Preseason: 4 things we've learned about the Southeast Division
The NBA preseason can be many things to many people -- a time for veterans getting in shape, newbies adjusting to defending bigger, faster athletes and coaches dutifully doling out minutes to reserves ... without fearing reprisal from the established starters.
And for those who cover the Atlanta Hawks, the preseason is a time for getting used to looking up from press row ... and not seeing the mammoth-sized, state-of-the-art jumbotron that'll soon hover above the Philips Arena court during the regular season.
If Bradley Beal (injured wrist -- could miss all of November) were fully healthy and immediately primed to dominate his third campaign, the Wizards would be the consensus pick to crack the 50-win threshold.
But in Beal's absence, that's quite a drop-off at the 2-spot for the Wizards, so much that Glen Rice Jr. (versatile wing), Martell Webster and Rasual Butler might collectively struggle at shooting guard -- if Washington was allowed to play the trio at the same spot ... at the same time.
Speaking of multiple people handling the workload of a singularly talented individual ...
There are no exemplary replacements for LeBron James in today's NBA (or any other era), so kudos to the Heat for trying to replicate The King's absurd versatility with a combination of Josh McRoberts (one of two power forwards to average 4.0-plus assists last season) and Deng (eight double-doubles) -- both acquired during the offseason.
Still, it likely won't be enough to keep the Heat among the elite-level title contenders ... especially if Dwyane Wade cannot recapture that joie de vive of a night-in, night-out superstar -- at age 32.
Wade has averaged only 57 games in the previous three seasons (2011-14) -- the dual result of enduring a number of injuries and resting for the postseason push.
But with LeBron's greatness no longer a crutch for the franchise, the Heat (54-28 last year) must expect full participation from their star contingent.
For the opening month of head coach Mike Budenholzer's first year on the job (November 2013), the Hawks took only 21.5 three-pointers per game.
For good measure, the Hawks also tied for second in three-pointers made -- at 9.4.
The former Kentucky star -- who was drafted ahead of Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond and Dion Waiters in 2012 -- just turned 21 in September; so it's not like he's carrying a huge burden of expectations heading into his third NBA campaign.
Especially in a low-pressure, medium-sized market like Charlotte.
Which brings us to this: During the preseason, Kidd-Gilchrist has already tallied six games of double-digit points, three outings of multiple steals and five games of shooting 50 percent or higher from the field -- all while commanding 75 percent of the per-48 minutes (36) just once.
With that October improvement (it's a short sample size, granted), MKG seems like a reasonable bet to double last year's tally of back-to-back games with double-digit points -- six.
Let's be honest: With or without Oladipo in the lineup, the talented, but oh-so-young Magic are still destined for a fifth-place finish in the Southeast.
But man, what a bad, uh, break for an Orlando club that was making baby- steps to NBA relevancy, losing Oladipo for an extended period -- even though we don't have much information on the extent of Thursday's injury, when the former Indiana University star apparently took an accidental elbow to the grill during practice.
How much progress had Oladipo shown as a rookie?
Oladipo (13.8 points, 4.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds) took his first-year production to a new level after the calendar turned to "2014" -- averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals over a 43-game stretch, with shooting tallies of 43 percent (field goal) and 36 percent (beyond the arc).
The scoring numbers are especially noteworthy, since Oladipo endured five games of single digits during that span.
On paper, the Magic are neither blessed with plentiful nor prolific perimeter aces -- especially at the 3-slot. Last season, Orlando (23-59) finished in the bottom third of three-pointers made (6.9 per game) ... and that occurred with Arron Afflalo (now with Denver) busting 128 triples over 73 games.
On the plus side, the Magic frontcourt should incur a huge bump in perimeter production, now that Channing Frye (594 three-pointers made since 2009) has relocated from Phoenix to Orlando.
Consequently, Oladipo's injury allows the Magic to heap more responsibilities onto their supreme rookie duo of power forward Aaron Gordon (No. 4 overall pick) and point guard Elfrid Payton (No. 10 overall, trade with 76ers).
During summer-league ball, Payton (league-best 7.0 assists per game) had the look of a future dynamo. And Gordon may be the most athletic big man of the June draft -- or any big man since Orlando plucked Dwight Howard from the high-school ranks in the 2004 draft.
You know, that carefree time when prep stars were allowed to make the seismic leap to the pros.