Washington Wizards Southeast Division Preview: Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks Breakdown


We’re at the finale of my Southeast Division preview; it looks like the Atlanta Hawks have finished off both my series and the Washington Wizards‘ season (too soon?). Nonetheless, this matchup next season should be just as intriguing as the gritty, hard-fought six game playoff series was.

Every Wizards fan knows about last season’s falter to the Hawks, but what they may not realize is that the Hawks won the regular season series too, taking three out of four games and outscoring the Wizards throughout those games by about nine points. All in all, Atlanta took seven of ten total matchups last year.

Of course, there’s no reason to think Washington can’t improve against their division rivals.

We all saw how they nearly upset the East’s top seed in the second round last year (and probably would’ve if John Wall had not been partially injured, but we’ll save that for another day.), which is a sign that there could be better things to come in DC.

The Hawks solidified an identity last year: they’re a well-coached, three-point shooting, high-IQ team that might remind you a little bit of the San Antonio Spurs.

They use a deep rotation that consists of shooters at all positions. And, if you’ve forgotten due to all the hype around Cleveland this offseason, they were the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference.

Southeast Division Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Charlotte Hornets

That last statement is expected to change. Atlanta lost a few key guys in the offseason, with DeMarre Carroll headlining the group. Their efforts last season has also deemed to be a fluke. And there’s no way they top the Cavs.

However they end up next season, they’ll still be a playoff team, likely as a top four seed.

The Hawks are very good in transition, and they showed that in the playoff series. Wittman needs to get the guys to pay attention while defending on the run — guarding the three-point line is necessary in that situation. The Washington Wizards also need to make sure to cover the corners on the dribble drive, a place Atlanta thrives at shooting at.

Top to bottom, the Hawks have one of the more well-rounded teams in the league in terms of depth.

More from Wizards News

Mike Budenholzer has pretty good starters and pretty good role players.

Their only knock?

No big name stars.

The Wizards definitely have that.

John Wall is the franchise player and a league-wide superstar, and there’s no way the Hawks can avoid that. They can, however, try to match Wall with Jeff Teague, one of the team’s best players.

That didn’t work well for the Hawks last year, though.

Wall, holding the edge in athleticism, was able to blow by about anyone and everyone, including Teague. And even with a bum hand, Wall posted insane averages of 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 11.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game.

Wall is going to have the advantage in almost every matchup next year, and this is one of those times.

Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks don’t have a superstar like Wall, but they do have a very underrated star in Al Horford.

The steady veteran has been in Atlanta his entire career, and will probably be there for years to come. He had a down year in terms of regular season numbers, but in the playoffs he lit up the Washington Wizards.

Budenholzer still went with a team oriented approach, but Horford managed to become the primary scorer in the series (albeit by one point more than DeMarre Carroll in the entire series), scoring a team high 16.8 points per game while also chipping in 9.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game in the series.

Horford was clearly better than Marcin Gortat in the playoffs, and it’s safe to say that he’ll better the better of the two in the upcoming season.

Horford should hold the advantage both offensively and defensively, with more range to his jumper (though it is ugly), better moves on the block, and more active in the pick-and-roll.

On the other side, Horford is the superior rim protector and post defender, though the latter is debatable.

Don’t expect Horford to completely dominate Gortat, but don’t expect a poor performance from him, either.

Perhaps the biggest move the Hawks made in the offseason was retaining Paul Millsap, who, like almost every other guy on Atlanta’s roster, is a capable three-point shooter. Millsap can play the three spot, but he’s played more of the four and even the five while in Atlanta.

As an undersized power forward, Millsap can play on the perimeter or on the block, whichever is necessary.

While hanging around the three-point line, the nine-year veteran is one of the best at spacing the floor. He has also found his size — or lack thereof — to be an advantage by being quicker, which can make him a difficult cover.

Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

This assignment will be especially hard for Nene, the presumed starting power forward man.

Nene is much slower and bigger than Millsap, and, as we saw in the playoff series, couldn’t and won’t be able to keep up with the stretch four.

Due to that major disadvantage with Nene, Otto Porter should get even more minutes at the four.

Although he will most likely start at the small forward, Porter matches up well with Millsap.

The Georgetown product is listed at the same height and has the same recorded wingspan as Millsap while also having the advantage of quickness.

Porter won’t contribute too much offensively, but defensively is where he should thrive in this matchup.

He’ll be able to limit Millsap to his usual numbers; it’s possible they could be lower.

And as we saw in the playoff series (I know, I’ve referred to the series many times already and there will only be more allusions. I’m sorry.), he noticeably struggled, due in large part to Porter’s excellent defense.

Staying on Porter, I mentioned he would most likely be starting at the three. His matchup there is much less clear than anywhere else, as the Hawks lost former starting small forward DeMarre Carroll this offseason to Toronto.

Since then, Atlanta has acquired Justin Holiday in free agency, Tim Hardaway Jr. via trade — he was in the three-way trade with the Wizards and Knicks that put Kelly Oubre in DC on draft night — and will have Thabo Sefolosha returning from an arrest for the upcoming season, giving them at least three new options with other alternatives from the bench.

Southeast Division Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Miami Heat

Budenholzer could have four guys as possibilities to replace Carroll, but none of them will be able to fully replace Carroll, who made a name for himself on the defensive side while also being a decent shooter on the opposite end.

If Budenholzer is looking to find a guy that has similar strengths and weaknesses, the go-to would be Sefolosha.

The Swiss wing might not even be available next year (his trial date is September 9th), but assuming he is, he could provide the same impact defensively as Carroll.

Sefolosha also has starting experience — he started for the Oklahoma City Thunder — over James Harden — on their 2012 NBA Finals run.

If Sefolosha isn’t eligible to play any time soon, the next best option would be Hardaway Jr., a capable shooter and scorer that would help boost the Hawks offense to another level.

Though THJ would be somewhat of a liability defensively, his offense might be able to offset that next year.

Hardaway Jr. wasn’t the most efficient player last year (shooting under 40% from the field), but in Atlanta, his percentages and numbers should increase noticeably, much like Carroll’s did when he became a Hawk.

Though Hardaway Jr. will see his stats rise, Washington shouldn’t be too worried.

When Porter matches up with THJ at the three, he holds the advantage in size by a wide margin. Although Hardaway Jr. actually hold the advantage in weight, Porter has a two inch size advantage and a six inch wingspan advantage.

Southeast Division Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Orlando Magic

On the other end is where both players’ weaknesses come up.

Porter isn’t known as much of a scoring threat, and Hardaway Jr. isn’t a prominent defender. In fact, his defense isn’t even close to being decent — advanced stats (Basketball-Reference) show that he is one of the worst defenders in the league, sitting at 467th, 478th, and 482nd out of 492 NBA players last year in defensive win shares, defensive box plus/minus, and defensive rating, respectively.

Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Porter’s height advantage and developing offensive game (shooting, slashing) should definitely give him the edge over poor defending Hardaway Jr.

Lastly, among the starters, is the shooting guard position, where each team possesses a knockdown outside shooter — Bradley Beal and Kyle Korver.

We saw these two battle it out in the playoffs, and it was clear who was the better player then, and it’ll be even clearer next season.

Beal completely lit up Korver in the postseason, scoring north of twenty-five points per game and over five assists and five rebounds per game.

Korver, on the other hand, completely lost his touch.

Although the sharpshooter shot a blistering 49% from deep in the regular season, he really struggled in the playoffs, shooting around 35% from three for the entire postseason and 31% in the series with the Wizards.

Obviously, his lower numbers doesn’t fall directly on just Beal, but he was a large part of Korver shooting eighteen percent worse from deep than in the regular season.

Beal definitely steps up in the playoffs (while Korver has statistically lost his touch year after year), but there’s no reason to think he can’t contribute just as much during the regular season.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta’s bench was a big part of their success last year, and it is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a second straight season.

The front office was able to add Hardaway Jr., Holiday, Jason Richardson, Tiago Splitter, and Walter Tavares to an already strong team and reserve core.

I’m assuming Hardaway Jr. will start (as mentioned earlier, of course), but the rest of those acquisitions should go right to the reserves.

With those additions, the Hawks’ bench is arguably the best in the NBA if it wasn’t already.

Of course, the Wizards made necessary moves in the offseason, too.

Adding Gary Neal, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson through free agency, and Kelly Oubre in the draft should give Wittman wing depth and shooters, two places that were almost nonexistent last year.

The front office also retained Drew Gooden as an energy guy and leader for the bench.

The Hawks’ backups will be playing in a great system with Budenholzer that should maximize their strengths while together on the court.

With a rotation including Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, Holiday, Mike Muscala, Splitter, and other additional reserves, Atlanta definitely will have the ability to sit their starters without giving up too much up.

For Washington, the story is different, but still similar.

Ramon Sessions, Neal, Anderson, Dudley, and one of Gooden, Kris Humphries, or DeJuan Blair isn’t bad; most would say that bench should be decent enough for Wall, Beal, and the rest of the starters to get their necessary rest in games.

Yes, Atlanta does have the better bench, but the Wizards aren’t far off.

Again, it looks like another tight competition between two Southeast Division rivals. With the Wizards holding an advantage with their starting unit and the Hawks with their bench, the rosters even out — in a sense.

We could see a split in the regular season series, but nonetheless there should be four close contests, with the victors walking away with a win by small margin.

The two teams should be almost a stalemate next season; barring major injury, it should be a tight race between the Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards, and the Miami Heat for the Southeast Division crown.

Next: Wizards Preseason Schedule: Dates and Notes

More from Wiz of Awes