Southeast Division Preview: From Salary Capped to Salary Floored

Welcome to the fourth of the Corner Three 2019-2020 NBA division-by-division season previews. In each of these previews, we use RJ Garcia’s player-by-player ratings (based on on/off metrics and career trajectory) and per-game minutes projections (taking into account potential minutes lost to injury) to project overall team quality for the upcoming season. RJ and Derek Reifer also provide their own analyses and commentary to provide any context and additional insights.

Northwest Breakdown here.

Southwest Breakdown here.

Pacific Breakdown here.

We continue with the Southeast Division:

1. Miami Heat: 46 Wins (2018-2019: 39 Wins)

Player Minutes Rating
PG Dragić, Goran 24 0
SG Waiters, Dion 21 -1.5
SF Butler, Jimmy 30 3.5
PF Olynyk, Kelly 24 1
C Adebayo, Bam 26 1.5
6 Winslow, Justise 25 1.5
7 Jones Jr., Derrick 22 -0.5
8 Herro, Tyler 22 -1
9 Johnson, James 16 -1.5
10 Leonard, Meyers 13 -1.5
11 Okpala, KZ 9 -2.5
12 Robinson, Duncan 5 -1.5
13 Nunn, Kendrick 1 -3
14 Haslem, Udonis 1 -1.5

RJ’s Big Picture:

The Heat have been star hunting since LeBron, and they finally came home from the hunt with a haul. Jimmy Butler took his talents to South Beach this offseason and now the Heat believe themselves to be legitimate contenders in the East, and with how weak everyone outside of the Bucks and Sixers look to be, its hard to blame them.
Internally Miami has been extremely high on the prospects of Bam Adebayo, and this year we will get to see Bam unleashed as Hassan Whiteside has been shipped out of town, and the majority of the minutes at the center position will belong to Bam. If he becomes what Miami thinks he will be, the one two punch of he and Jimmy Butler can be one of the best duos on both sides of the court in the league.

RJ’s Big Question:

Who else will the Heat be able to trade for? Miami fans’ thirst toward Bradley Beal showed no limits this offseason, with any Bradley Beal social media post being flooded with Heat fans begging him to force his way out of DC. Unfortunately for the Heat, Beal extended with the Wizards and will now likely not be traded this season (or in the next couple of years).
The question becomes, who is the next target? This offseason the Heat were rumored to be trading Goran Dragic to the Mavericks, which suggests that the team is not extremely confident in their point guard play for this upcoming season. To some, the obvious move is to make the anticipated trade with the Thunder for Chris Paul, as reports of CP3’s decline may be overstated and he could be a great fit next to Jimmy Butler.

Derek’s Big Number: 3.4.

That was Justise Winslow’s Net Rating last season, by far the highest number on the Heat. Winslow has shown growth in each of his NBA seasons, and has developed into one of the most intriguing players in the NBA – he can guard a multitude of positions defensively, and doesn’t quite have a position offensively. Justise has started at power forward, small forward; even point guard – and he has such a diverse skillset that he’s had success everywhere.

Winslow shot 37.5% from 3 last season on almost 4 attempts per game, after shooting 38% the previous season on just under 2 attempts per game. Is this three-point marksmanship here to stay? His free throw percentage has been under 64% each of the past three seasons. With his defensive abilities and passing, Winslow, still just 23, can turn into a real star in this league if the shooting is real. I’d go on the record to say he and Jimmy Butler could become a Kawhi/PG-lite for the East – assuming he doesn’t play himself into Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry trade talks.

Derek’s Film Room:

Here’s a great example of Winslow showing a little bit of everything offensively. The play begins with him at the elbow:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.15.56 AM.png

He acutely senses open space in the corner and drifts there. Due to his success shooting the 3-ball, he’s a threat from out there – you can even see Kawhi Leonard pointing for someone to cover him:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.15.57 AM.png

Once the defense begins to collapse on him, instead of standing in the corner, he makes a bee-line cut to the rim, perfectly timed past the closing Fred VanVleet.

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.15.58 AM.png

Due to the non-shooting of Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, the defense can now collapse in on Winslow. Instead of forcing the issue with a layup attempt, he patiently posts up on the block. Not many 23-year old “wings” would keep their head up for passing lanes when doubled here. Look at how his eyes are surveying the court:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.16.01 AM.png

It turns into a layup, against a truly championship defense. The Heat may be looking for a point guard of the present, but Winslow may be that already.


2. Orlando Magic – 45 Wins (2018-2019: 42 Wins)

Player Minutes Rating
PG Augustin, D.J. 24 0
SG Fournier, Evan 27 -0.5
SF Isaac, Jonathan 25 0
PF Gordon, Aaron 30 1
C Vučević, Nikola 28 3.5
6 Ross, Terrence 23 -0.5
7 Aminu, Al-Farouq 21 1.5
8 Bamba, Mohamed 16 -2
9 Fultz, Markelle 13 -1
10 Iwundu, Wesley 12 -2.5
11 Carter-Williams, Michael 10 -2
12 Birch, Khem 9 0.5
13 Frazier Jr., Melvin 1 -2

RJ’s Big Picture:

The surprise team of the Eastern Conference last year seems set to continue to truck along towards respectably successful basketball this year with the Orlando Magic fighting with the Heat for the Southeast Division crown this year. With this veteran-heavy team, the Magic seem to be a steady squad but have two real places to potentially have some sort of variance that could produce upside in Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz. Bamba was close to replacement level for the majority of the 18-19 season, and Fultz obviously didn’t play for the Magic at all last year. Who knows if these players can ramp up to quality rotation players but these two players both have the sort of upside that could push the Magic up to a 50 win season.

RJ’s Big Question:

How will the Magic handle their wing rotation? With the addition of Al-Farouq Aminu, there is something of a logjam at the position. Between Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, Aminu, and Wesley Iwundu, the Magic have a group of players they could choose to play at anywhere from shooting guard to power forward. Steve Clifford has been known as a defense-first coach, and could end up choosing to emphasize the defense by moving players “up” a position by playing a large lineup instead of “down” a position. If Markelle Fultz washes out, there may be no choice than to play Ross and Iwundu at a secondary guard spot.

Derek’s Big Number: 36.4%.

That’s what Nikola Vucevic shot from 3 last season, by far the best (qualifying) number of his career. He launched 6 a game the previous season, but was only hitting 31% of them. This might be the single biggest thing that turned Vuc into an All-Star last season – his defense has improved but has always been underrated (something about plodding European big men, I suppose); it’s his offense (and thereby that of the Magic) that really changed last year. A career 74% free throw shooter, Vuc can definitely stroke it, so I’m optimistic that even if he can’t hit over 36% again this season, he’ll be close to it.

Derek’s Film Room:

Here’s the kind of stuff that makes Vucevic one of the best offensive big men in the league (4th in Offensive RPM among centers last year). He begins by setting a solid screen off the curl for Fournier:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.33.47 AM.png

Because of the screen, Vuc’s defender, Bam Adebayo, is forced to help, and switch over to guard the ball. This results in a double team, leaving Vuc open for three:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.35.28 AM.png

Because of his newfound success out there, another defender, Kelly Olynyk, is forced to get involved in the play to check him. Vucevic in a split second makes the right play. Olynyk’s abandoned man, Jonathan Isaac, is now open in the corner, but he’s only a 32% three point shooter (good decision to switch by Olynyk). Even if he isn’t swinging the ball to Isaac, though, Vuc can take advantage of his openness. He uses an ever-so-subtle head fake toward the corner to freeze Olynyk, and then immediately rises up for the jumper a split second before Adebayo can get there to contest:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 11.38.31 AM.png

The Magic have a ton of wing depth that should continue to fit nicely around their offensive centerpiece. If they can get plus minutes from the point guard position, they could certainly make a bid for home court in the first round of the playoffs.


3. Charlotte Hornets – 33 Wins (2018-2019: 39 Wins)

Player Minutes Rating
PG Rozier III, Terry 27 -1
SG Batum, Nicolas 27 -0.5
SF Bridges, Miles 24 -0.5
PF Williams, Marvin 26 0
C Zeller, Cody 21 0.5
6 Monk, Malik 21 -1.5
7 Washington, P.J. 21 -1.5
8 Bacon, Dwayne 19 -1.5
9 Kidd-Gilchrist, Michael 18 -0.5
10 Graham, Devonte’ 13 -2
11 Hernangómez, Willy 12 -1.5
12 Biyombo, Bismack 9 -3
13 Martin, Cody 1 -1

RJ’s Big Picture:

The reports of the Hornets’ death are greatly exaggerated. This is not to say that this team will be a title contender, but this is not the worst team in the league, or even close to it. Every player in the Hornets’ starting lineup could find minutes in any rotation in the east, something that cannot be said for the Wizards, Hawks, or Cavs. This is not to say that any of these players are stars, or that Terry Rozier and Nicolas Batum aren’t overpaid, but this team doesn’t have loads of young very raw players that typically define teams that are the worst in the league. This is also a team that is on the record as trying to win this year, and not shipping off players such as Cody Zeller or Marvin Williams, the two veterans whose trade values aren’t completely reduced to zero by their contracts.

RJ’s Big Question:

How will the young wings develop? Miles Bridges was solid in a limited role on a team with a guard who dominated the ball to the point that Kemba Walker did. Bridges posted a 55% true shooting, solid efficiency, but on low usage. If Bridges can keep or even improve the shooting efficiency on 10 or 12 shot attempts per game, the Hornets will have a young starting-caliber wing on a rookie contract for two more years.
The other young wing in question, PJ Washington, is more of a defense-first player than Bridges, and would fit well into a smaller role for this team this year. If Washington is able to shoot like his college 3-point percentage and not his college free throw percentage, then the Hornets may have a pair of young wings for the future, one of the most valuable commodities in the league.

Derek’s Big Number: 6.4.

That’s the number of rebounds per 36 minutes that Terry Rozier has averaged for his career. He’s quietly one of the very best in the league – he was 4th in rebounds/36 for point guards last season behind just Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, and Patrick Beverley. If this contract is going to somehow work out for the Hornets, it would mean Rozier adding lots of value to the team in more of these under-the-radar ways. Even if he improves his shot selection, it could be difficult to score efficiently with his supporting cast. Rebounding and defense must be emphasized if the Hornets are to capture the 2018 Playoffs Rozier that they hope they are signing.

Derek’s Film Room:

Here’s the kind of stuff that wore out Rozier’s welcome in Boston (it was his 3rd shot in 3 minutes since hitting the court). He has the ability to get these shots off – and it may not be a wholly bad thing.

Even last season, when Rozier had a serious shooting regression, he was launching over 21% of his field goal attempts before the shot clock hit 18. With a coach famous for drawing up great actions and a team filled with big egos that felt they needed the ball, these kinds of shots didn’t go over well in Boston.

Here’s the weird thing, though – he was actually pretty good at those shots (I’ve eliminated before 22 and after 4 seconds because I feel those aren’t representative):

22-18 “Very Early” 18.5% 45.5 55.7
18-15 “Early” 13.2% 30.7 35.2
15-7 “Average” 47.8% 38.1 48.3
7-4 “Late” 8.1% 33.3 38.9

Terry’s going to have a chance to let it fly this season, and though the coaching staff shouldn’t allow him to run wild if he’s not contributing in other ways, they should see what they have in who might be their best offensive creator.

4. Washington Wizards – 32 Wins (2018-2019: 32 Wins)

Player Minutes Rating
PG Smith, Ish 23 -1.5
SG Beal, Bradley 32 3
SF Bertāns, Dāvis 18 2
PF Hachimura, Rui 26 -3
C Bryant, Thomas 24 0
6 Brown Jr., Troy 24 -2
7 Wagner, Moritz 21 -2
8 Miles, CJ 17 -2
9 Thomas, Isaiah 15 -2
10 McRae, Jordan 14 -2
11 Bonga, Isaac 13 -2.5
12 Schofield, Admiral 5 -2.5
13 Robinson, Justin 5 -2.5
14 Mahinmi, Ian 2 -1.5
15 Wall, John 0 3

RJ’s Big Picture:

The Wizards’ season can already be classified as a success by convincing Bradley Beal to accept an extension and bypass both free agency in two years and asking to get traded out of town. Whatever else happens this season is bonus for this Wizards team, and that’s a good thing, because it could get extremely ugly this year. As the season starts the following players are projected to be unavailable on opening night: John Wall, Troy Brown Jr., Isaiah Thomas, CJ Miles, and Ian Mahinmi. The Wizards will likely start the season with Rui Hachimura in the starting lineup and the 6th man will likely be Jordan McRae, the journeyman who has played a total of 912 minutes in the NBA since he entered the league in 2015. McRae could easily surpass that total for this team by the All-Star Break. Without Beal, the Wiz would probably be the worst team in the league, and even with Beal, it won’t be too much better.

RJ’s Big Question:

Will Rui Hachimura turn into a quality rotation player? Similar to Beal, many in Monumental Sports and Entertainment, the ownership group of the Wizards, likely will already consider the drafting of Rui Hachimura to be a massive success. Hachimura is the largest-profile Japanese player to enter the NBA ever, and the Wizards have been extremely quick to position themselves accordingly. The team has already announced one partnership in the Japanese market, with NEC Corp, a Japanese multinational electronics company, the first sponsorship deal of its kind in the NBA. The Wizards are setting themselves up in the manner that the Rockets did with Yao Ming, attempting to be the main team for Japan (no risk involved there, right?).
How Rui will actually look on the court will be a little hard to discern as he will be thrust into a massive role in his first year, similar to the way that Kevin Knox was thrust onto the court needing to take loads of shots last year. Knox’s massive role and inexperience was somewhat unheard of to that point, and yet just one year later Rui will have a similar role. Knox was the worst player in the league per RPM last year, and Rui will more likely than not be a massive negative in terms of on/off numbers. The places to look for signs of success for Rui are shooting percentage around the rim, fouls drawn, and three point percentage. If those numbers can be around league average, those would be a massive success for the this first year with massive usage.

Derek’s Big Number: 2.46.

That was Davis Bertans’ offensive RPM last season, which ranked 6th among all small forwards in the NBA. He ranked above contemporaries like Luka Doncic, Khris Middleton, and Tobias Harris. This was a very quiet pickup for the Wizards, but Bertans at 26 years old has a chance to solidify himself in what Washington hopes to develop this year – a core around Bradley Beal. A career 40.4% three-point shooter, Bertans can contribute to what might be a surprisingly solid Wizards offense this season with Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant (13th in ORPM among centers last year).

Derek’s Film Room:

How’s Bertans going to get his shots? Bradley Beal, who’s one of the two or three best offensive shooting guards in basketball. Most people know Beal for his three-point marksmanship, but he’s so much more than that. An adept ball handler and passer (5.5 assists per game last season), Beal is a true offensive superstar. Yes, he can hit step-back threes in defenders’ faces, and those deserve to make the highlight reels, but check out this play. It seems pretty run-of-the-mill, but it’s actually a hugely difficult play to execute. It begins with the Celtics icing the screen from Thomas Bryant, putting Beal alone in a corner with two defenders on him:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 12.21.46 PM 1.png

Beal attacks quickly. He drives with his left (off) hand toward the basket, where the defense collapses. He keeps his head up and immediately finds the open shooter in the corner, whipping a bounce pass with his left (off) hand past his 3rd defender of the possession. This is a really difficult play to make:

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 12.21.54 PM.png

Congratulations to Bradley Beal on his extension, but perhaps even more congratulations should be in store for the Wizards, who will have him making their players better for the next few years.

5. Atlanta Hawks – 32 Wins (2018-2019: 29 Wins)

Player Minutes Rating
PG Young, Trae 30 0.5
SG Huerter, Kevin 26 0.5
SF Hunter, DeAndre 22 -2
PF Collins, John 27 1
C Len, Alex 21 -0.5
6 Turner, Evan 20 -2
7 Parker, Jabari 20 -2
8 Reddish, Cameron 17 -2.5
9 Crabbe, Allen 15 -2
10 Bembry, DeAndre’ 15 -1.5
11 Jones, Damian 12 -2
12 Carter, Vince 8 -1.5
13 Parsons, Chandler 5 -2.5
14 Fernando, Bruno 4 -2
15 Goodwin, Brandon 4 -2

RJ’s Big Picture:

It’s hard to know what, exactly, the goal for the Hawks is. In 2018, they passed on Luka Doncic to instead trade down and select Trae Young and get an additional first round pick in the 2019 draft. Many folks panned the decision to pass on Doncic, but some in the analytics community saw more upside in the decision, as trading down is generally seen as such a good decision with organizations usually valuing the now so much more than the future.

And then 2019 happened. The Hawks traded two first round picks and valuable cap space for the ability to select DeAndre Hunter. From what has been seen to this (early) point, Hunter looks to be a worse prospect than the player selected with the lesser of both of those two first round picks, Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The Hawks look to be going all in on this core, and this year will be a test case to see if there are any signs of this unit being able to compete for a title long term.

RJ’s Big Question:

Is this team going to be able to stop anyone? Replacing Dewayne Dedmon with Alex Len and adding Jabari Parker is a surefire way to allow more points, and the Hawks made both of those tactical decisions this offseason. This wasn’t exactly an amazing defensive unit last year, ranking 27th in defense per Cleaning the Glass, and it’s likely to be worse this upcoming year. Regardless of how bullish one might be on the Hawks from an offensive perspective, if a team is sitting in the bottom five in defensive efficiency, it’s going to be extremely hard to win games on a consistent basis. The Hawks’ only out here is that Kevin Huerter and the aforementioned Hunter are significantly better than expected on defense, and even that might not be enough.

Derek’s Big Number: 1.

John Collins is one of the most unique players we’ve ever seen in this league with his ability to score (inside and out) and rebound (offense and defense) at his age. There’s no doubt he has the potential to blossom into a superstar one day, and an absolutely unstoppable pick-and-roll duo with Trae Young.

For him to really reach his ceiling, though, the question is how he will be as a pick-and-roll duo with Trae Young on defense. After a not-so-bad showing his rookie year, Collins regressed in his sophomore campaign, due to more of an offensive load, having to cover for Trae, or something else:

Year 1 Year 2
Blocks/100 possessions 2.2 1.0
Steals/100 possessions 1.3 0.6
Defensive Rebound % 22.8% 22.1%
Defensive Win Shares 2.0 1.0
Defensive Rating 108 115

In the future world where these two offensive studs have to win 7-game playoff series, they need to become a duo that you can’t simply attack every possession. If the coaching staff knows their priorities, I expect Collins especially to make big strides defensively this season.

Derek’s Film Room:

Here are the types of plays where Collins can improve through experience and coaching. He’s caught ball-watching, and his man cuts right behind him for an easy dunk. Though Hawks fans’ mouths should water at the idea of Collins playing center offensively, he just doesn’t seem ready to anchor a defense on the back end. At just 22, he’ll have plenty of time to learn and grow with this young Hawks group.


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by RJ Garcia, Northwestern University
contributions by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University

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