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June 25, 2007

Southeast has plenty of room for improvement

Don't let the three playoff teams fool you: by the end of the season, the Southeast Division was mediocre at best.

Miami was the only team to finish with a record above .500, and after Dwyane Wade dislocated his shoulder they obviously were not the same team. Washington and Orlando were the other two teams from the division to qualify for the playoffs, and all three teams were swept in the first round. Granted, the Wizards were without their two best players.

Here's a really telling statistic: Orlando was the only team in the division that averaged more points than they allowed, and the Magic's difference was a measly +.8.

With Charlotte and Atlanta dwelling in the NBA basement, this is a conference that is in need of some new blood. So what exactly does the Southeast need to do to improve in 2007-08? Five first round picks, including three lottery selections, should certainly help.

Although Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will be going to the Western Conference, there is still plenty of talent available in this deep draft.

Rivals.com has partnered with NBA Draft experts DraftExpress.com to analyze the needs of each NBA team. Here is our look at the needs for each team in the Southeast Division.

Southeast Division:
Atlanta Hawks | Charlotte Bobcats | Miami Heat | Orlando Magic | Washington Wizards

Atlanta Hawks (30-52 in 2006-07)
Draft picks: No. 3, No. 11
Depth chart
PG: Tyronn Lue / Speedy Claxton / Anthony Johnson
SG: Joe Johnson / Salim Stoudamire / Royal Ivey*
SF: Josh Smith / Josh Childress
PF: Marvin Williams / Lorenzen Wright / Esteban Batista* / Solomon Jones
C: Zaza Pachulia / Shelden Williams / Stanislav Medvendenko*
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Point Guard, Power Forward, Center
Bottom line: The Hawks are a young team loaded with potential. Four of the team's starting five last season were 25 or younger. Joe Johnson is already a big-time scorer, and guys like Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, Josh Childress and Zaza Pachulia are all developing into solid players. With two lottery picks, the Hawks have a real chance to improve in a hurry. Point guard and the frontcourt are the two most glaring needs.
Draft outlook: The Hawks find themselves in an interesting situation, holding both the third and 11th picks. Atlanta needs a point guard, but Mike Conley Jr. may not be worth the third pick. If the Hawks decide to go with a frontcourt player with this pick, they will have no shortage of candidates. Brandan Wright, Al Horford and Yi Jianlian can all fill in nicely as power forwards for Atlanta. Wright, the most athletic of the three, could be a scary running mate with Josh Smith in transition. At No. 11 the Hawks would still be able to select a solid point guard prospect. Conley likely will be gone, but Acie Law could be on the board. He is probably the most NBA-ready floor general in his class. Should Law go earlier, combo guard Rodney Stuckey is a viable option. Javaris Crittenton will be available too, although he isn't likely to make an immediate impact like Law.
Charlotte Bobcats (33-49 in 2006-07)
Draft pick: No. 8, No. 22
Depth chart
PG: Raymond Felton / Brevin Knight / Jeff McInnis*
SG: Adam Morrison / Matt Carroll* / Derek Anderson*
SF: Gerald Wallace / Alan Anderson*
PF: Walter Herrmann / Sean May / Othella Harrington
C: Emeka Okafor / Primoz Brezec / Jake Voskuhl / Ryan Hollins
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Shooting Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward
Bottom line: Charlotte is loaded with former college stars from the last few years. Some have developed, some haven't and the jury is still out on a few others. Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor and Raymond Felton are the core of this team, and they are a talented young trio. The rest of the team is a mix of unproven youngsters and mediocre veterans. Adam Morrison was the team's big pickup in last year's draft. While his rookie season wasn't stellar, there is still the potential for him to become a solid complement to the big three. With a pair of first-round picks in this year's draft, Charlotte can add another post player to take some pressure off of Okafor. Another need is a swing man to provide more depth at the small forward spot.
Draft outlook: Joakim Noah would be a nice addition with the eighth pick. He is a versatile big man that runs the floor well and crashes the boards. Most importantly though, Noah is the kind of player that can step in right away and help a team win. Another viable option would be if Corey Brewer was still on the board. Brewer is a very gifted athlete who is an excellent perimeter defender and explodes to the basket on the offensive end. At No. 22, the Bobcats have options - depending on what they do with their first pick. Marcus Williams is one possibility. Williams provides some versatility. He is a smooth and crafty ballhandler who is able to create his own shot with ease. He would benefit tremendously from playing along side a distributor like Raymond Felton.
Miami Heat (44-38 in 2006-07)
Draft pick: No. 20, No. 39
Depth chart
PG: Jason Williams / Gary Payton / Chris Quinn*
SG: Dwyane Wade / Jason Kapono
SF: James Posey* / Eddie Jones* / Dorell Wright
PF: Udonis Haslem / Antoine Walker / Wayne Simeon / Earl Barron*
C: Shaquille O'Neal / Alonzo Morning / Michael Doleac
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Point Guard, Small Forward, Power Forward
Bottom line: With Shaq and Dwyane Wade healthy next season, Miami can certainly challenge in the Eastern Conference. What the Heat needs to be worried about is if they are hit with the injury bug again next season. The starting lineup - aside from Shaq - is still relatively young. The bench is a mix of aging veterans and unproven youngsters. Miami's first five can still compete with anyone in the East and most teams in the West, but now is the time to start looking ahead to the future. With only one pick in this year's draft, the Heat need to get younger at either the point guard or center position, and could upgrade at the small forward position as well.
Draft outlook: Javaris Crittenton would be a nice pickup at No. 20. At 6'5" he has great size and length for the point guard position. Combine this with his blazing quickness and smooth handle, and you have all the physical abilities you could want from an NBA point guard. He's still young, but Jason Williams is only 31, so Crittenton could certainly ease into the league and develop over a couple of years. They might also want to take a chance on Sean Williams. While his character is a major question mark, his athleticism is not. Williams will bring NBA level interior defense immediately. While his offensive game is lagging right now, he was starting to show more ability with his back to the basket before being dismissed by Boston College.
Orlando Magic (40-42 in 2006-07)
Draft picks: No. 44, No. 54
Depth chart
PG: Jameer Nelson / Carlos Arroyo / Travis Diener*
SG: Grant Hill* / Keyon Dooling / JJ Redick
SF: Hidayet Turkoglu / Trevor Ariza / Keith Boggans
PF: Dwight Howard / Pat Garrity / Bo Outlaw*
C: Darko Milicic / Tony Battie / James Augustine
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Shooting Guard, Center
Bottom line: Orlando is a team that should probably have done better than it did last season. The Magic is in great position for the 2007-08 season. They have the right combination of younger players and veterans, and they have a star big man in Dwight Howard. Jameer Nelson is improving each year at point guard, and Grant Hill is a fantastic running mate in the backcourt with him. Hill is getting older though, so Orlando might look to pick up a shooting guard with one of their picks. Darko Milicic has proven that he wasn't a complete bust, but he still isn't an ideal starting center candidate. There will be some big bodies on the board in the second round for the Magic. Orlando has three picks, all in the second round, and if the front office folks do their homework there are some potential steals that will be available.
Draft outlook: Zabian Dowdell and Bobby Brown should still be on the board when Orlando's first pick arrives. Dowdell is a long combo guard who brings with him efficient offense and hard-nosed defense, a style that fits right in with the Magic. Brown is more of a point guard. He is an explosive player who can run an offense, and would be a good backup to Nelson. Herbert Hill is an option for the frontcourt. Hill brings a big frame and athleticism that would help take some pressure off Howard. Hill's offensive ability doesn't extend further than back-to-the-basket moves with the ball, but he is a strong rebounder and alters shots with his length and timing.
Washington Wizards (41-41 in 2006-07)
Draft pick: No. 16, No. 47
Depth chart
PG: Gilbert Arenas / Donell Taylor*
SG: DeShawn Stevenson / Antonio Daniels / Roger Mason
SF: Caron Butler / Jarvis Hayes / Mike Hall
PF: Antawn Jamison / Darius Songaila / Michael Ruffin* / Andray Blatche*
C: Etan Thomas / Brendan Haywood / Calvin Booth
*Potential free agent
Could use help at: Shooting Guard, Power Forward, Center
Bottom line: Last season the Wizards went as far as the "Big Three" would carry them. When Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler went down with injuries, it became clear how poor Washington's role players were. If not for Antawn Jamison, Washington would have the worst frontcourt in the league. Gilbert Arenas is a star and Caron Butler has blossomed into a borderline All-Star player. If Washington can add another option at shooting guard or an impact big man, the Wizards could make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Draft outlook: Jason Smith would be a great pick for Washington, and his potential is off the charts. He has a great frame, is super quick for a big man and runs the floor very well. He handles the ball well in the open floor and has range out to the 3-point line. A lineup with Smith at center would give the Wizards five players that can handle the ball and shoot from the perimeter. Josh McRoberts is another option here, though he doesn't have as much versatility as Smith. McRoberts has nice touch and is a good passer out of the high and low post. Russell Carter and Trey Johnson would add depth to Washington's backcourt. Carter is a good shooter who can drive the lane as well. He would benefit tremendously from all the attention paid to Arenas. Johnson is just a smart, fundamental player with a great mid-range game. He would also be the beneficiary when Arenas drove to the hoop and kicked it out to a teammate. Johnson's presence would help spread out opposing defenses.

Joey Whelan of DraftExpress covers the NBA Draft for Rivals.com. Whelan's work can also be found at www.draftexpress.com, where they offer a free NBA Draft scouting service.

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