By Hocine LOUKKAF on 1/10/2018

With Washington and Miami the only teams which made the playoffs last season, it’s difficult to think things will change this year. The Heat is still hoping to land Butler, Washington is trying one last time by adding a trio of vets in Howard/Green/Rivers, Hornets is trying, but we don’t exactly know what while Atlanta and Orlando will let the youth handle the business.

#1 Washington Wizards

John Wall must be healthy, that’s Washington’s main concern. He may have rushed his comeback last year for the playoffs but they need him at 100%. The Wizards have kept a solid core with Beal, Porter, Morris and Oubre, but they have found a way to add solid experience while only losing Gortat. He will be replaced by Howard, who despite the fact he hasn’t helped the Hornets reached the playoffs, was able to average 16.6pts and 12.5rbds in 81 games. The addition of Rivers and Green will bring solid options from the bench, as it will be the case for rookie Troy Brown, a versatile swingman who can create for others and rebound well for his size. If Wall stays healthy and the new recruits find their role, this team has all it takes to make a great run in the playoffs.

#2 Miami Heat

Miami’s strength is its main weakness, the team remains stable, no addition, no departure, nothing. Is it a good thing for a team which ended 44-38, not so sure. This team is solid in the backcourt with Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Waiters, Ellington, has solid glue guys on the wing with Winslow, Richardson and James Johnson and solid versatility inside with Olynyk, Adebayo and Whiteside, yet it needs this special player the team can count on in the clutch time or that young blood symbol of a bright future. Miami’s only hope at the moment is a player who is not even in the roster, Jimmy Butler. Indeed, he seems like the perfect fit for a franchise which has several interesting players for Minnesota like Adebayo, the Johnsons or Winslow. Minny is told to be very hard in the negociations but if the Heat can land Butler without losing too much, that would be a whole different story.

#3 Charlotte Hornets

One of the less exciting teams of the NBA, Charlotte seems to disappoint year after year without finding the good recruit to make it a winning team. Kemba Walker has stayed in Charlotte despite numerous trade rumors and will be helped by an aging vet, Tony Parker, whose advice may be more important that his play, and a solid rookie, Kansas PG Devonte Graham. At the guard spot, Monk and Lamb will try to show they can be consistent threat offensively, something the Hornets have looked for for years. At almost 30, Nic Batum must give himself a kick in the behind to prove he can be more than this $24m walking disappointment. He will be pushed by promising rookie Miles Bridges who has worked hard on his shooting and ball handling to show that he was more than an athletic freak. Charlotte’s main issue still is the inside sector where Williams, Kaminsky or Zeller are too weak while Biyombo, formerly drafted by the Hornets, has never been able to average more than six points a game.

#4 Orlando Magic

Last year, Orlando’s defense was weak, its offense was even worth, so without any major recruit except rookie Mo Bamba, a promising albeit not finished inside prospect, is there any reason to think the Magic can be better? First major issue, the PG spot where DJ Augustin, a solid back up, and Jerian Grant will fight for the starting job. Evan Fournier was last year’s best scorer and will have plenty of opportunities at the two spot to remain Orlando’s best scorer. The three is another of Orlando’s weakness as it will probably be shared between Simmons and Ross, two very average starter, unless rookie Melvin Frazier proves he deserves more than both of them. What Orlando should hope is that their inside players, Gordon, Isaac, Bamba, three talented prospects, remain healthy as they have the talent, length and athleticism to help the team become much better, at least defensively. Vucevic is here to show them the way if Orlando doesn’t trade him sooner than expected.

#5 Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks are rebuilding for years but, after trading Schröder, they hope they find the good PG to succeed with Trae Young.  The Sooner had an incredible freshman season although some scouts doubt he will be long and physical enough to be a solid starter in the League. He will be joined by some other interesting rookies, Huerter and Spellman, who have the talent to develop into solid players in the years to come. Collins and Prince are the only returning bright spots of a team who may be in tanking mode pretty early. The Hawks have nothing to lose, it would take a miracle, for example Young proving he’s that special player right away, to dream of a a successful year. That’s Atlanta’s main problem, to rely on a miracle.

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