Before the 2004-05 season, the NBA created the Southeast Division as part of its realignment plan, which was put into place when the league expanded to 30 teams. Since that season, the division has consisted of five squads, but one has dominated the last decade-plus of competition.

The Heat have won 11 Southeast Division titles since 2004-05, more than the Hawks, Hornets, Magic and Wizards combined (seven). Miami ran away with the division last season, finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference and 10 games ahead of Atlanta and Charlotte.

Will the Heat continue their run of dominance? Or can another team knock Miami down the division standings?

Here is a breakdown of what to expect from the teams in the Southeast Division this season.

NBA PLAYER RANKINGS:
PG 
| SG | SF | PF | C | Bench | Top 30

Jimmy-Butler-Victor-Oladipo-Getty-FTR

Best team

Miami Heat

The Heat came up a few points short of advancing to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons. They couldn’t get across the finish line to take down the Celtics in Game 7 of the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals.

Getting back to that round will be a massive challenge for this Miami team, not only because of the competition in the conference but also because the front office failed to make any meaningful upgrades this past offseason.

Outside of the selection of Nikola Jovic at the 2022 NBA Draft, the Heat were very quiet. They lost P.J. Tucker, who signed a three-year deal with the 76ers, and they never found a good replacement for their old starting power forward.

While it may not be the favorite to win the NBA championship, Miami should still be considered the favorite in the Southeast. As long as they are healthy, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will be part of All-Star and All-Defensive conversations. Tyler Herro could take a leap as a starter. Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Put it all together, and you’ve got the team to beat in the Southeast Division.

Best player

Jimmy Butler, Heat

Hawks star Trae Young has an argument here. He was the engine of Atlanta’s offense last season, landing in the top six in both points (28.4) and assists (9.7) per game.

Butler’s two-way dominance gives him the edge, though. Young doesn’t impact the game in as many ways as Butler, who was the leader of a Heat unit that shut down Young in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.

The 33-year-old earned his sixth All-Star selection in 2021-22, averaging 21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He is comfortable operating with or without the ball offensively and is always a threat to go for a steal-and-score on the defensive end.

There are concerns about how Butler will age, as he has played a lot of minutes and can’t fall back on a reliable 3-point shot. For now, his incredible talent and work ethic keep him above Young.

Best rookie

Paolo Banchero, Magic

Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, was electric during his brief stretch of Summer League play. He possesses the size (6-10, 250 pounds) and skills to become Orlando’s offensive hub for years to come.

The former Duke star can score at all three levels, but his willingness to find the open man makes him special. As TSN’s Kyle Irving noted, Banchero was throwing pinpoint passes from all over the floor in his two Summer League appearances.

“There’s such a dynamic ability to not just play the one through five, there’s such a versatility in the way he can play offensively,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said of Banchero (via The Athletic’s Kelly Iko). “But then you look at the defensive side of the ball where he can switch one through five. Then obviously the physical stature, him being 6-10 and being able to handle the basketball and move.

“Those things are key attributes that are going to help him become successful.”

As is the case with every rookie, Banchero will face some rough stretches. At times, he will turn the ball over, be inefficient from the field and miss defensive assignments.

But he will learn from those mistakes and add to his game as he gains more experience. The future looks bright in Orlando.

dejounte murray trae young hawks

Best new addition

Dejounte Murray, Hawks

Atlanta certainly had a high opinion of Murray, sending three first-round picks and a pick swap to San Antonio in order to acquire the 26-year-old guard.

Murray is coming off a season in which he nearly averaged a triple-double (21.1 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds per game) and earned his first All-Star selection. He also led the league with 138 steals.

The Hawks needed to shake up the roster after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign, and Murray gives them a clear talent upgrade. He is just entering his prime and has not yet reached his ceiling.

However, there is one big Murray-related question…

Wildest X-factor

Will the Dejounte Murray-Trae Young backcourt work for the Hawks?

In theory, Murray and Young are a perfect fit. Murray isn’t a great 3-point shooter. Young has unlimited range. Young is often targeted defensively. Murray is one of the best perimeter stoppers in the NBA.

That sounds like an ideal pairing, but on paper is different than on the floor.

Young had the fourth-highest usage percentage in the league last season (34.4) behind only Luka Doncic (37.4), Joel Embiid (37.2) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (34.9). He will have to do something off the ball. He also must give better effort defensively.

Murray doesn’t need to be a sharpshooter, but he has only hit 32.3 percent of his 3-point attempts over the past two seasons. Can he push that figure closer to 35 percent to open the driving lanes for Young and others?

How this backcourt relationship evolves will be fascinating to watch.

Over/under win predictions

Miami Heat — 48.5 / Under

Atlanta Hawks — 46.5 / Under

Washington Wizards — 35.5 / Over

Orlando Magic — 26.5 / Over

Charlotte Hornets — TBD / Total off the board

Biggest unanswered questions

Miami Heat

  • Can Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo stay healthy?
  • How much does Kyle Lowry have left in the tank?
  • Is Tyler Herro ready for a breakout season?

Atlanta Hawks

  • Will the Dejounte Murray-Trae Young backcourt work for the Hawks?
  • Can De’Andre Hunter be the two-way wing the Hawks need?
  • Can Onyeka Okongwu carve out a bigger role in the rotation?
Kristaps Porzingis Bradley Beal Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards

  • Is Bradley Beal back to All-Star form?
  • How will Rui Hachimura perform in a contract year?
  • Will the injury bug bite Kristaps Porzingis again?

Orlando Magic

  • Will Paolo Banchero be the best rookie from the Class of 2022?
  • Can Jalen Suggs bounce back after a rough 2021-22 campaign?
  • What is Jonathan Isaac’s status?

Charlotte Hornets

  • Can LaMelo Ball build off his first All-Star season?
  • Will the Hornets trade any of their veteran players before the deadline?
  • What is this franchise’s identity moving forward?

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