2013 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

Moving  on to the Western Conference, today we will preview the NBA’s Northwest Division. This division features a Thunder team with title aspirations and a pair of teams on the rise–the Portland Trail Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

What we like:

Any discussion of the Thunder must begin with Kevin Durant. The league’s best scorer, Durant is 24 carat gold with a basketball in his hands. He scored almost 1.6 points for every one shot he attempted last year. Still, without his injured running mate Russell Westbrook, Durant wasn’t able to lead the Thunder deep into the playoffs . Going into this year, there are many signs indicating that the Thunder could rule the West if some young bucks improve, everyone stays healthy, and Durant plays like, welp, Durant. Forward Serge Ibaka is a beast defensively and has slowly turned himself into a good offensive player. He’s developed an incredibly consistent jumper. Youthful guard Reggie Jackson is improving a lot too. He was thrust into a starting role last year in the playoffs. His game is a bit rough around the edges, but he’s a fantastic athlete and he’s turning himself into more of a 1. Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive stopper.

What we don’t:

Westbrook enters the season injured. His health is essential to the Thunder’s title chances. OKC is also weak in the frontcourt and bench. Kendrick Perkins doesn’t do much anymore except take up space. He’s far from an ideal starting center. Also, is Perry Jones III alive??? We worry.

Our call:

Durant and Westbrook are 24 and 25 years old respectively. They’re just going to keep getting better. And they’re both arguably top 5 players when healthy. Ibaka is freaking good too. If the Thunder’s supporting young supporting cast can grow up (and possibly be bolstered at some point during the season), there’s no reason the Thunder can’t win it all this year.

Will KD and Russ bring a championship to Loud City?

Will KD and Russ bring a championship to Loud City?

2. Portland Trail Blazers

What we like:

This Trail Blazers team is legit. Damian Lillard, fresh off a scintillating Rookie of the Year campaign, should lead the Trail Blazers (and hopefully improve defensively). He will again be joined by marksman Wesley Matthews and by total package wing Nicolas Batum, who exploded out of the gate last year before fading. The 24-year-old Batum is extremely dynamic offensively and plays great defense. He’s only going to get better. The Blazers also drafted C.J. McCollum with the tenth pick of the draft. McCollum was a prolific scorer in college who has been compared to Lillard. He will miss time early, but should be great when he recovers from a foot injury. The Trail Blazers’ frontcourt won’t be too shabby either. Lamarcus Aldridge might be the best offensive big in the Association and Portland signed Robin Lopez in the off-season. Lopez, who defends and does the little things, seems the perfect fit for this team.

What we don’t:

Mo Williams is good, but, beyond him, Portland’s bench is weak. The Trail Blazers also need to improve from where they were last winter defensively. We’re looking at you Dame.

Our call:

The Trail Blazers have the look of a playoff team. They should be good in the paint and around the perimeter. If the Trail Blazers stay healthy and improve defensively, they could flip their 33-49 record from last year into 49-33.

Lillard is a stud.

Lillard is a stud.

3. Denver Nuggets

What we like:

George Karl may be gone. Andre Igoudala may be too. But the Nuggets still should be able to score with the best of them. Ty Lawson is dynamite in the open floor. Danilo Gallinari has a good offensive game. And Kenneth Faried is a high energy and high efficiency player. The Nugs traded for Randy Foye, who will provide solid shooting, and Nate Robinson. Nate-Rob’s incredible play in the playoffs last April probably represented the highlight of his career. Wilson Chandler enters the season healthy(ish).

What we don’t:

There’s plenty of reason to expect the Nuggets to regress from last year (when they won 57 games before disappointing in the playoffs) in a considerable way. Karl managed to get Denver to overachieve, at least in the regular season, and they lost probably their best player in Iggy. Meanwhile, Gallinari is expected to miss the first couple months of the season. The Nuggets also traded starting center Kosta Koufos, which means more starts for Javale McGee. That can’t possibly be a good thing.

Our call:

The Nuggets have been a bad playoff team lately, but a fairly consistent regular season team. Brian Shaw’s first team in Denver probably is a solid group, but they might have to scratch and claw to make the playoffs, if they get there at all. Certainly don’t expect them to win 57 games again.

Brian Shaw and the Nuggets will have their work cut out for them.

Brian Shaw and the Nuggets will have their work cut out for them.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

What we like:

Rick Adelman remains one of the more underappreciated coaches in the NBA and he’s got a team in Minnesota this year that could make some noise. Star power forward Kevin Love is healthy. Point guard Ricky Rubio, perhaps the best ball handler in the league, is healthy too and could be in for a big season (who knows, perhaps he’ll even break 40% from the field). The addition of sharp shooting Kevin Martin could add some pop to what was at times a punchless T-Wolves offense last season. Center Nikola Pekovic has made marked improvement in three years with Minnesota. He averaged almost 16 and 9 last year. Derrick Williams is a stud too.

What we don’t:

Williams is a freak, but the Timberwolves are still one of the least athletic teams in the NBA. There also have to be injury concerns and the Timberwolves will need to (and should) improve offensively.

Our call:

The Timberwolves are on the rise, but there won’t be much margin of error for them if they’re going to sneak into the playoffs. They don’t have any true go-to scorers and their bench will be weak. Big seasons from Love, Pekovic, and Rubio are absolute musts.

Ricky being Ricky.

Ricky being Ricky.

5. Utah Jazz

What we like:

Not much. Derrick Favors could be poised to explode and Gordon Hayward is a solid player, but Utah’s roster screams tank. If Trey Burke could come in and have a big rookie season, that would be great for fan morale.

What we don’t:

Bad starting lineup. Bad bench. And their nickname still doesn’t make sense.

Our call:

The Jazz should have pretty good odds on the night of the Draft Lottery.

Burke was sooo good in college. How will he do in the pros?

Burke was sooo good in college. How will he do in the pros?

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8 responses to “2013 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

  1. Pingback: Here Comes Portland | College Sports Town

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