5 NBA Southeast Division Make-or-Break Candidates For 2023-24 – TechVerdant

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The Miami Heat has been carrying the NBA Southeast division banner on their shoulder and, for that matter, the entire Eastern Conference since 2010.

During these 13 years, the Heat have won 662 games — the second most in the NBA — and two NBA championships in six Finals appearances. The Heats also have claimed the nine divisional crowns.

However, Miami’s domination may be coming to an end. While it’s early, the Heat are 2-4 on the season. More significantly, the Orlando Magic looks like one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams. Moreover, the Atlanta Hawks are the early season favorites to win the division.

5 NBA make-or-break candidates from the Southeast Division in the 2023 NBA season

Garrison Matthews, Atlanta Hawks

Garrison Matthews has been a solid end-of-the-bench NBA player over the last few years. The 27-year-old wing has averaged 10 minutes a game over 60 appearances a year in the previous three seasons. He’s a 3-point specialist who averages 1.5 treys, shooting them at a 36.7% clip.

However, Mathews is a below-average defender. He has only played nine games, including none this season, since coming to the Hawks at last year’s trade deadline. His 2024-25 salary is guaranteed on July 28. 2023.

James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets

James Bouknight has not played this season as he’s still recovering from arthroscopic surgery. Bouknight has struggled in his first two campaigns, compiling a .353/.331/.770 shooting slash line in 65 appearances. The 23-year-old guard, the No. 11 overall pick in 2021, had his 2024-25 club option declined by the Hornets.

 Haywood Highsmith, Miami Heat

Haywood Highsmith is an undrafted Division II player who has worked hard to get his shot in the NBA.

The 6-7 forward took advantage of all the Heat’s injuries last year and played in a career-high 54 games, including 11 starts. While Highsmith doesn’t shoot it well, he does all the little things. He’s a decent defender and battles on the defensive boards.

However, the 27-year-old should get every opportunity to show he belongs in the league this year. After missing Miami’s first four games, Highsmith had a solid debut against Brooklyn on Nov. 1 and started two of those contests at small forward.

Highsmith averages 7.3 points, with 12 of his 22 total points coming from the 3-point line, on 53.3% shooting from the field and 50% from the 3-point line.  Highsmith is slated to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

​Chuma Okeke, Orlando Magic

Chuma Okeke, the 16th overall pick of the Magic in 2019, is a versatile athletic defender with an excellent first couple of seasons. However, he doesn’t shoot it well.

Okeke only appeared 27 games a year ago and has seen just 12 minutes of action over three appearances this season. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason.

Goga Bitadze, Orlando Magic

The 6-11, 24-year-old big man has been a third-string center since being selected with the 18th overall pick in 2019.

Goga Bitadze is excellent around the rim on both ends of the court and is a fabulous rebounder. He also finishes well at the hoop and is an elite shot-blocker. Bitadze will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

With Wendell Carter Jr. out for three-plus weeks with a broken hand, Bitadze will get to show off his mettle. Since Carter went out with the injury, Bitadze has averaged 8.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks while shooting 54.5% from the field in two starts.

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