With LeBron James out of the division, the Southeast is going to be as close as ever. Cases could be made for any team other than the Magic to win it; Miami still has Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Wizards have a great backcourt, the Hornets added Lance Stephenson, and Atlanta should be improved with Al Horford and Paul Millsap coming back healthy.
But there's a real case to be made for the Wizards to be one of the three best teams in the Eastern Conference, let alone the division. Here's what the new Wizards roster is going to look like this season and how it'll stack up against the rest of the division this season.
What the New Roster Means
The starting rotation (as long as everyone is healthy) is clearly going to consist of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene and Marcin Gortat. Coming off the bench will be Andre Miller, Garrett Temple, Glen Rice Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Martell Webster in the backcourt and DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries, Kevin Seraphin and Drew Gooden in the frontcourt.
The main addition from the entire offseason is Pierce. Although he's not the Paul Pierce anymore, he's still a productive player who is a perfectly fine replacement for the departed Trevor Ariza. Beal is going to directly benefit from Pierce's presence more than any other player.
Beal showed in the playoffs that he can be a knockdown three-point shooter, making two buckets from beyond the arc per game in the postseason. During the regular season, he had a tough time showing that, though, because of the number of two-point shots he attempted.
In a comparison of Beal and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, Jeremy Conlin of Hardwood Paroxysm discussed how the number of mid-range jumpers Beal took hurt his overall performance for the season.
Beal is a better shooter from three than Waiters, but Beal also takes so many more two-point jump shots, and makes fewer of them (Beal shot 37.2 percent on 519 two-point attempts outside the paint – Waiters shot 43.1 percent on 378 attempts) that there's effectively no difference in their scoring efficiencies. In a twist of irony, it's Waiters' superiority on low-efficiency shots that actually offsets Beal's superiority on high-efficiency shots at the rim and beyond the three-point line. Waiters has the reputation of the shameless gunner, but his shot selection is actually much better than Beal's.
Pierce is going to offset that issue, making Beal a better player and improving the starting lineup. Beal attempted 36.1 percent of his shots from mid-range, per Basketball-Reference.com, while Pierce attempted 13.8 percent, but Pierce shot 44.9 percent from that range.
(Chart courtesy of NBA.com.)
If Pierce and Nene can make those mid-range jumpers, Wall will be free to make more drives to the hoop, and Beal can patrol the perimeter and make threes at an incredibly high rate while improving his shot selection.
Off the bench, the Wizards are stacked in the frontcourt but thin in the backcourt. Last season, Washington's bench scored the second-fewest points per game in the league, so the frontcourt additions are sure to help.
Humphries and Blair could both be starters when the inevitable Nene injury hits. Check out this comparison of Blair and Humphries to Trevor Booker (who went to the Utah Jazz in free agency).
Humphries could be considered a wash with Booker, but Blair's numbers are better than Booker's in a number of categories. Blair's competitive spirit and attitude also fit well with the overall vibe of the Wizards (see: Nene getting in Jimmy Butler's face).
However, in the backcourt, the Wizards could use some help. Rice and Porter could be able to carry over what they did in the summer league, but it's certainly no guarantee—it is just the summer league, after all.
Temple provides absolutely nothing on offense, Webster is going to miss at least the first month of the season, and Miller isn't getting any younger. If either Rice or Porter pan out, the Wizards will be fine while they wait for Webster to return, but if they both fall flat, the depth behind Pierce and Beal could be a serious problem.
How the Roster Stacks up in the Division
Let's start with something basic to compare the rosters in the Southeast Division by looking at how the starters performed per 48 minutes last season, per HoopStats.com (keep in mind that every team in the division has made a significant move this offseason).
The Wizards held their own among starters, but the bench was what killed them.
Now, let's go team-by-team and see what the strengths and weaknesses are for each of the teams in the division and how they stack up against Washington to come up with a prediction for the standings and records at the end of the season.
Bosh will be free to take over as the No. 1 scoring option, which will keep the Heat's offensive numbers from totally dropping off. Luol Deng will be the starting small forward as well, but they have no idea what Wade has left, and with Bosh presumably playing a lot of center this season, the power forward position could be a huge hole. There's also no clear-cut starting point guard. But because of Bosh and Wade there, I'll still give the slight edge to Miami's roster. This will be a battle that will go back and forth all season.
A starting five of Kemba Walker, Lance Stephenson, P.J. Hairston/Michael Kidd-Gilchrist/Gerald Henderson, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson actually sounds good. Stephenson will get a chance to be a No. 1 scoring option on a team, and I think Walker is underrated. But the bench is really an issue, especially in the backcourt. Gary Neal throws up too many shots, and Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo and Noah Vonleh all need to develop in the frontcourt. The Wizards are better on paper.
The Hawks didn't do anything huge in the offseason, so this is basically the same exact roster from last season. If Millsap and Horford stay healthy, that's a great frontcourt and even better than Washington's. But I simply don't trust either of them to play any more than 70 games each, and they're limited at small forward between DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore, so edge here to the Wizards.
In two or three years, this is going to be a roster to watch out for, but for now, the Wizards don't have much to worry about. Channing Frye will be out of his element in Orlando's offensive scheme, and a backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo is a few years off from being able to compete with Wall and Beal.
Predicted Standings and Records
- Miami Heat (48-34)
- Washington Wizards (47-35)
- Charlotte Hornets (44-38)
- Atlanta Hawks (41-41)
- Orlando Magic (30-52)