The Southeast Divison is all about one empire crumbling while others make solid, if not spectacular, improvements. Pushing my Heat hate aside, there are some underrated fantasy options here that we should analyze.
The Hawks were probably the dullest Southeast team this offseason. Due to smart moves last year, they only had the 15th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, which resulted in Adreian Payne, a young power forward who will likely struggle to get significant playing time as a rookie because Paul Millsap never rests. They then signed the not-particularly-exciting Thabo Sefolosha. Tight defense is Sefolosha's calling card, which will earn him plenty of minutes, but not many shots. He'll make a nice foil to sharp shooter Kyle Korver. The Hawks clearly hope Sefolosha can return to his 2012-13 shooting form, when he made 1.3 threes per game and shot 42 percent from long distance.
Atlanta will sport the same starting five as last year (Jeff Teague, Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Millsap, and Al Horford), so let's move on.
Like most of us, I'm a Bill Simmons fan. I especially believe in his "Irrational Confidence" theory (click this link, scroll down to the second question, which includes video of some of the greatest Irrational Confidence moments in recent NBA history) that states every team needs "the guy who isn't one of the team's best players, but he'll have stretches in which he THINKS he is." Guys like Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford, and yes, Lance Stephenson. I really like the Hornets getting Stephenson, especially with only a three-year contract and a team option for a fourth. He will play monster minutes at shooting guard and small forward at the expense of Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's. The power forward position is the only fuzzy one as far as who is going to start and how the minutes will be divided.
Power Forward: Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams
Many pundits, including yours truly, picked Zeller for ROY last summer. He then tentatively stumbled through a rookie season of 17 minutes, 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game. With Josh McRoberts leaving for Miami and Al Jefferson dominating the paint, Zeller needs to assert himself as a capable stretch power forward who can create space. That was supposed to be one of his strengths coming out of Indiana, but his 43 percent shooting from the field last year did not instill confidence.
Zeller will probably get every opportunity to succeed, and with defenses focused on Kemba Walker, Stephenson, and Jefferson, Zeller should get plenty of open looks. I doubt much competition will come from Vonleh, who's only 18 years old and needs time to develop. The short-term backup plan for Zeller is underwhelming, but the reliably uninspiring Marvin Williams, who started 50 games for a bad Utah squad last year, could steal the starting job at power forward to thunderous silence.
Check out Williams' 2013-14 shot chart. He can drain the deep elbow left-side three as well as both mid-range elbow jumpers. Whether or not Zeller stumbles, Williams will get opportunities to knock down some easy, cheap three-pointers for your fantasy squad. He drained 1.3 three-pointers per game last year. Consider him in deep leagues.
It's OK to gamble on Zeller's upside, too. I always find rookies overrated and sophomores underrated in most fantasy NBA drafts. I don't know why. Maybe it's because no one ever writes "Sophomores Ready To Shine" columns. Everyone wants to hit on the new girl at the dance. Don't fall into that trap.
Gee, any changes in Miami, hmmm…let me think. KA-BOOM!!!
I lived in Cleveland for six years, and frankly, LeBron James' return is freaking awesome. Cleveland's sports history is so awful, there's a blog called ClevelandSportsTorture.com. They deserve some good news, and frankly, Miami fans don't. Though I will give Miami some credit for this clever billboard they recently put up in Akron:
WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco
I wish Luol Deng a hearty, "Good Luck!" replacing King James. While I know Deng is getting paid $20 million over two years in Miami, I still feel sorry for him. (Wait, my sympathy has passed, $20 million is crazy money.)
The Miami starting five is pretty set. Mario Chalmers (1.6 steals per game last year) will man the point and Dwyane Wade will try to stay healthy at shooting guard. Deng takes over at small forward, Josh McRoberts takes power forward, and Chris Bosh will play center. Let's move on. (Though, if you have any snarky Heat comments, by all means, state them in the comments!)
In the name of all that's holy, can someone PLEASE explain why this team gave Ben Gordon a two-year, $9 million deal? Who were they bidding against? My wise editor, Kyle McKeown, pointed out that Gordon and Victor Oladipo share the same agent. Curious. The second year is a team option, one I bet the Magic do not pick up.
Now that I got that off my chest, let's talk about their legitimate shooting guards and small forwards.
Wings: Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon
I'm assuming rookie Elfrid Payton starts at point guard now that Jameer Nelson is no longer around. That means Oladipo moves to shooting guard, which should cut back on some of his turnovers (3.2 per game last year). As a side note, I believe every fantasy league should have turnovers as a category. Have you ever seen a press conference where a head coach didn't talk about turnovers?
[Editor's Note: I patently disagree. Turnovers are the only negative stat commonly counted in fantasy basketball, and the best players always average the most turnovers, because the best players always have the ball in their hands. Why would you want to discount having an awesome player like Oladipo just because he records turnovers? It's arguably the worst stat in any fantasy game, ever.]
[Writer's Reply: Assist-to-turnover ratio is a fundamental part of the game. It's why Chris Paul, as of now, is so much better than Oladipo. Hence, you must track TO's. Sloppy play can not be rewarded. Readers, please place your TO vote in the comments.]
Oladipo will still play some point, leaving shooting guard minutes for Harkless and newly acquired Evan Fournier. Both have upside and are only 21 years old. Both also have the height to play small forward, too, especially Harkless at 6-9. Harris and Gordon are both tweener forwards and may have the same issue of never having a permanent spot as a small forward or power forward. With the Magic also signing Channing Frye, minutes at power forward might be scarcer for Harris and Gordon. With Gordon being only 18 years old, I bet he does more sitting than you might expect.
The situation in Orlando is going to be just like the scenario in Milwaukee: fluid. Coach Jacque Vaughn should experiment with multiple lineups throughout the year. The Magic are playing for future years, not 2014-15. I expect Harkless to return to his pre-All-Star Game 21 minutes per and not the 30 minutes per he enjoyed after the All-Star Game. Fournier will play when his shot is on but may get a quick hook when he goes cold. He was pretty erratic last year. Outside of Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic, if you own any Magic players, sell HIGH before Vaughn mixes up the lineup again.
Where do you stand on the Wiz deciding to keep Gortat and letting Ariza walk? Neither reminds me of Wes Unseld and Bobby Dandridge, but back in the day, you would have been crazy to prefer a small forward like Dandridge, no matter how sweet his moves to the rack were. There are plenty of "doughnut" teams out there (a hole in the middle) and Les Boullez clearly didn't want to become one of them. Ariza's departure does make for some interesting debate at the forward spots.
Forwards: Paul Pierce, Otto Porter, Nene Hilario, Kris Humphries, Kevin Seraphin, Drew Gooden
Signing Paul Pierce was a crafty win-now move by general manager Ernie Grunfeld, which is not an easy thing for me say. (Grunfeld has had some big missteps in the past.) But really, who better to teach this young team how to play tough come playoff time. With that said, coach Randy Wittman would be wise to rest the 36-year-old Pierce. Pierce's minutes are already in decline: he played 33 minutes per game during his last year in Boston, then slipped to 28 mpg last year with Brooklyn.
That means it might finally be Otto Porter time! When not out with a hip injury last season, Porter averaged only nine mpg (actually only 8.6, but our editor likes us to round off minutes). [Editor's note: I do.] Third-overall picks are supposed to play a lot more than that. You may have noticed that Martell Webster, he of the four-year contract, even though Washington knew they were drafting Porter, is not listed above. That's because, due to a back injury, Webster will be out until possibly January. That's more opportunity for Porter, but unlike Cody Zeller and his sophomore upside, Porter has a bigger concern: he shot only 36 percent from the field last year and made only four three-pointers in 37 games. On the other hand, in six summer league games this year, Porter shot a confident 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. While Zeller is a nice late-round gamble, Porter is someone to track in the free agent pool.
At power forward, the Wiz hope Nene Hilario somehow reverses the trend of only averaging 51 games played per season over the last three years. Don't count on it. That's why I like Grunfeld's move to sign Kris Humphries to a three-year deal. (Whoa, did I just compliment Grunfeld twice?) Humphries is a high-energy player, can play strong defense (0.9 blocks per game last year), and has averaged double-digit rebounds in the past. Also, check your league rules to see if Humphries qualifies at center. He started 30 games there in Boston. Grunfeld knows it was a miracle that Gooden was productive coming of the scrap heap last season. Seraphin will become bench fodder.
Well, that's it for the Southeast Division. Go here for the Atlantic Division Position Battles and here for the Central Division Position Battles.