NBA 2023 Southeast Division Preview

Did the Heat get better? Poole Party, Magic are coming, Ball & Trae off-ball with Bogdan as the X-factor

Simply Ballin
13 min readOct 13, 2023

The NBA season is almost here. It’s that time of year when it’s so close that you just can’t wait for it to start because it’s been far too long now without NBA basketball.

So, for the next week or so, here are the division previews. In each preview, I’ll be going through some of the main questions for each team and discussing what’s in store in the upcoming season.

Today, we’re going through the Southeast division.

Miami Heat

Wow, what a season that was for the Heat. This was a wild, unexpected, roller-coaster of a year watching the Heat.

Started off last May when they almost made it to their second NBA finals only to come up short in game seven against the Boston Celtics. Then, they decided to run it back(except without PJ Tucker) and had a disappointing season.

A very up-and-down season for the whole year. Some highs, some very low lows.

They literally were a couple of minutes from missing the playoffs. That’s crazy to say. Fortunately for everyone, Max Strus was able to heat up and win them the play-in game. And after that, oh man, that was one hell of a run.

That first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks was one of the best I’ve ever seen from any team. To see what Jimmy Butler did was ridiculous. Their whole run was ridiculous too. From getting a 3–0 lead against the Celtics to almost blowing the lead to then again blowing the Celtics in game seven. Then winning a game in Denver. Just an incredible run.

But then they followed that with a disappointing off-season. Moving on from Bradley Beal, striking out on Damian Lillard, and not really getting better. So, where does that leave them now?

  • Are they even better than last year?
  • Is it a possibility that they miss the playoffs?
  • What will the young guys look like?
  • Are we going to see a leap from both Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro?

Depending on who you ask, you will get varied answers to the first question. And depending on how you view getting better, it will have a different answer.

They did make good moves by getting Josh Richardson and drafting Jaime Jaquez Jr. That’s an upgrade. Then you have Nikola Jovic getting better. Internal development in Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, and Haywood Highsmith. Duncan Robinson is back in the rotation.

There’s one glaring hole with the point guard position and that’s going to be one of the biggest questions for the team this season. Can they survive with Kyle Lowry and everyone else being a point guard by committee? Their offense struggled because of a lack of a primary ball handler who could get to the rim and break defenses down.

That hasn’t changed.

All those improvements and potentially seeing the young guys contribute could help the floor one way or another but those moves still don’t address the main issues. They’re good players. They are good moves in a vacuum. But those moves help in areas that aren’t the biggest priority that need to be addressed.

And for those reasons, it is a possibility that they might miss the playoffs. They haven’t improved enough to make them a solid lock for top-6 that leaped every other team fighting for the same spot. They are right in the mix with 4–5 other teams.

Will their shooting even return? It’s not a guarantee that they will be a much better 3-point team. Also, who is their volume shooter? Herro, Robinson, Love, and Lowry? Is that it? I’m not going to bank on both Love and Lowry continuing their stellar 3pt shooting. They might run into an issue where they lack shooting.

Is their defense good enough? That’s an interesting question because, with Erik Spoelstra, the answer to that is always yes. But they did have a significant slip post All-Star break and that doesn’t seem like a blip that won’t be an issue again. They didn’t fix their defensive issues either.

The Heat are just in a very odd place. They have a very, very low floor because of all those reasons. But at the same time, they have proven to have a very high ceiling too with this core.

Butler is a top-10 player(even in the regular season). He’s had a career year in each of his seasons with Miami and he’s only been getting better. His impact in the regular season is severely underrated. And we know what he’s capable of doing in the playoffs.

Then you have Adebayo, who’s arguably the best defender in basketball. He’s also been getting better every year. He’s a walking top-10 defense.

And with those two(plus Spoelstra), they will always have a chance in the playoffs. But their margin of error is extremely thin. Even worse than last year. They need a lot of things to go right to compete.

One way to fix that is either by a trade(which is somewhat realistic) or a significant leap from either Herro or Bam on offense. The Heat’s ceiling lies mostly with Herro taking a leap into a legitimate 3-level threat or solidifying himself as a top-5 shooter, which pushes his efficiency and becomes a better passer.

That’s the only way to raise the Heat’s ceiling. And those two growth is the biggest question mark heading into this season.

Charlotte Hornets

After making the play-in for two straight seasons, they went back to the second-worst record in the East(and fourth-worst in the league). But a lot of that is because of injuries to LaMelo Ball.

Because outside of Ball, this team has been something. No great young core that has been developing together. Not even solid veterans outside of Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward. In the 46 games without Ball, the Hornets were minus 7.5 in 2233 minutes with a 107.1 offense.

But maybe that can be better when everyone is actually playing on the court.

  • Seeing Ball healthy
  • Can they make a play-in push when healthy?

That’s the main thing for the Hornets. They’ve given Ball the max. He is their guy and for good reasons. Although this year they were still negative in his minutes with minus 5.8 in 1268 minutes, their offense did jump up to 114.3.

But when you look at the past two seasons, they were minus 0.8 in 3891 minutes. Still not positive but that’s also more about the team in general. This is progress, though!

At the moment, that does seem to be the main thing about the Hornets and it’s mainly Ball. In 2022, he was highly impactful, being 44% better than the average primary ball handler in O-LEBRON.

There were many other big areas of growth too:

  • 81st in rim shot creation
  • 92nd in 3pt shot making
  • 63rd in 3pt shot creation
  • 85th in passing creation volume
  • 65th in passing versatility
  • 97th in passing creation quality

That’s elite for a player, especially at this age.

However, when looking at the rest of the roster, they’re still far behind. We have PJ Washington who’s a solid wing but is 25 years old and doesn’t look like he has star potential.

There’s their rookie from last year Mark Williams selected 15th overall, who averaged nine points and seven rebounds. That was a good pick. They finally have an actual big to play with Ball.

Another key player for this season is Brandon Miller, their second overall pick in this year's draft.

But honestly, outside of that, what’s there to be excited about? With everyone healthy, Ball getting better, the veterans, and a bunch of other young players coming in, they’re likely to be making a push for the play-in. Though that itself could be tough with all the other young lottery teams also getting better.

Washington Wizards

At last, we finally see Bradley Beal somewhere else. The Wizards should’ve done this much sooner and perhaps would’ve got a much better return.

After another mediocre season, finishing 12th in the East with a bottom 10 defense and defense, they decided to go a different way. Individually, they had great things with Kristaps Porzingis and Beal but now there’s no point in talking about it.

From now on, it’s a rebuild focusing on every young player they have.

  • What will Poole as a number 1 look like?
  • First year of a full-on rebuild

The thing I’m most looking forward to is watching Poole. He’s had a down season in a lot of areas compared to last year when he was a key player on a championship run — that playoff run was great for him then.

In his first year in the playoffs, he averaged 22 points per 75 possessions on 65% TS with 34% of his 2s being assisted 66% of his 3s. That’s elite stuff. Unfortunately, he had a much worse second go at it in the following playoffs.

At first glance at his fourth year, you might see that there was a drop-off, especially when looking at his shooting. But that seems about it. He had a very poor year when it comes to 3pt shooting. Everywhere else was around the same

His shooting splits by area last year vs this year:

  • 68% → 69% within 3ft
  • 52% → 52% 3–10ft
  • 46% → 38% 10–16ft
  • 43% → 40% 16–3pt
  • 36% → 33% 3pt

Here are other areas from this year:

Then compare that to last year:

The efficiency is what drops off. But there are improvements in:

  • Overall shot creation
  • Passing creation volume
  • Passing creation quality
  • Playmaking talent
  • On-ball gravity
  • Rim shot making

There were other areas where he did take a jump in. Also, in the last two years, Poole without Stephen Curry on averaged 27 points per 75 poss on 51% eFG and 57% TS and added 6 assists. It will be interesting to see how he’s going to play as the number one option.

The first question for the season is how long will they have some of the vets with Kyle Kuzma, Delon Wright, and Tyus Jones. They don’t exactly fit the team’s timeline and we may see the team go all in on the rebuild and sell.

Outside of Poole, there’s a collection of young(-ish) players with Corey Kispert, Deni Avdija, Johnny Davis, Patrick Baldwin Jr, and the rookie Bilal Coulibaly.

Overall, I expect this team to be at the bottom of the league. I can’t see them being competitive in any way.

Orlando Magic

This Magic team is going to be a fun one this year. They’ve been slowly building a really exciting core in the last few years. They’ve been slowed down by some injuries but they are gradually going in the right direction.

They are slowly reaching the point where it’s, oh is this year they’re making a leap? Is this the year where they start to get competitive? Is this the year where they start making moves to win?

I don’t think that’s the year now but there’s a whole bunch of things to watch out for this season.

  • Getting ready to see Banchero in year two
  • What kind of a leap can we expect from Franz Wagner
  • Was their record when healthy legit?
  • Which young player can break out?

The most important thing is seeing Banchero. He had a great rookie season where he averaged 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists per 75 poss on 53% TS. This joins Luka Doncic as the only other rookie to do that.

This was a 6’10, 250-pound guy getting to the rim and drawing fouls like no one else. Out of 367 players that have played at least 500 minutes, he was 21st in fouls drawn.

Out of 87 players with at least 10 drives, he was second in foul-drawn rate. But a more impressive stat is if you filter that to the entire database from 2014, he’s sixth out of 727 players.

And this was him having one of the most(if not the most) important as a rookie. This is only going to get better. What if he makes a leap as a shooter? He can create his shot but has struggled with efficiency. That’s normal for a rookie or any young player. But what if that leap comes soon?

I don’t think it’s crazy to think that he might be playing around with an All-Star appearance. That’s what the highlight of the season I think it’s going to be about.

But there are also other highlights. We’re talking about leaps, well what about the leap from Wagner? He already averaged over 20 points per 75 poss on 59% TS with a 23% usage. And his shooting splits are also crazy:

  • 73% within 3-ft(27% of his shots are here)
  • 42% 3–10ft(31%)
  • 41% 10–16ft(6%)
  • 45% 16–3pt(3%)
  • 36% 3pt(32%)

That first stat is the key here. But he’s looking good from all areas and has a good shot distribution. I noted that young players aren’t always efficient, he’s already above average in his second year at 21.

But with the Magic, it’s more than just two players:

  • Mo Wagner
  • Markelle Fultz
  • Jalen Suggs
  • Cole Anthony
  • Jett Howard
  • Anthony Black
  • Wendell Carter Jr

Not all of them have star potential. Not all of them are starters. But that’s still a good collection of players to try and develop — including two rookies picked in the lottery.

But that’s another thing to watch out for. Is there anyone that could break out? We’ll we see someone else join the top duo? And that could be important to see if they’re ready to compete soon.

In 57 games where Banchero, Wagner, and Fultz all played together they were 28–29 and almost neutral with a 114 offense. They were basically a .500 team for a good sample size when they were all healthy. With everyone getting better and adding contributions from the rookies, it wouldn’t shock me to see them be a .500 team for the season.

Overall, they’re still a young team that I don’t think should prioritize winning or making any strong decision on accelerating the build by making win-now moves. They have an elite young duo with plenty of good complementary young pieces that can and will still improve going forward.

Atlanta Hawks

It’s been a while since their conference finals run. Since then, it’s been two disappointing first-round exits. Even after making a big trade for Dejounte Murray, they actually got worse when it comes to wins.

It was a rough season for the Hawks. With the duo of Trae Young and Murray not exactly working out how it was meant to, Young having a down season shooting, issues with John Collins, and health issues with Bogdan Bogdanovic. Then you add the coaching changes and it was quite a mess.

But things should be looking up for the Hawks.

  • Will we see more Young off-ball?
  • Is the duo with Young-Murray going to be better?
  • Can the Hawks survive without Young?
  • A full season under Quin Snyder
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic being the x-factor

I’m very high on Young. I do think he’s one of the elite players in the league and is in the tier with players in the top 20. He did have a down year, dropping below average efficiency-wise with 57%(down from 60% last year).

But that doesn’t make him less impactful in the grand scheme of things. He’s still an elite offensive player, one of the best passers in the last few years, and is still getting better. There’s no reason to think there’s going to be a decline or what we saw this season that will continue.

He does, however, need to improve. He’s not a perfect player and there are a lot of limitations and criticisms of his game. And some of those criticisms are the reason for their struggle.

A lot of it has to do with his off-ball ability. That limits what they can do with both Young and Murray. With both on, the Hawks were minus 0.3 with a 117.1 offense. Take Murray off, and that goes to plus 2.2 with a 119.4 offense.

On that note, they also have to do something about the non-Young minutes. When you do Murray on, and Young off, they were minus 2.0 with a 114.5 offense.

They need to be significantly better with their two best players on. And a lot of that will come down to Young being used differently because he’s the one who can space the floor in a way Murray can’t.

And I think that can change with Snyder. A new coach can make a big difference. We’ve literally seen that happen before:

A coaching change can make a player change their style. And with Snyder, we’ve seen his guards play more off-ball.

Though arguably the most important point for the Hawks is having Bogdanovic be healthy. He had a great FIBA run. He was looking like a much different player. He is the X-factor them because he’s a damn good player that is quite underrated.

Here are his stats without Young:

Those are amazing numbers. Exactly what this team needs. He was also very important for them in this season. The Hawks had a 120 offense with Bogdanovic on(and 115 without).

And he is the key to fixing the non-Young minutes. In games that Bogdanovic didn’t play with Young off, they were -5.9 with a 106 offense. That’s terrible.

But when you have Young off with Bogdanovic on, they were plus 3.5 with a 119 offense. That’s a big difference.

Though this is all talking about their offense. There are issues there that health with Bogdanovic and Young playing better off-ball can fix. But at the same time, if they want to get further in the playoffs, then their defense need to improve significantly.

Overall, I do think for these reasons the Hawks will be better. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a career year from Young. And that will bleed into the duo with Murray being a lot better. Plus add Bogdanovic to the mix, and I can see their offense being so elite enough to carry them to a potential top 6 seed.