Northwest Division Preview

October 28, 2012

By Kassan Bahhur

 

The Northwest division has quickly become Oklahoma City's, as their emergence to the NBA's elite was complete last year after their trip to the Finals. However, Denver will have something to say about that this year with their moves this off-season and Minnesota could be a sneaky team if they can stay healthy. Utah and Portland will be competitive but are too young to seriously compete at this point. This division won't be as strong as it used to but the teams at the top will be in the running to make it to the NBA Finals. For more of the Northwest Division preview, continue reading.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

 

15 Man Roster:

Starters:

Russell Westbrook

2.     Thabo Sefolosha

3.     Kevin Durant

4.     Serge Ibaka

5.     Kendrick Perkins

 

Bench:

6.     Kevin Martin

7.     Eric Maynor

8.     Reggie Jackson

9.     Jeremy Lamb

10.  Perry Jones III

11.  Nick Collison

12.  Hasheem Thabeet

13.  Hollis Thompson

 

Owners:  Professional Basketball Club LLC. (Clayton Bennett, Chairman)

General Manager:  Sam Presti

Head Coach: Scott Brooks

 

Roster Additions:  Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin

Roster Losses: Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, Royal Ivey, James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward, Daequan Cook

 

Where they were last year:

If you are an NBA fan you know exactly where OKC was last year.  They took the Miami Heat to game five of the NBA Finals.  The players where disappointed by losing the biggest series of their lives; however, management was thrilled over the potential of this team.  To many, the Thunder got all the way to the final before it was their time.  This team is built around young players that were drafted or and some trades to fill in missing spots.  The two words that describe how last year for OKC: experience and motivation.   

 

Where they are at now:

With the finals experience and disappointment behind them, OKC is ready to challenge Miami for the championship.  This time they are not playing for the experience of just getting there, the Thunder feel that it is now their turn.  OKC is going into the season with the same young, experienced, and deep roster.   What is scary about OKC is that they have their own stars in Durant and Westbrook plus defensive minded big men in Perkins and Ibaka.  They drafted Perry Jones III who fell to them at the end of the first round, Jones was projected to be a top 3 pick in 2011.  This could be the biggest steal of the draft and possible make them the only Big 4.  OKC is still the favorite in the division and Western Conference.  They are young, talented, good chemistry, and now Championship EXPERIENCED.   

 

Where they are going:

This team will definitely not rebuild for a long time, expect OKC to contend for the championship for many years to come.  The team’s young core players love playing for Coach Brooks and they all have great chemistry on and off the court.  They want to stay together in a quiet but supportive town and finish the job that they all started together.  GM Presti designed the rebuilding blueprint that many small market teams are duplicating.  Presti built this explosive deep team from the draft, making additions via trades and signing core players to long-term contracts.   With Harden and the Thunder not being able to come to an agreement, Presti executed his plan and mad additions as needed to continue their championship dreams.

 


Denver Nuggets


15 Man Roster:

Starters:

1.     Ty Lawson

2.     Andre Iguodala

3.     Danilo Gallinari

4.     Kenneth Faried

5.     JaVale McGee

 

Bench:

6.     Andre Miller

7.     Evan Fournier

8.     Corey Brewer

9.     Wilson Chandler

10.  Jordan Hamilton

11.  Quincy Miller

12.  Anthony Randolph

13.  Timofey Mozgov

14.  Kosta Koufos

15.  Julyan Stone

 

Owners:  Stan Kroenke

General Manager: Masai Ujiri

Head Coach: George Karl

 

Roster Additions: Andre Iguodala, Anthony Randolph

Roster Losses: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Rudy Fernandez

 

Where they were last year:

One thing the Nuggets did consistently last year was score points, they lead league in scoring, assists, fast break points and points in the paint.  However, in this league you must play defense to win big games.  Early in the Nuggets were still trying to learn how to mesh.  They accumulated a lot of talented but unproven players from the Carmelo Anthony trade, they also received draft picks and had their own picks.  By the end of the season they were beginning to mesh together, they were getting unexpected defensive performances from rookie Kenneth Faried, and added defensive minded but knucklehead center JaVale McGee.  This improvement in defense propelled them into the Playoffs and helped them take the Lakers to 7 games. 

 

Where they are at now:

The best move they made this summer was adding another defensive minded wing player in Andre Iguodala without giving up any talent.  Iguodala will bring leadership and pure toughness to a young team looking for an identity.  Iguodala will benefit them as an offensive weapon, but his presence will be felt on defense. He will slow down most of the wings that the Nuggets will face.  JaVale McGee looks to be maturing by deciding to work with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer.  He should return with a better game and maturity from working with one of the best big men to ever play the game.  They have one of the top young point guards in the league in Lawson, who will run fast-breaks, score, and feed the ball to the shooters on this team.   They are talented, young, extremely deep, and will take the next step in the Playoffs; however they are not ready to dethrone OKC or Lakers in the Western Conference.     

 

Where they are going:

The Nuggets are on the way up.  Their roster is made up of young players and draft picks.  These are not going away for a while; they are going to move up the power rankings.   Their core players are signed to long-term cheap contracts giving GM Masia the flexibility to add pieces along the way.  The Nuggets will go as far as their potential takes them.  The core players must continue to improve and Lawson has to show that he can run an offense and not focus on getting his own numbers.  Iguodala and Faried will not allow this team to slack on defense, and defense will decide if the Nuggets can take it to the next level in the future. 

 

 

Minnesota Timberwolves 

 

15 Man Roster:

Starters:

Ricky Rubio (Injured)

2.     Brandon Roy

3.     Andrei Kirilenko

4.     Kevin Love (Injured)

5.     Nikola Pekovic

 

Bench:

6.     Luke Ridnour

7.     Jose Juan Barea

8.     Malcolm Lee

9.     Chase Budinger

10.  Derrick Williams

11.  Greg Stiemsma

12.  Dante Cunningham

13.  Louis Amundson

14.  Alexey Shved

15.  Will Conroy        


Owners: Glen Taylor

General Manager: David Kahn

Head Coach: Rick Adelman

 

Roster Additions: Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Greg Stiemsma

Roster Losses: Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington

 

Where they were last year:

Kevin Love’s dominance last season was a surprise to many, expect those that drafted him; however stand out rookie point guard Ricky Rubio finally arrived and the Timberwolves began some noise in the Western Conference.  Until the unexpected happened, on March 10, 2012 Rubio tore his ACL and the season crumbled.  The Wolves finished 12th in the Western Conference with a record of 26-40 and lost 9 out of the last 10 games.  They also received very little contribution from their second overall pick Derrick Williams.

 

Where they are at now:

Going into this 2012-13 campaign everybody is expecting big things out of the Timberwolves.  The only issue is that Rubio will still be out until December and now Kevin Love will sit for eight weeks with a broken wrist.  This season will be different as the Wolves will be able to hold on until their star players return.  They acquired new talent in the off-season and they are also depending on Derrick Williams to take advantage of the minutes available in Love’s absence.  This team has thirteen players that could fight for playing time, and that makes them as deep as any team in the league. They added a quality Euro PG/SG in Alex Shved, who could play as a poor mans Rubio until he returns, they also might have a steal in Brandon Roy if he can return to all-star form assuming knees hold up.          

 

Where they are going:

Similar to the other teams in their division, they have many young players with a ton of potential; they are all on rookie contracts, and this will help free up money to make moves.  They have a mix of young talent with former stand out veterans like Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy.  However, will they be able to retain all of their young players in the future as they begin to look for max dollars, and more glamorous cities?  Rubio and Love have bigger than life personalities that might be too large for the City of Minnesota.  Love is already rambling about adding proven veterans so that they can contend.  This might be his way of preparing fans for his departure.    If all of the pieces stay together and Roy pans out this could be your surprise team of the Western Conference. 

 

 

Utah Jazz


15 Man Roster:

Starters:

1.     Mo Williams

2.     Gordon Hayward

3.     Marvin Williams

4.     Derrick Favors

5.     Al Jefferson

 

Bench:

6.     Jamaal Tinsley

7.     Earl Watson

Randy Foye

9.     Alec Burks

10.  DeMarre Carroll

11  Paul Millsap

     Jeremy Evans

13.  Enes Kanter

14.  Kevin Murphy

15.  Darnell Jackson

 

Owners:  Gail Miller, Larry H. Miller, Sports & Entertainment Group Companies (LHMSE)

General Manager:  Dennis Lindsey

Head Coach: Tyrone Corbin

 

Roster Additions: Randy Foye, Marvin Williams

Roster Losses: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Josh Howard

 

Where they were last year:

The Utah Jazz surprised many last year when they finished as the 8th seed in the playoffs, with a record of 36-30.   They fought until the last week of the regular season.   Last year the Jazz continued to play with a mix of young players and young veterans.  That team was together for a long time and they made the jump to the next level, the playoffs.    However, management did not feel that the team was capable of to contending in the future and began to move around the veterans. 

 

Where they are at now:

The Jazz returned Mo Williams who will be the new scoring floor general on this team.  They will have a new small forward in Marvin Williams who is another “do it all” but “nothing great “young veteran.  Williams is a tough player with a high basketball IQ, which is a lot different than former small forward CJ Miles. This new Jazz roster could cause problems considering they have size, strength, scoring, experience, and young hungry talented players waiting for their turns in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.    

 

Where they are going:

The future could looks bright for Utah, However they may not have the chemistry that the other teams in their division have.  This could be last years Atlanta Hawks, for example having young players that grew together however did not have the chemistry to advance.  They seem to be adding players based on talent and not on talent and fit.    This team has the ability to score; so adding Mo Williams as their point guard might not be a good fit considering he’s a scoring PG.  There is no other pass first young point guard on this roster.  If things go bad, there could be another rebuilding process for the Jazz.  However if the young talent and veterans can co-exists then expect Utah to finish in the 8 or 7th spot. 

 

 

Portland Trailblazers

 

15 Man Roster:

Starters:

 1.     Damian Lillard

2.     Wesley Matthews

3.     Nicolas Batum

4.     LaMarcus Aldridge

5.     J.J. Hickson

 

Bench:

6.     Nolan Smith

7.     Ronnie Price

8.     Will Barton

9.     Luke Babbitt

10.  Jared Jeffries

11.  Meyers Leonard

12.  Eillot Williams

13.  Victor Claver

14.  Sasha Pavlovic

15.  Joel Freeland    

 

Owners: Paul Allen

General Manager: Neil Olshey

Head Coach: Terry Stotts

 

Roster Additions: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Jared Jeffries

Roster Losses: Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Kurt Thomas.

 

Where they were last year:

 Last year was a disastrous season for the Trail Blazers as they finished in the 11 spot in the Western Conference.  They had a record of 28-38 and finished 1-9 in the last ten games of the season.   They where without their All-Star Brandon Roy who retired last season (since returned to Minnesota), First overall pick Greg Oden never suited up and since has been let go, and one of the top power forwards in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge, had season ending hip surgery.  Popular coach Nate McMillan was fired.  This was too much for the team to overcome. 

 

Where they are at now:

The Blazers have some talented players on the roster but they lost some key veterans in Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Kurt Thomas.  They added some top-notch rookies from this years draft in point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard.  This season will be similar to last seasons because they are depending on these rookies to step in right away.  Lillard will be the new floor general of this team and Leonard could be patrolling the middle before the end of the season.  Mixing these rookies with some talent young players like Aldridge, Batum, and Matthews still presents too much unknown.  There is nothing on the bench that can step in if needed.

 

Where they are going:

The future could be bright in Portland, however, similar to Utah they have a mix of recent draft picks and young veterans and it remains to be seen if they can mix and bond on the court and off the court. Portland has no chance but to hit on every draft pick for the next two years.