We may only be three weeks into the 2016-17 NBA season, however, it is a sample size more than sufficient enough to reveal the true colors of these teams and the future that lies ahead of them. As we progress further into the six-month gauntlet that is the NBA regular season, here are the best- and worst-kept secrets for every franchise. Today: the Southeast Division.
Atlanta Hawks, 8-2
Best-kept secret: This might be hard to believe, but, Dwight Howard is back, and he is balling. Howard is having the most efficient season of his career – recording a 24.5 Player Efficiency Rating through six games played and holding the team’s second-best net rating per 100 possessions (+24). His 15.2-point 12.4-rebound average is par for the course, but the advanced analytics don’t lie – this Hawks team is significantly better with him on the floor.
Worst-kept secret: Kent Bazemore's contract is a major liability. Granted, there is only a small sample size to work with, but when you pay a player $70 million over the course of four years he better be a difference-maker in a big way. Though Bazemore hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, his 32.4 percent 3-point clip -- while taking 40 percent of his shots from that range -- is a major red flag. Add in the fact that his replacement, Thabo Sefolosha, is having a significantly better season defensively – Bazemore’s calling card – and there’s simply nothing at the moment that validates this massive financial burden the Hawks have created.
Charlotte Hornets, 7-3
Best-kept secret: Kemba Walker has reached all-star status. After losing Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lin as teammates during the offseason, Walker has thrown their missing offensive production on his back and is carrying this franchise with an insane PER of 27.8 through six games played. In addition, Walker has the highest box score +/- on the entire roster (+8.8) and is averaging a career-high 25.3 points. If Walker put up these ludicrous numbers in any major market, let’s say New York City, he’d be getting the recognition he’s deserved.
Worst-kept secret: We have a big enough sample size to conclude that second-year pro Frank Kaminsky is simply not good enough to be getting major minutes on a competitive NBA team. The sooner the Hornets realize this, the sooner they will progress into the conference’s elite.
Orlando Magic, 4-7
Best-kept secret: The Magic have accomplished their mission of completely ruining Mario Hezonja – so now he’s back to being the best player no one knows about.
Worst-kept secret: Spending your entire salary cap on 27 different centers and playing them all at once, not surprisingly, doesn’t work.
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards, 2-7
Best-kept secret: Otto Porter Jr. is actually … dare I say … finally living up to the hype of being a third overall draft pick? Porter currently carries a team-high 129 offensive rating (10 higher than any other starter), which means the Wizards score 129 points for every 100 possessions that he is on the floor. In addition, he leads the team in box score +/- by averaging plus-5.1 per game. He's one of only three Wizards who are in the black in this column and also has a 20.5 PER -- second to only John Wall. When you look at Porter's numbers being the highest on the team across the board, even in most advanced analytics catergories, you know this season is no fluke.
Worst-kept secret: As soon as John Wall’s contract expires … you can be sure of one thing: as Taylor Swift would say, he and Bradley Beal are never ever everrrrr, getting back togetherrrrr.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Miami Heat, 2-8
Best-kept secret: Not winning games may be in the franchise’s best interest – as 1) the Heat are not nearly good enough to make the playoffs, and 2) potentially seven roster spots will open up at season's end, including the huge cap hold of Chris Bosh. That means they’ll have something cooking again if they parlay that with a lottery pick + Hassan Whiteside + Goran Dragic + Justise Winslow. Also, Dwyane Wade has the ability to opt out of his contract in Chicago and return to his beloved Heat, but ...
Worst-kept secret: The president of basketball operations would rather lose games than a negotiation with his players.