2017 NBA Preview – Northwest Division

THE NBA season is fast approaching! So there is no better time than the present to analyse each of the 30 teams with tipoff etching closer every day. Read each of the division by division primers to know what to expect from the 2017-18 NBA season!

Atlantic Divison
Pacific Division
Central Division
Southwest Division
Southeast Division

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Denver Nuggets

Roster Changes
THE biggest difference in Denver this year is the addition of Paul Millsap. The Nuggets finally landed a star after years of chasing a ‘big fish’ and in the process that managed to add Trey Lyles, Josh Childress and a bunch of rooks. Roy Hibbert, Danilo Gallinari and Mike Miller made way for the new additions by leaving the Mile High City.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Are They Good Enough Defensively?
WE know they can score the ball with last year’s Nuggets pouring in 111.7 PPG last year (third best in the league). The reason that didn’t translate to a bunch more wins was because of their inability to defend, allowing 111.2 points a game to opponents (fourth worst in the league). If Denver is going to make the leap into the playoffs and become a real threat they will need to slow down their opponents.

2. Which Two Guards Should Start?
LAST season Emmanuel Mudiay and Jameer Nelson split the starts at point guard almost straight down the middle. Gary Harris started 56 times games and chewed up most of the minutes at the other guard spot over rookie Jamal Murray. With Nelson clearly the fourth best player in this scenario There are three good young prospects and only two starting spots. If Mudiay hasn’t shown growth in his ability to shoot then he may find himself demoted for Murray.

3. Can They Bring In One More Star?
AS addressed above Denver finally landed a big free agent after missing out on the likes of Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler and Nic Batum in free agency periods over the past few years. There is definitely a market out there for them to construct a deal given all the assets they own (cough-Mudiay, Faried and a 1st rounder for say Mike Conley-cough). If they can swing a deal for another All-Star calibre talent it can move them into the upper echelon of the West.

Record: 44-38
NATURALLY, the Nuggets will benefit from the addition of 4x All-Star Paul Millsap. Another preseason into their young core centred (pun intended) around budding phenom Nikola Jokic. The performance of the young guys will dictate their win/loss record and they realistically fall anywhere between a repeat season under .500 or they could even go close to winning 50 games.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Roster Changes
THE trade for Jimmy Butler dramatically altered the roster for Minnesota moving forward. They shelled out some of their young pieces to land the former Bull and spent the rest of the offseason building a roster around him and their star-studded duo in Wiggins and Towns. Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford have been welcomed into the fray with Ricky Rubio, Brandon Rush, Omri Casspi and Adreian Payne signing elsewhere.

Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau, Scott LaydenImage from nationalpost.com

Three Questions That Matter

1. How Will Thibs Manage The Rotation?
ALL of a sudden the Timberwolves have ‘too many’ good players on their team. It isn’t a bad problem by any means and while it’s clear that Wiggins, Butler and Towns will need time to gel, the rest of their team will need to be moulded around them. There is plenty of versatility and potential with the team at Thibodeau’s disposal and how he manages the teams minutes will play a big factor on how the team turns out.

2. Can They Live Up To The Hype?
INITIALLY, after the Butler trade, everyone was labelling Minnesota as the next big thing and as a championship calibre team. While they haven’t proved anything on the court yet, the expectations are high, even in the competitive West. Towns is expected to be the best big man in the league, Wiggings seems poised to take another step in his development and Butler is expected to provide the veteran leadership they desperately crave. How will they cope under the league’s scrutiny?

3. Is Teague The Answer?
AFTER they loaded up with stars on the perimeter and frontcourt, the Timberwolves needed to find someone who would run the show for the team. They quickly made Jeff Teague that someone at the start of free agency after he spent a year in Indiana. In that season with the Pacers, the eight-year vet averaged 7.8 assists and Minnesota are hoping that he can produce similar numbers for the team this year. If he is successful in doing so then it could go a long way to Minnesota being successful.

Record: 44-38
LET’S get one thing straight. Yes, they are a much better team with Butler at the helm, but yes they still have glaring issues. Thibs was meant to come in and fix this team defensively yet they struggled on that side of the ball. This is a playoff team make no mistake, but they have a long way to grown and a lot to learn before I can see them as a legitimate threat.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Roster Changes
TALK about roster changes! OKC have undergone the most noteworthy changes out of any NBA side, with trades bringing in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. It came at the expense of Doug McDermott, Victor Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis who were moved on via trade.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Will Westbrook Adapt?
IN the past Westbrook has shown he can co-exist with other stars, spending most of his career flanked by Harden and/or Durant. But things are slightly different now with his new superstar teammates used to having the ball in their hands for most of their time on the floor. Of course, all three of the stars will have to change their style of play but after the MVP season he just had, Westbrook will have to adapt and change his style of play the most.

2. Is It Enough To Beat Golden State?
THAT’S all that team like the Thunder have on their mind when making a change to their personnel. Now possessing an incredibly versatile scoring punch they definitely can outgun Golden State on any given night, but doing so over a seven game series is another question entirely.

3. How Important Is Patrick Patterson?
AFTER such a big turnover anyone who can provide productive minutes off the bench is a huge bonus for the Thunder. Since being taken in 2010, Patterson has established himself a great bench unit member for the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and most recently Toronto Raptors. Will he be able to provide the Thunder secondary with the same type of productivity?

Record: 54-28
UNLIKE some of the other new stars joining power I think OKC will take some time to become accustomed to the new makeup of the team. Once they do though expect the wins to come thick and fast as they claim the Northwest and make a push for a top two seed.

2017 NBA Preview - Northwest Division 2Image from twitter.com

Portland Trailblazers

Roster Changes
MOST of the new faces in Portland are rookies this year with very small alterations to the team from a year ago. Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli are the only departures worth mentioning while Anthony Morrow and Archie Goodwin now Trailblazers.

Three Questions That Matter

1. Can Jusuf Nurkic Stay Healthy?
HE made an immediate impact for Portland upon arrival averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 20 games as they rolled to a 14-6 record. However, injury issues derailed his season and eventually impacted the Blazers chances of advancing further in the playoffs. If he can stay in shape and avoid sitting on the sidelines too often then a new ‘Big 3’ could be born.

2. Was Trading The Expensive Allen Crabbe The Right Move?
HIS contract was ridiculous considering his output last season, but was moving him on the right move? There are plenty of bad contracts in the NBA today and a guy like Crabbe, who shot over 44% from three and averaged double-digit digit scoring isn’t the end of the world. Evan Turner (26.3% from three), Mo Harkless (35.1%) and Al-Farouq Aminu (32.9%) don’t seem like viable replacements as sharp shooting bench scorers either.

3. Is Their Backcourt Good Enough On Defense?
WE know that the Blazers duo at both guard spots can rival any team in the NBA. On offense. Neither are particularly good defenders and in the past, they have been exposed and as a result, Portland has struggled to take another leap in the playoffs. For Portland to emerge as the real deal they need to be able to slow the likes of Harden, Thompson, Westbrook, Curry, Butler and Paul in their conference. Your move Lillard and McCollum

Record: 41-41
WITH little bench depth a questionable defense and an unproven big man I’m predicting the Blazers to finish at exactly .500. There is a chance the could trend either downwards or upwards rapidly sure, but Lillard is too talented to let them slide and they lack quality players to make any playoff noise. They will put up 130-140 a few nights and upset some teams better than them, but that will remain their ceiling.

Utah Jazz

Roster Changes
GORDON Hayward is gone. The superstar opted to sign with Boston instead of rejoining the team where he called home for seven seasons. His departure caused massive changes in Utah with rookie Donovan Mitchell and veterans Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha the biggest additions to the roster. Along with Hayward, Jeff Withey, George Hill, Trey Lyles and Shelvin Mack are goners.

2017 NBA Preview - Northwest Division 3Image from twitter.com

Three Questions That Matter

1. Will The Real Alec Burks/Derrick Favours Please Stand Up?
THE time is now. With Hayward’s departure comes the opportunity for a player or players to step up and take on a bigger role in the team. Alec Burks (6 seasons) and Derrick Favours (7 seasons) have had plenty of time to break out and develop into better players, but here we are still waiting for their ‘breakout campaign’. Will 2017-18 be the season they finally do?

2. Just What Can They Expect From Donovan Mitchell?
AFTER his impressive Summer League stint, tons of fans are excited at the prospect of Mitchell bursting onto the scene and helping fill the void open at the two guard spot. The former Louisville Cardinal averaged over 15 points a game in college and he could very well prove to be a great scorer off the bench, or maybe even a future starter.

3. Will Rudy Gobert Expand His Offensive Game?
ALREADY one the best defenders in all of basketball, Rudy Gobert is continuing to become a star before our eyes. Gobert increased his scoring output in each of his first four seasons and last year he averaged 14 points each night. A lot of the Jazz’s success hinges on Gobert’s ability to push his PPG average closer to 20.

Record: 42-40
I hate to keep harping on about it but Gordon Hayward’s exit means this team won’t be as good as last year. The only way to record another 50 win season is if Gobert becomes an MVP candidate and Donovan Mitchell emerges as the steal of the draft. Otherwise, the Jazz will be fighting it out for one of the final playoff spots in the aggressive Western Conference.

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