pat Garrity, in his second stint with the Magic, brings shooting off the bench at either forward spot. Veteran Adonal Foyle is around to make sure the team has someone capable of protecting the basket even when Howard is on the bench.

Washington Wizards
2006-07: 41-41
Lost to Cleveland 4-0 in first round
Coach: Eddie Jordan
Starting lineup

PG Gilbert Arenas (28.4/4.6/6.0)
SG DeShawn Stevenson (11.2/2.6/2.7)
SF Caron Butler (19.1/7.4/3.7)
PF Antawn Jamison (19.8/8.0/1.9)
C Brendan Haywood (6.6/6.2/0.6)
G Antonio Daniels (7.1/1.9/3.6)
G/F Nick Young (rookie, 16th pick)
SF Oleksiy Pecherov (rookie, 18th pick in 2006)
F/C Andray Blatche (3.7/3.4/0.7)
PF Darius Songaila (7.6/3.6/1.0)

Late-season injuries to Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, among others, derailed the Wizards last year, but barring similar maladies there'll be no stopping the Wizards' offense. The questions is whether they'll heed coach Eddie Jordan's call and stiffen up defensively. That would help Gilbert Arenas' (pictured) quest to become a First Team All-NBA type of player after finishing third in the league in scoring last year. It is of even greater importance that Arenas, Butler and Jamison, all terrific offensive players, make an effort to ratchet up their defense now that Etan Thomas, a shot-blocking rock on the interior, is out for an indefinite time following heart surgery. He'll be replaced at center by Brendan Haywood, a solid defender but a downgrade from Thomas. Starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, the team's best perimeter defender, is more valuable than ever this year. Antonio Daniels is a reliable ballhandler and an attractive defensive option off the bench at either guard spot. Rookie Nick Young is a wing player who can provide scoring with his jump shot, but must be more aggressive in driving the basket. Andray Blatche has to become more assertive in the post, since he may be the best option off the bench at both power positions, though Darius Songaila's versatile offensive game was put on display when injuries forced him into heavy minutes last year, and he'll be an asset again this season.

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