While being a few days late in previewing the Detroit Pistons forced me into some re-writing, the delay re-affirmed what I expected from the Atlanta Hawks: they're going to be good. The Hawks' fast start (5-0) is really a carry over from the end of last season. After acquiring Mike Bibby, Atlanta finished the 2007-2008 season 15-17 (yeah, not that great, but this is the Atlanta Hawks we are talking about), including a 10 of their last 17 to grab the last playoff spot in the East (again, not great, but, again, the Hawks). In their first round playoff matchup, Atlanta utilized Bibby's leadership and playoff experience and a whole lot of athleticism to push the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics to seven games. The 2008-09 version of the Hawks is mostly unchanged (except for sixth man Josh Childress bolting for Greece) and should continue to improve. Bibby's steady hand and Joe Johnson's raw scoring ability give Atlanta one of the best backcourts in the East, even if Bibby will be a defensive liability. Of course, if Bibby does get beat off the dribble he has the super athletic Josh Smith guarding the rim and erasing nearly 3 shots per game. Joining Smith in the Hawks frontcourt are Marvin Williams and Al Horford, two guys that are both well positioned for continued improvement. Expect the Hawks youth and lack of bench depth to result in patches of streaky play, but play that should result in a +.500 season (and I think the good people of Atlanta are willing to deal with a little streaky play for that).
Projected record: 45-37
The Charlotte Bobcats may be the most frustrating team in the NBA. They have immense raw talent, but basically play like five guys that called "next" at the YMCA. Ray Felton has refused to develop into even a mediocre point guard, turning the ball over way too much. Felton can expect to see minutes slip away to #9 overall pick D.J. Augustin (who will probably frustrate Bobcat fans by being Felton v2.0). Jason Richardson is an elite shooter, but probably only has a year or two left in him and won't be around when this team finally gets straightened out. Gerald Wallace is an absolute wrecking ball and one of my favorite players to watch in the league, but doesn't get much support up front. Oft-injured Sean May and Emeka Okafor hint at the promise this Bobcats team could have, but after a few years of expecting this team to reach their potential, I'm going to make them prove it before I jump on the bandwagon.
Oh yeah, this Bobcats team will probably chase Larry Brown into retirement once and for all.
Projected record: 31-51
The Miami Heat could be a great team, but just not this year. All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion team up with rookie superstar Michael Beasley and that trio can be expected to score a lot of points. Unfortunately, we'll never get to see this triumvirate at the top of their game. Marion is in a contract year and will probably be looking to become somebody's alpha dog in the off-season. Beasley is absolutely the real deal, but it will take him a couple seasons to reach his full potential. And then there is Wade and his injury issues. Add to the mix a rookie point guard in Mario Chalmers and an under-sized center in Udonis Haslem and the Heat look like a team that could be adding another lottery pick in 2009.
Projected record: 28-54
After a 40 win season in 2006-07 and a 50+ win season in 2007-08, the natural question is: Can the Orlando Magic make the leap, become an elite NBA team and win 60 games? The answer is a resounding "No". While Orlando returns much of the same team from last year and upgraded at shooting guard with the athletic Mickael Pietrus, I just don't see this team getting better. Up front there really isn't any way for me to tell you anything about Dwight Howard that you already don't know. Howard is good, really, really good. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis round out an undersized front court that between Howard, Turkoglu and Lewis missed only one game in 2007-08. That's not going to happen again. Turkoglu is also coming off a career year, hard to expect that to happen again. At the point, Jameer Nelson just isn't good enough. He's acceptable, yes, but not good enough to carry the Magic deep into the playoffs. All this adds up to a mildly disappointing season in Orlando.
Projected record: 46-36
Well over the summer I told you all the reasons why the Washington Wizards needed to resign Gilbert Arenas. One of those reasons was that Arenas isn't injury prone. So the season starts and sure enough the son of a bitch goes under the knife for the third time in a year and a half, jeez, shows what I know. So Washington's "Big 3" is down to Antawn Jamison and Caron Bulter and the other 3 starters are really, really shaky. Antonio Daniels is more of a "true" point guard than Arenas, but isn't nearly the scoring threat. DeShawn Stevenson is much better at hurling insults at Lebron James than he is at, say, shooting a basketball (38.6% from the field in 2007-08, awful). And finally, it's never a good thing when your starting center is returning from open heart surgery, like Etan Thomas is for Washington (with Brendan Haywood out with a wrist injury). Expect another .500 type season in DC.
Projected record: 40-44
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