16. Charlotte Hornets (7th in the East) 36-46
Point Differential: +0.2 (15th), Offense: 106.4 (14th), Defense: 106.1 (14th)
17. Philadelphia 76ers (8th in the East) 28-54
Point Differential: -5.7 (27th), Offense: 100.7 (30th), Defense: 106.4 (T-17th)
Like the Clippers in the West, putting everyone's favorite sleeper team as the 8th seed is a hedge against injury concerns for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and now even Markelle Fultz. Embiid may have only played 31 games last year, but his impact was evident as he had a +3.2 net rating when on the floor, the only Sixer in the positive besides Shawn Long, who only played 18 games. They apparently think enough of his health to give him a risky, partially protected max contract rather than maintaining around $39 million in cap room that already accounted for his $18.3 million cap hold next summer, so hopefully that's a good sign. Fultz's shooting struggles as he deals with his own ailments means he'll come off the bench to start, and that's fine considering the potential 3-and-D fit of Jerryd Bayless next to J.J. Redick. It should also help the playmaking development of Simmons and Fultz as they're split up to run the first and second units when they are at full strength. May the basketball gods be ever in their favor.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (10th in the West) 34-48
Point Differential: -2.1 (22nd), Offense: 103.3 (T-25th), Defense: 104.9 (T-8th)
The grand big man experiment didn't quite go as planned since they went 11-14 after the trade for DeMarcus Cousins, including just 7-10 when Boogie played. The lineups with him and Anthony Davis were generally positive, though, and in the 376 minutes that they shared the floor with Jrue Holiday, the team had a +2.8 net rating. The utter lack of focus on surrounding them with shooters for spacing is confounding, though, and consider me skeptical that Dante Cunningham's 39.2% mark last season is for real since he only hit 31.2% the previous year after only being 2 for 38 in the first six years of his career. Maybe Ian Clark and Darius Miller will prove to be more than nice end of the bench options or Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo, who currently isn't healthy again, will show they have more left in the tank than what the market dictated, but they're on the outside looking in among playoff contenders for me.