Season Preview: Northwest Division
Photo taken by Keith Allison - originally uploaded to Flickr.
The 2017-18 NBA season tips off tonight and one of the divisions to watch will be the Northwest division in the Western Conference. This has the potential to be the most stacked division in basketball with the Thunder, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Trailblazers, and Jazz all having at least decent odds of making the playoffs. From the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook and his new teammates Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to Jimmy Butler in Minnesota, to Paul Millsap in Denver, the off-season was full of surprises in this division. Here's how I think the Northwest division will pan out in what might be the most entertaining NBA season of my lifetime.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
With the acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, alongside Russell Westbrook, this Thunder lineup should be ready to contend with the juggernauts of San Antonio and Golden State this year. With so much scoring power on this team, the only issues I can see arising could be getting back on defense and figuring out who is going to light up the scoreboard on any given night. Despite losing Enes Kanter in the Carmelo trade, Oklahoma City should probably still be one of the top ranked rebounding teams in the league. One area of struggle that will most likely be remedied this season is 3-point shooting, which the Thunder ranked dead last in last year. Don't be surprised if you see the Thunder making a deep playoff run this season.
2) Minnesota Timberwolves
Despite a 31-51 record last season, the Timberwolves are one of those teams to look out for in 2017-18. They traded for one of the best shooting guards in the league in Jimmy Butler, picked up Jeff Teague at point guard, and added veterans Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford to a lineup with two young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Putting all of this together with Coach Tom Thibodeau makes this team look like as dangerous as the Bulls of six or seven years ago. I can definitely see some growing pains as a possibility at the beginning of the season due to the difficulty of the Western Conference, but I think the Timberwolves are a shoo-in to make the playoffs.
3) Denver Nuggets
Do not sleep on the Denver Nuggets this year. They finished their 2016-17 campaign only one game behind the Trailblazers for the eighth and final seed for the playoffs. Despite losing Danilo Gallinari who led the Nuggets in scoring last year, they signed Paul Millsap, who was Atlanta's leading scorer. I expect Nikola Jokic to continue to improve this year as well. Look for Denver to continue to be a top rebounding and up around the top half of the league in scoring this season. Don't count on the Nuggets to dethrone any of the giants in this conference, but a 6-8 seed in the playoffs is definitely possible for this team.
4) Utah Jazz
I wouldn't be surprised if the Jazz take a bit of a fall in the standings this year compared to last season,but could still make it into the playoffs. With Gordon Hayward out of the picture in Utah, the spotlight is on Rudy Gobert this season to pick up the slack. A large part of the team's success will bank on whether he can become the team's number one scoring option or not. Some of the pieces that should help keep Utah's playoff hopes alive will be Ricky Rubio at point guard and Donovan Mitchell, who was drafted out of Louisville.
5) Portland Trailblazers
The Trailblazers have been one of those bubble teams in recent years. However, they were one of the few teams in the west that didn't make a splash this off-season. Rip City will most likely need more defensive support from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and more offensive support from everyone else. Jusuf Nurkic put up 15 points per game in his limited time last year and Caleb Swanigan could help out close to the rim, but the lack of offensive help beyond Portland's best two players may continue to be a problem this year. With the bottom three teams in division being so close, I'm not writing off this Blazers team just yet, but they might need a mid-season acquisition if they want to even make the playoffs.
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