There may not be many teams in the league that are in a rebuild that understands the state of the franchise quite like the Nuggets. Denver is collecting assets that will develop over time and have enough talent for now that can get them by without being a laughing stock. With the trio of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, and Nikola Jokic this team is ready for a season to develop this great core of talent.
The backcourt of Mudiay and Murray has a combination of speed and shooting. This will have fans excited for what the future will have in store. With Darrell Arthur, Danilo Gallinari, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried and Garry Harris you have players that will be good in the short term all while the core trio blossoms for everyone to see.
Head coach Mike Malone will act as the “bridge” that will take this team through the growing pains it will experience. A big question to look for is will Denver decide to trade their best assets in Gallinari and Faried? If they pick up young wing players and draft picks then you do those deals if not then you couldn’t hang up the phone fast enough. What is stopping Denver from picking up the phone and calling Washington to offer Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic for Kelly Oubre Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and a 1 st round pick Who Says no? If this roster stays intact, expect to see a fast-paced offense equipped with three-point shooting maniacs that will have a 23-59 record the cellar of the Northwest Division.
Speaking of teams that are ready to bust through walls like the Kool-Aid man. Ladies and gentlemen let me introduce you to the Timberwolves. With the perfect hiring of head coach Tom Thibodeau who can take this team to new heights. The Timberwolves will start and stop with Karl Anthony-Towns 2015 first overall pick who is the next Anthony Davis. Towns is a hybrid stretch five power forward who is just a monster who will continue the pace he set as rookie of the year last season. Paired with Towns is 2014 first overall Andrew Wiggins who is a perfect complement star who will fit right in with what Thibodeau wants to do with the small-forward position that Wiggins just like Jimmy Butler in Chicago.
Ever since Ricky Rubio entered the league in the 2011-2012 season, he has never been a good shooter from anywhere on the floor. What Rubio is best at is the elite setup and passing ability he possesses. Rubio’s court vision and knowing how to run an offense is huge knowing he can drive the lane kick it out to Zach Lavine for 3, Towns for a wide open jumper, or Wiggins who is ready to jam in opposing players’ face. Thibodeau needs to use Rubio and lightning quick Lavine as your guard duo all season and watch them torch older teams and undisciplined backcourts each night. The Timberwolves will have a 44-38 record 3rd place in the division and break the wall down barely beating out Houston for the #8 seed.
Second-year head coach Quinn Snyder has helped develop a roster that is primed for a playoff berth and only getting better with each passing season. Trading for George Hill and only giving up a meaningless first round pick to Atlanta, shipping Trey Burke out of town, and the return of Dante Exum with his uber-athleticism makes this team night and day better at the biggest position of need. The starting five of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Heyward, Derick Favors and Rudy Gobert is one of the best in the league. This starting lineup has the combination of outside shooting, a mid-range game, and monsters on the block giving the Jazz the potential to match up with every team in the league.
The offseason addition of Joe Johnson on a team friendly contract will pay dividends coming off the bench posing as an outside threat and the ability to drive the lane on occasion. Johnson will be the leader of the second unit that will include Exum, Alec Burks and Trey Lyles who has excellent athleticism and will be ready to woo crowds each night. The same can’t be said about Joe Ingles who looks like he should be playing a bench role for a team in China. The Jazz will show the league that once it’s in the playoffs, they could potentially upset a higher seed. Let’s call their record 47-35 the #7 seed just behind the Memphis Grizzlies.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Strap on your seat belts and get ready to watch Russell Westbrook bully, mean mug, break backboards and scream his way through the NBA. We haven’t seen a player since Lebron’s first stint with the Cavs where a player will be able to roam free and get to any point on the floor without having to hinder his numbers. Westbrook will have a new running mate in Victor Oladipo who will be prepared to step into a larger role with this Thunder team. Expect to see Oladipo get wide open looks all season due to Westbrook driving the lane with fierce aggression opening up the perimeter for Oladipo to hit corner threes and mid-range jumpers. It won’t be surprising to see Westbrook average 27 points 9 rebounds and ten assists per game to take home the 2016-2017 MVP trophy.
Billy Donovan has to be thrilled to hand the keys of the offense to Westbrook who will also have the luxury of a big man duo in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Kanter is the perfect big man to have in the same lineup as Westbrook. As a do it all power-forward Kanter has a good jump shot that is almost automatic and a better than expected three point shot. He is a tough guard for centers that want to stay home in the lane to roam the paint, and bigger power forwards have a tough time guarding him due to his offensive skill set.
You also can’t put a stretch four who is a small forward on him due to Kanter having a big frame with great post moves. Adams his teammate in the front court will set bone crushing screens, crash the boards, and play very nice post defense. Expect to see the Thunder barely get past Memphis in the standings to capture the #5 seed in the playoffs with a 51-31 record and 2nd in the Northwest Division.
Portland Trail Blazers:
The big question with this team, is too much of something good a bad thing? This will be a problem especially when you have backcourt players that all do the same thing and need the ball in their hands to be effective. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are ball dominate players who make up a bulk of the scoring. Pair that with a good distributor in Evan Turner that is at his best when the ball is in his hands.
Then you have Allen Crabbe who is more of a catch and shoot player. Crabbe isn’t getting paid four years 75 million just to be a bench player who occasionally fills the scoring void on off nights for the starters. Crabbe is going to expect to get shots and opportunities to score just like the others. This will cause a headache that head coach Terry Stotts will have a hard time figuring out the right lineups to optimize these crucial players to this roster for the upcoming season.
A lot has been said about the job that the Blazers did last season pushing the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs. The Blazers will be able to build on the confidence they gained from last season and the chemistry they have by bringing the band back together. General Manager Neil Olshey has done a great job rebuilding this roster on the fly and finding the right mix of players to go with Lillard and McCollum. You need unselfish role players who know what they are, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Maurice Harkless fit the mold very well and will be key contributors.
The Northwest division will be the toughest in league with four playoff teams and 3 of them close in talent. This will come down to the wire with the Portland crowd willing the Blazers to close home wins to get to a record of 51-31. They will beat out the Thunder on the head to head and conference records to squeak by to be division champs and the #4 seed heading into the playoffs.