Season Preview: Southeast Division
By Jay Cipoleti
How the Hawks replace Josh Smith's 1,182 shots will go a long way to determining their playoff fate.
Will Al Horford continue his torrid Restricted Area shooting (73.1%) as he takes on a greater role in the offense than his 22.1% Usage Rate last season? Will Paul Millsap be able to match his 64.5% RA make rate from last year? Will the Hawks find a way to earn more trips to the foul line, their 0.244 FTA Rate better than only the Bucks among 2012-13 playoff teams.
None of the questions seem that difficult, which is a positive starting point for Atlanta. They do not need major improvements on their 102.7 Offensive Rating in order to take the next step forward -- playing at home in the First round -- they only need some fine tuning around the edges.
Charlotte was outscored by 741 points from 3-point range last season. 741 points! They allowed the most Corner 3s (255 on 42.6%), the third most Above the Break 3s (461 on 37.4%), and the most 3s overall (716 on 38.8%), while making only 117 Corner 3s and the fourth-fewest (469) overall.
The Nuggets were also substantially outscored from 3 last season -- they countered by attacking the rim relentlessly. Charlotte did not, converting an NBA-low 55.3% of their shots in the Restricted Area, on nearly 1,000 fewer RA attempts than Denver.
The combined ineffectiveness from the two high-value shot zones resulted in a 46.0% eFG, lowest in the League.
While the correlation between RA and C3 make rates is not as strong as on the defensive end, a positive relationship does exist. The additions of proven low post scorer Al Jefferson (67% RA last season) and First-rounder Cody Zeller (66% at rim last season at Indiana) give Charlotte the scoring punch it lacked in close.
Second-year man Jeff Taylor (26-63 C3s; 41.3%) taking on an expanded offensive role and rookie James Southerland (84-211 3s; 39.8% at Syracuse) stepping into one will be necessary to provide the outside scoring needed to improve upon their 28th-ranted 98.3 Offensive Rating.
During this offseason, the general consensus was that if only the Heat had a dominant rebounding rim finisher, they might have a chance at a title. OK, nobody was saying that. Even Heat haters and nitpickers had trouble finding a weakness in the two-time defending champions.
LeBron James is the best at a lot of things. Finishing at the rim is one of them, his 76.0% conversion rate in the Restricted Area the best in the NBA over the last two years (minimum 200 RA FGAs).
The Heat also have the rarest of weapons, an efficient Mid-Range scorer. Only Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka shot greater than 50% from Mid-Range on more than 200 shot attempts -- Bosh's 50.2% coming on 105 more MR shots than Ibaka's 50.8%, making him arguably the most prolific Mid-Range threat in the League last season.
Extend further, beyond the arc, and no team took or made more than the Heat's 309 Corner 3s on 717 attempts.
We end this preview the same way we started, with a look at the Big 3. Time is the biggest challenge the Heat will face as they pursue their third consecutive ring.
Age of Big 3
|Durant 25||James 28||Duncan 37||George 23||Gasol 28|
|Westbrook 24||Wade 31||Parker 31||Hibbert 26||Conley 26|
|Ibaka 24||Bosh 29||Ginobli 36||Hill 27||Randolph 32|
|Green 26||Stephenson 23|
|Leonard 22||Granger 30|
No team went to the line less often than the Magic's 0.197 FTA Rate, and no team forced turnovers less frequently than Orlando's 13.1% TOV. Foul shots and run outs are free points the Magic took little advantage of last year. Like their division mates in Washington, their 32.0% AB3 make rate didn't help matters. Their 98.9 Offensive Rating was the result.
Mo Harkless may be one to keep your eye on. 329 of his 564 shot attempts during his rookie season came in the Restricted Area, where he converted 60.5%. Maintaining that proficiency while taking on a greater role than his 15.9% Usage Rate last season could provide a big boost to the Magic's struggling offense.
Defensively, they resembled a different division foe, this one in Charlotte. Their 106.7 Defensive Rating resulted from the above-mentioned lack of turnovers and a 62.3% FG% allowed in the Restricted Area.
Without a stalwart rim protector, Orlando will have to rely on their length on the wings and rookie Victor Oladipo to play the role of defensive disruptor out front.
No team in the East shot better from the corners than the Wizards' 45.6% mark -- only Golden State at 45.8% was better in the West. Slide a few steps up Above the Break, and Washington lost their shooting touch, making only 32.0% of their AB3s, better than only the Suns (31.9%) and Timberwolves (29.2%).
Penetrate a few steps inside and you won't find the Wizards much at all. Washington attempted a League-low 1,806 Restricted Area shots, making only 58.9%. Newcomer Marcin Gortat should help -- he took 274 of his 566 FGAs last season in the Restricted Area, making 66.8% of them. Rookie Otto Porter may not, however -- only 21% of his shot attempts came at the rim last season with Georgetown.
A healthy backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal should ensure continued success from the corners. Wall will have to kickstart the offense with rim attacks and somebody ... Martell Webster, Glen Rice Jr ... will have to step into the AB3 shooter role for Washington to improve their NBA-worst 97.8 Offensive Rating.
They will not have to improve it much -- their 100.6 Defensive Rating was better than nine of 16 playoff teams.