In Basketball Insiders’ new series, we’ll take a look at the new players in every division. We start with the Southeast Division.
Thabo Sefolosha: The Hawks stayed mostly quiet on the free agent front, but did add Thabo Sefolosha to the mix. The Hawks have been desperately seeking a player to lock up opposing teams’ best players and seem to have finally added that player in Sefolosha. While Sefolosha will provide the biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball, the Hawks are hoping that he’ll be able find some of his stroke from behind the arc. Sefolosha shot 42 percent from three-point range with the Thunder two seasons ago, but regressed from that number last season hitting just 32 percent of his shots from long distance.
Lance Stephenson: Perhaps the biggest addition in the entire division comes from the Charlotte Hornets in Lance Stephenson. When Stephenson is engaged, there is no question that he can be one of the best players on both sides of the ball. Adding Stephenson to the backcourt with Kemba Walker will surely make the duo one of the better backcourts in the league and should be very fun to watch throughout the season. The Hornets are gaining a player with ample playoff experience and somebody that can energize the team and fans with his emotional play on the court. Stephenson’s presence will take some of the burden off of Walker and allow him to not force as many shots as last season when he attempted nearly 16 shots a game. Much has been made about Stephenson’s off-court behavior, but a change in scenery could be exactly what Stephenson needs to have people talking about his behavior on the court, not off the court.
Noah Vonleh: The Hornets have a player with tremendous upside in Noah Vonleh, the 19-year-old rookie they drafted with the ninth overall pick. The Hornets got Vonleh at a bit of a steal as the 6’10 big man was projected to go as high as fourth overall to the Orlando Magic. Vonleh suffered a sports hernia over the summer and is currently out of team activities for at least another two weeks. While sitting out, Vonleh is missing out on crucial training for his upcoming rookie season. Once he proves he’s ready to go, the Hornets will have a guy who is compared to Chris Bosh since he is athletic and can shoot the ball. He’ll have to earn his minutes when he returns as he’ll be competing with Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller for time on the floor, but the team will certainly have depth in the front court when he’s ready to go.
P.J. Hairston: The Hornets got another steal in the draft in P.J. Hairston with the No. 26 pick. Hairston is another player that will most certainly have to earn his way into the rotation, playing behind Stephenson and Gary Neal, but can light up the scoreboard if he gets hot. Hairston averaged 21.8 points last year in the D-League and shot 36 percent from the behind the arc. During the Summer League, Hairston drained six threes during one game against the Kings so he has already shown the ability to hit threes from NBA range. While Hairston may not play too much from the beginning, he provides head coach Steve Clifford with shooting options off of the bench.
Luol Deng: In what could go down as one of the most underrated moves of the offseason, the HEAT added free agent small forward Luol Deng. The HEAT will look to Deng to help replace part of the production lost by LeBron James. In addition to helping provide offense for the team, Deng will try to anchor the defensive side of the ball as well. Heading into training camp this season, HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra is making it a point of emphasis to improve the defense. After falling out of the top 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions last season, Spoelstra wants to improve the defense and spoke very highly of Deng’s defensive efforts. In past seasons, Deng was leaned upon heavily in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive schemes and rotations and should continue to be somebody Spoelstra can count on.
Danny Granger: The expected theme for the HEAT this offseason was to replace the production lost by James. After Deng, Danny Granger seems to have been the next biggest signing for the team. Granger has been hobbled by injuries over the past several seasons, but has shown, when healthy, that he can still be a solid contributor off of the bench. This was evident in his first preseason game of the season on Saturday night when he scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and four assists in 22 minutes of action. It would be unfair for the HEAT to count on Granger to return to his former self, but if Granger could average around 8-10 points a night then the HEAT could have a solid bench contributor.
Josh McRoberts: The HEAT found extreme value in the signing of Josh McRoberts. It seems Steve Clifford finally figured out how to use McRoberts last season in Charlotte, and Spoelstra definitely has taken his notes when designing his new offensive schemes. Clifford used McRoberts’ strengths in athleticism, passing and shooting to his advantage and McRoberts had his most productive season as a result. He scored career-highs in points with 8.5 and assists with 4.3 per game, and added 4.8 rebounds. His 4.3 assists were second-highest in the league among power forwards. McRoberts will also be able to stretch the floor a bit as a career 34 percent shooter from long range.
Channing Frye: The Magic opened up the checkbook and signed Channing Frye to a four-year, $32 million deal. The arrival of Frye will strengthen the Magic’s ability to score points. The only problem is the team also lost key offensive players in Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, but that is another issue in itself. With Frye on the roster now, the Magic will benefit from his three-point shooting that will space the floor and open up lanes for players like Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless and rookie Elfrid Payton. The Magic were ranked 19th in the league last season in three-point shooting, so Frye’s 39 percent career three-point shooting will help make an impact immediately. With Afflalo and Nelson out of the picture, Frye should compete to become the team’s leading scorer.
Elfrid Payton: The Orlando Magic brought in Elfrid Payton through the draft and have really high hopes for him. Playing alongside Oladipo, the Magic’s backcourt duo can become one of the best in the league in terms of defense. Oladipo finished last season 15th in the league with 1.61 steals per game and Payton’s 6’4 frame and quick hands will allow him to knock a lot of balls loose as well. The spacing that Frye will provide will be huge for Payton as he showed in college the ability to drive to the lane very quickly. Payton welcomes the early comparisons to Rajon Rondo, but wants to make a name for himself on his own terms which likely won’t happen for another season or two.
Paul Pierce: The loss of Trevor Ariza for the Wizards was going to leave a huge hole in the starting lineup, but the addition of Paul Pierce surely makes up for that loss. Pierce brings championship experience to the team and his leadership should prove to be huge for the Wizards. The Wizards will count on Pierce for that leadership, but his ability to hit the big shots could put this team over the top. With John Wall, Bradley Beal, Pierce, Nene and Marcin Gortat in the starting lineup, the Wizards face increased pressure this season and Pierce could be the guy that helps this young team manage that pressure.
Kris Humphries: The days of Kris Humphries dropping a double-double every night may be behind him, but the Wizards don’t need him to do that playing behind Nene and Gortat. With Nene and Gortat, the Wizards have one of the best traditional, big man front courts in the league and adding Humphries’ size off of the bench fits into that philosophy. Humphries playing around 20 minutes will be what the Wizards need and his depth may help the Wizards reach the next level in the Eastern Conference.
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