To kick off our 2023-2024 NBA season coverage, Back Sports Page will preview all 30 NBA teams for the upcoming year. Different from years past, however, our previews will be put out according to their respective divisions. In our first edition, our staff looked at the Southeast division and broke down each of the five teams.
Follow along over the next two weeks to see an analysis of the outlooks for teams as they head into the new season.
As mentioned, the first division up is the Southeast division, featuring the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat, as well as the most recent number two overall selection in the draft for the Charlotte Hornets, Brandon Miller.
Atlanta Hawks Preview
Last Season: 41-41, 8th place in Eastern Conference (Lost First Round to Boston Celtics 2-4)
The Hawks’ elite offensive attack starts with its superstar point guard, Trae Young, who looks to rebound from a subpar three-point shooting season (33.5%). He and his backcourt mate, Dejounte Murray, became the first pair of teammates since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to both average over 20 points and six assists per game last season.
De’Andre Hunter provides a much-needed defensive presence on the wings. However, Hunter needs to tighten his handle and make decisions quicker on the offensive end to add another challenge to opposing defenses. Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu form the best center combination in the league to anchor Atlanta’s defense. Okongwu had an incredible season as a backup, and it will be interesting to see the minutes split between centers if Capela is not traded before opening night.
With John Collins traded to the Utah Jazz, the Hawks can start Saddiq Bey or Jalen Johnson at power forward. Johnson provides defensive versatility and playmaking on the wing, while Bey’s elite shooting aligns with Quin Snyder’s offensive goals. Off the bench, Bogdan Bogdanovic is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. He averaged 19.1 points per game and shot 42% from beyond the arc in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, leading his country to the silver medal. Young sharpshooter A.J. Griffin is poised to expand his role in his sophomore season.
The Hawks hired Snyder to replace Nate McMillan with only 21 games remaining last season. Snyder brought the Hawks to a 122.4 offensive rating after the All-Star break, ranking second behind the Sacramento Kings. Atlanta plans to continue its offensive excellence in the 2023-2024 campaign. Atlanta’s defense ranked in the bottom ten last year with a 115.4 defensive rating. This was largely due to poor point-of-attack defense, allowing opposing teams to score easily in the Hawks’ paint. This year, on-ball screen communication and keeping guards out of the paint are pivotal for Atlanta to avoid the play-in tournament.
Last season, the Hawks made NBA history. They owned the longest streak of being within one game of a .500 record (Jan. 21- April 5) and had a “mid” year at exactly 41-41. This season, they look to leap past mediocrity to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs and stage a strong postseason run. If not, Atlanta does not have a lot of cap space and draft capital, meaning the organization could fall into the dangerous play-in/first-round exit purgatory that many teams fear.
Charlotte Hornets Preview
Last Season: 27-55, 14th place in Eastern Conference
With three key pieces of the young core signing contract extensions over the past few months, the guys who will need to step up this season are guard LaMelo Ball, small forward Miles Bridges (who will miss the first ten games of the season due to suspension with the NBA’s domestic violence policy but did re-sign with the team), and power forward PJ Washington (who signed an extension). It will also be intriguing to see how No. 2 overall draft pick Brandon Miller steps in for his rookie season for development and how he will mesh with his new teammates in the pros.
First and foremost, expectations are rather low for the Hornets in the upcoming season. A new ownership regime is in place, with a group led by Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin, but the Hornets are in a rather difficult Southeast division again for 2023-24, with the reigning Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat and the rising Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic also looking to be making some noise as well. The goal should be to improve on last season’s record and maybe try to get to 30 wins.
Of course, the biggest challenge to start the season will be playing without Miles Bridges, though that could also mean something of a baptism by fire for Miller. That could be good in the long run. The team is still relatively young, which means they will have to go through some growing pains. How will they learn to adjust to adversity?
Overall, the 35th anniversary season looks to be another disappointment for the Charlotte Hornets. They will probably be one of the bottom-feeding teams again in the NBA in 2023-24. Could Coach Steve Clifford be on the hot seat, too? He did take Charlotte to their last playoff appearance back in the 2015-16 season, but after struggling last year, his second tenure already has a warm seat that could find him on the outs. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a not-so-bright immediate future ahead in the Buzz City.
Miami Heat Preview
Last Season: 44-38, 8th place in Eastern Conference (Lost NBA Finals 1-4 to Denver Nuggets)
Writing this preview is anxiety-inducing because, at any moment, Damian Lillard could be traded, so the 350 words I’m allowed to write could be useless if the trade goes through. With that being the case, let’s look at the two scenarios for this upcoming Heat season—one with Dame and one without.
Last season the Heat made the NBA Finals in unprecedented fashion. Battling their way through the East and four rounds of higher-seeded teams, the Heat said forget about our regular season record. In each series, a Heat rotation player stepped up in ways they hadn’t during the year. Whether it was Caleb Martin, Gabe Vincent, or Max Strus, they all made an imprint. Two of those players are now gone, along with Victor Oladipo. This leaves a void in the Heat’s backcourt depth, with only Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, and Josh Richardson as players with high-level NBA experience. In classic Miami Heat fashion, a draft pick or relative unknown will likely come out of nowhere and contribute. Players like Jaime Jaquez Jr. or Haywood Highsmith fit the bill there.
However, Miami still lacks a lot of depth. Their frontcourt is thin behind Bam Adebayo. Seemingly, they will try and incorporate Nikola Jovic more after his rookie season after he performed well in the World Cup. The deciding factor for Miami is if they can get Lillard to South Beach. A Lillard, Butler, and Adebayo big three could make the Finals, but it bears mentioning that Miami would have to give up a lot of the team around them to make the trade palatable for the Portland Trail Blazers. A deal would include Tyler Herro or Caleb Martin and one or both of Jovic and Jaquez Jr.
While a gamble, the front office led by Pat Riley is hungry for another championship. Getting Lillard maximizes their chances as Butler inches past his mid-thirties. Riley rarely loses these battles for another star, but if things go awry and Miami is left without Dame, conjuring up the same sort of magic as last season won’t be easy. Let’s remember that Miami was three minutes away from not even making it past the play-in. The margins are thin for this Miami team, probably the slimmest margin of error for any team in the league. That becomes even more realized if they grab Dame.
Orlando Magic Preview
Last Season: 34-48, 13th place in the Eastern Conference
Players Lost: Bol Bol
The Orlando Magic are another season into their rebuild, improving this past season under head coach Jamahl Mosley. One of the youngest teams in the NBA last season, the Magic showed toughness on the defensive end. The length of the Magic’s roster allowed them to switch easily, and they had the 8th-best defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA.
The offense was placed on the shoulders of the Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero, who displayed his ability to be a #1 scorer for an NBA team, utilizing his versatility to score on all three levels. He was the first Rookie of the Year to average 20+ PPG since Luka Doncic. Banchero and Doncic also both shot 42.7% from the field, a number that is likely to go up this season. Franz Wagner is also expected to take a leap in his third season. Wagner had the best +/- on the team and is expected to be a cornerstone for the Magic.
Anthony Black and Jett Howard were both selected in the NBA lottery by the Magic this offseason. Black is a defensive-minded guard who enters a crowded backcourt. His ability to separate himself from other solid rotational players like Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony will determine the progression of the Magic. Howard was somewhat of a surprise selection; however, he can help improve the shooting of the 6th worst three-point shooting team.
The Magic are a year or two away from true playoff relevance. However, the development of Banchero and Wagner will be exciting to watch. The Magic can make the play in game and have a chance for some truly relevant basketball.
Washington Wizards Preview
Last Season: 35-47, 12th place in Eastern Conference
The Wizards were one of the most active teams this off-season in the trade market. The three-team deal with Washington, the Boston Celtics, and the Memphis Grizzlies, involving Kristaps Porzingis, sent Tyus Jones to the nation’s capital. Jones steps right into a starting role, and his low turnover rate will help a young Wizards squad maintain focus on the offensive end.
This season marks the end of the era of Bradley Beal, who played in the nation’s capital for 11 seasons and was a three-time All-Star. The Wizards made it as far as the conference semi-finals when he and John Wall led the squad.
As his replacement, Jordan Poole slots in as the new starting shooting guard and primary perimeter scorer. He and Kyle Kuzma, who the Wizards re-signed to a four-year, $90 million contract, will handle most of the shot-making and shot-creating for this roster. Playing with veteran point guards like Jones and Delon Wright will give Poole an excellent opportunity to increase his offensive efficiency. At the small forward, the Wizards can start Corey Kispert or Deni Avdija. Kispert’s elite shooting provides more spacing, while Avdija’s defensive versatility and ball handling at the forward provide Head Coach Wes Unseld Jr. with more creativity. Daniel Gafford will anchor the defense and offer an excellent lob threat for Jones in the pick-and-roll.
The seventh pick in the 2023 draft, 18-year-old Bilal Coulibaly, can carve himself a role with the second unit. His 7-foot-2-inch wingspan can prove to be a powerful weapon against opposing defenses in the passing lanes. Even after so many off-season transactions, expect Washington to stay active on the trade market during the campaign. General Manager Will Dawkins will likely look to bring in more and more draft capital, hoping to use a similar recipe to the one that Sam Presti executed so well for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Wizards still have a competitive starting unit, but they severely lack depth. Last year they ranked 21st in defensive rating, and with Porzingis’ strong shot-blocking ability gone, Washington might struggle even more on the defensive end. After missing the play-in last season and trading away two of their top three scorers, Washington will probably be sellers at the deadline as they find out what they have with their young core. They will most likely not be in the playoff hunt this season.
Matt Strout is an Editor for Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96
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