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2023-24 NBA Mid-Season Reports: Southeast Division

Jimmy Butler Miami Heat
(Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)

To begin the NBA season, our staff writers took a stab at previewing each team and their division. While some predictions and prognostications have panned out, there is plenty that has been surprising. 

This week, our writers will again break down the league, team by team, in order to get ready for the rest of the NBA season.  We hope to give insight into where teams are at this point in the year, and with the trade deadline right around the corner, we will try to forecast what move lies ahead. 

To start, below is our breakdown of the southeast division home of the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat. Here’s how our writers, Mikey Kobrinsky, Patrick Yen, Nate Powlie, and Kevin Lu, explain the outlook for the Southeast Division. 

(BSP mid-season reports were written prior to Feb. 5, 2024)

 

Atlanta Hawks

Team Record: 22-27 (10th place in Eastern Conference)

First Half Best Player: Trae Young

First-Half Underperformer: Saddiq Bey

The Atlanta Hawks have yet to meet their pre-season expectations in 2024. They carry a 12-14 record at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena and are 10-14 on the road. A common theme to most of these losses is they come down to fourth-quarter execution and the Hawks not consistently performing in crunch time. Too many times this season, Atlanta has blown substantial leads in the third quarter, leading to frustrating losses or unnecessarily stressful finishes. Atlanta ranks 27th in third-quarter net rating at -11.8.

Through the first 33 contests of the season, Atlanta held double-digit leads in 22 games but only won nine of them. The Hawks also had a four-game losing streak toward the end of December in which they owned double-digit leads in the second half of each game but failed to come away with the win.

Quin Snyder’s rotation has changed since the beginning of the season. With De’Andre Hunter’s knee issues plaguing him, Garrison Mathews receives the backup small forward minutes. Trent Forrest, a defensive guard, plays spot minutes after being out of the rotation to start the campaign. Saddiq Bey started at either forward position, while Jalen Johnson (wrist) and Hunter missed significant time. Onyeka Okongwu played some minutes at power forward for the first time in his career next to Clint Capela when Johnson was out. 

Bey has not enjoyed the same shooting success he exhibited last season when he came to Atlanta after the trade deadline. He shot 40% from downtown in 2023, but that number dropped to 30% on 5.6 attempts per game this season. With his defensive deficiencies, the Hawks desperately need his impact on the offensive end.

Southeast Division Atlanta Hawks Guard Trae Young

(Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports)

In contrast, after starting the season slowly, Trae Young ramped up his production to end the 2023 calendar year. He tallied seven straight 30-point, 10-assist games from Dec. 13-23, tying an NBA Record with the great Oscar Robertson. He shot 49.4% from the field and 47.4% from deep during the seven-game stretch.

Second-Half Forecast

The Hawks are reported to be one of the most active teams during the trade deadline. Young and Johnson are the only “untouchables” on the roster, with Dejounte Murray, Capela, and Hunter being the highest-profile trade candidates. Atlanta is looking for valuable draft capital and young defensive talent for Murray. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets’ interest in the star guard grows as the Feb. 8 trade deadline approaches. 

Atlanta wants to retool the roster around Young and Johnson to set the franchise up for success in the coming seasons. They rank 10th in the Eastern Conference and will most likely compete in the play-in tournament for a spot in the 2024 playoffs. The time is now for Atlanta to make moves for the future and regain their momentum for winning seasons.

-Mikey Kobrinsky

 

Charlotte Hornets

Team Record: 10-38 (13th in Eastern Conference)

First-Half Best Performer: LaMelo Ball 

First-Half Underperformer: PJ Washington

*Notable Transactions: Traded away PG/SG Terry Rozier to the Miami Heat for Kyle Lowry and a 2027 first-round pick*

To say things haven’t gone right a lot of the time for the Charlotte Hornets in the 2023-24 season would be putting it mildly. Now, being that, as a team, they’re still relatively young, there would be some growing pains to go through. Charlotte is only ahead of two teams in the Eastern Conference, and the first half of the season is one they’ll soon forget. The Hornets still appear to be in rebuild mode, as noted with the trade sending Terry Rozier to division rival Miami earlier this week.

Looking back at the schedule, the Hornets’ worst loss of the season came back on Jan. 12, when they were absolutely dismantled on the road at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs by a final count of 135 to 99. Likewise, the best one of their ten wins to this point in the season also came on the road. The Hornets beat the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 2 in the Golden1 Center in a 111-104 affair. 

I had LaMelo Ball down as the team’s best player, but injuries have also been an issue, as no one on the squad has played more than 35 games to this point in the season. Miles Bridges was serving a ten-game suspension to start the season due to his violation of the NBA’s domestic abuse policy. Still, he’s come back nicely, averaging just under 21 points a contest on 46% shooting and a career-high 87% make rate from the foul line.  

Second-Half Forecast

It almost feels like a fire sale is imminent in the Queen City as Charlotte continues to look toward the future. Rumors also are going around that the Hornets may be looking to move Gordon Hayward and his pricey $31.5 million contract. Also, while it’s not likely, there have been some rumblings that P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges could be offloaded elsewhere. Ultimately, things look like Charlotte will miss the playoffs and will barely get by the 25-win threshold at season’s end for a second straight season. 

-Nate Powalie

 

Miami Heat 

Team Record: 26-24 (6th in Eastern Conference)

First-Half Best Performer: Bam Adebayo

First-Half Underperformer: Caleb Martin

*Notable Transactions: Traded away Kyle Lowry and a 2027 first-round pick to Charlotte for PG/SG Terry Rozier*

As the 2023-24 NBA season crosses its midway point, the Miami Heat continue to assert themselves as formidable playoff contenders. Currently positioned sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Heat’s record stands impressively, with 26 wins against 24 losses. Key players who have consistently delivered exceptional performances are at the heart of the Heat’s robust performance. Tyler Herro, the team’s scoring dynamo, averages an impressive 21.9 points per game. Bam Adebayo dominates the boards with an average of 10.6 rebounds per game, while Jimmy Butler orchestrates the offense, leading the team with 4.4 assists per game.

This season’s biggest surprise has been Jaime Jaquez Jr., the versatile forward from UCLA. Averaging 14.0 points per game, Jaquez Jr. has displayed a rare level of maturity in rookies. His ability to capitalize on post-up opportunities and excel in 2-point play has put him in the spotlight in the Rookie of the Year discussions. Another standout story is the evolution of Duncan Robinson. Once pigeonholed as a perimeter shooter, Robinson has expanded his game to become a paint scorer, averaging 13.7 points per game with a 41.1% success rate from the three-point line, replicating his 2020 bubble performance.

The Heat’s recent trade, swapping Lowry for Rozier III, signals a strategic shift to bolster their offense. While Lowry’s performance and experience had been valuable, it lacked the consistency needed in the backfield. Rozier III’s arrival is expected to address the team’s offensive-defensive imbalance and could spark the Heat’s need for elevation.

Meanwhile, Coach Erik Spoelstra faces a new challenge: igniting bench scoring following the departures of key players like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. Placing 11th of the league’s average benching points so far, this aspect could be crucial as the team navigates the second half of the season.

Second-Half Forecast

The Miami Heat, as currently positioned, demonstrates both competitiveness and strength despite its somewhat precarious ranking. Their resilience and history of overcoming odds—as seen last year when they rallied to the finals as an eighth-seed “underdog”—make them a team impossible to overlook. As the team unfolds this season, the Heat are poised once again to prove their mettle in the high-stakes NBA landscape.

-Kevin Lu

 

Orlando Magic

Team Record: 27-23 (7th in Eastern Conference) 

First Half Best Player: Paolo Banchero

First-Half Underperformer: Markelle Fultz (Due to unavailability) 

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Orlando Magic. They got off to a hot start (as they often seem to do) and were 13-5 at the end of November. Since then, though, things have gotten off the rails a bit. While the core players like Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, and Jalen Suggs have been relatively healthy, basically everyone else has been forced to miss time. This includes Markelle Fultz and Wendell Carter Jr, two guys who were supposed to be everyday starters but have played less than half the season. That’s incredibly disappointing for Fultz, who was coming off a very strong 2022-2023 and was looking to build on that.

Paolo Banchero NBA Preview vs. the Rockets

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Luckily, the rest of the young Magic have made various leaps in their game. They are led by Banchero, who’s taken a step forward. He’s gotten better across the board, but perhaps most notably, has upped his playmaking. That could be a possible silver lining of Fultz’s absence, which has forced everyone else to make plays for each other. Jalen Suggs has boosted his scoring slightly, especially from deep, and has also become one of the best point-of-attack defenders in the league. Meanwhile, Franz Wagner has also increased his numbers in totality.

After a month near the top of the Eastern Conference, the Magic dropped down to eighth place. They were projected to fight for a play-in spot, so one could argue they are exceeding expectations right now. To get to that next level, though, they must improve one thing. Three-point shooting. They are the worst three-point shooting team in the league, and in the modern NBA, it’s hard to play winning basketball like that. There are a few decent three-point shooters on the team in Suggs and Joe Ingles, but no one who is consistent and takes a lot of attempts. They need to acquire some three-point shooting somewhere if they want to stay relevant. A few guys could come in and make an instant impact in that role, such as Bojan and Bogdan Bogdanović, Malcolm Brogdon, and Buddy Hield

Second-Half Forecast

 The Magic will win the Southeast Division. Quite a few guys seem very available and could shore up the Magic’s one major weakness. Getting one or two of them should dramatically open things up for the Wagner-Banchero duo. The core lineup is strong, and if Cole Anthony can find his form from the beginning of the season, they’ll be quite deep with a trade or two. The Magic are excellent defensively, and extra shooters can take their offense where it needs to be. They aren’t championship caliber yet, but that window is approaching rapidly.

-Patrick Yen

 

Washington Wizards

Team Record: 9-40 (14th place in Eastern Conference)

First-Half Best Player: Kyle Kuzma

First-Half Underperformer: Jordan Poole

The Washington Wizards are enduring another season near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. On Jan. 25, the team announced Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. will transition to a front office role. Brian Keefe, lead assistant under Unseld, will serve as the interim head coach until the franchise searches for a full-time head skipper this offseason. Unseld posted a 77-130 career record with the Wizards. 

The Wizards mainly struggle to defend on the perimeter and score in the halfcourt- not a winning basketball recipe. Washington ranks 28th in defensive rating at 120 and 25th in offensive rating at 111.6. They are on their way to collecting a high lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft to bolster their rebuilding roster with young talent. One bright spot defensively has been rookie Bilal Coulibaly. In just over 26 minutes per game, he flashes his defensive versatility and slashing ability many nights against opposing wings and guards.

Offensively, Washington has only reached the 120-point mark 18 times this season. Kyle Kuzma averages a career-high 22 points per game, but outside of a struggling Jordan Poole, he is the only source of self-shot creation on the perimeter. Tyus Jones and Delon Wright serve as reliable, veteran point guards, but both will be unrestricted free agents after this season. Deni Avdija averages a career-high 12.4 points per game. However, his role as a playmaking forward is unclear, with Poole, Jones, and Kuzma having most of the ball-handling duties.

Last offseason, the Wizards acquired Poole when they traded Chris Paul to the Golden State Warriors. Many fans thought Poole’s production and usage would increase significantly in Washington on a rebuilding team. However, that has not been the case. The 24-year-old guard carried a 29.1% usage last season, but that number has shrunk to 25.7% with the Wizards. He totals 16.5 points per game on one less field goal attempt per game than last season.

Second-Half Forecast

Washington is expected to be a seller at this year’s Feb. 8 trade deadline. Kuzma and Gafford could net the biggest returns, while Jones and Avidja could also bring back draft capital or younger players. As a wing scorer, Kuzma’s market will be significant for contending and playoff-hopeful franchises. He would likely bring back a first-round pick for the Wizards. The Wizards are headed for the lottery and will likely remain uncompetitive for the remainder of the season. Toward the campaign’s conclusion, expect Washington to give Coulibaly more minutes and a larger role to speed up his development as a potential foundational piece for the future.

-Mikey Kobrinsky

 

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