Two months after the finish of the NBA’s restart season in Orlando, another NBA season is right around the corner, and rightfully so. It will truly be the most wonderful time of the year in so many ways for basketball fans, as the 2020-21 NBA season will commence on December 22.
All 30 teams, including the ones that participated in the aforementioned NBA restart, look to make a big impression during the 72 game season, leading up to the Finals in June. Let’s start off by taking a look at the Southeast Division.
The Heat look to make a return back to the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat shocked the entire NBA by not only knocking off the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but they would also go on to reach the NBA Finals. Despite losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Heat looked at certain areas where they needed to retool and upgrade for next season. In doing so, Miami used its 20th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and selected Precious Achiuwa, a power forward from the University of Memphis.
During the free agency period, Miami would send Derrick Jones Jr. to Portland and Jae Crowder to Phoenix in exchange for acquiring Mo Harkless and Avery Bradley. In addition, Miami also acquired an undrafted rookie in Paul Eboua, who could be another hidden gem, much like how Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn were last season. There is no doubt that Miami is looking to make another return back to the NBA Finals, but in the grand scheme of things, they could be looking even further towards the much-vaunted free agency period of next year.
Can the Magic make it to next season’s playoffs and advance past the first round?
The Orlando Magic made yet another playoff appearance and were once again eliminated in the first round. Orlando seems to be on the right path towards going further in their playoff contention, even with their core talent of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier, plus the continuing development of Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz.
In the NBA Draft, the Magic selected Cole Anthony from the University of North Carolina, a point guard that can help Orlando’s scoring production even further. Orlando will look to vie for a playoff spot this upcoming season, but with teams in the East that missed out on the restart or were eliminated in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs making their bids for the next postseason, it will be a battle for Orlando.
The Hawks look to take the next step forward
Speaking of teams that missed out on the restart, the Atlanta Hawks are one of those teams that look to be on the cusp of reaching the postseason since 2017. With Trae Young now an all-star and a core consisting of John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter looking to get a big jump right out of the gate, the Hawks are a team that appears low on the radar, but everyone should be paying close attention to them.
The Hawks drafted Onyeka Okongwu from USC and acquired Rajon Rondo, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic during the free agency period. The Hawks have all the tools needed to make a return back to the postseason and more, but the real test will be just how Atlanta stacks up against the top teams of the East.
A new era begins for the Hornets.
Welcome to the LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward era of the Charlotte Hornets. Ever since Kemba Walker left the Hornets for greener pastures to play for Boston, Charlotte was in need of a few players that could excel on the offensive end. The Hornets drafted Ball, who once played for the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League while averaging 17 points per game. That may be decent on the surface, but if Ball is going to be a franchise player, there are other areas that he’ll need to improve on.
The acquisition of Hayward from Boston, on the other hand, gives Charlotte not only an all-star caliber player but a much-needed leader to help guide Charlotte while Ball develops during his rookie season. The Charlotte Hornets are definitely a wildcard of a team to figure out in the East, but given the fact that they’re one of the teams that missed out on the restart and had a lot of time to practice and work out, Charlotte could make some noise, but will it translate to reaching the postseason?
Can the Wizards improve with Russell Westbrook?
The John Wall era has ended abruptly for the Washington Wizards, but a new one begins after they traded for Russell Westbrook. Like the Heat and the Magic, Washington participated in the restart season in Orlando, but they ended up missing the playoffs. Though they drafted international prospect Deni Avdija from Israel, the Wizards would go on to acquire Robin Lopez in the free agency period.
The Wizards may be Bradley Beal’s team, but every now and then, there will be rumors surrounding Beal leading up to the next July’s free agency period, where he will be viewed as one of the more prized players that certain teams will be looking at. As for the rest of the Wizards, expect Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, and Garrison Matthews to improve their game and help bring Washington closer to where they need to be.
The Southeast Division will be a little more competitive than last season’s, where Miami completely ran away with the division. Orlando adds another offensive player, Atlanta brings in veterans with their young core, Charlotte has a potential star while also adding an all-star to their roster, and Washington adds some toughness while also looking to develop their young core. All of these intangibles seem to be interesting, to say the least, but in terms of divisional play, will it be enough to match the intensity that Miami brings?
The teams that will reach the postseason: Miami, Orlando, Atlanta
The teams that will be in the draft lottery: Charlotte and Washington
Players to watch in the division: Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Russell Westbrook, and Bradley Beal
Rookies to watch: Precious Achiuwa, Cole Anthony, and LaMelo Ball
Rising stars to watch: Tyler Herro, Trae Young, and Rui Hachimura
Southeast Division Standings Prediction: