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2017-18 Season Preview: Northwest Division

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In the division with the most change among their combined team’s rosters, the Northwest is about to see some extremely competitive records across the board for the first time in many years.

To each their own, but here I will rank where I see each team sitting within the division by the end of the season and based on many factors starting from top to bottom.

Oklahoma City Thunder (Division Rank 1)

The Thunder have GM Sam Presti to thank for the incredible season that is likely to bless the team that watched their former franchise player perform on the biggest stage and win a ring in Golden State last season.

Westbrook is coming off of an MVP season and will likely be looking to improve the team as a whole with the help of Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and a slew of new and returning pieces on a team that was ousted in the first round of the postseason last year.

George and Anthony not only bring star power to a roster that was lacking it, they also bring two new dimensions to the team.

George is a lockdown defender on the perimeter, or at least used to be, throw him and Andre Roberson into the rotation together and their length and defensive prowess is going to torment teams. This isn’t to say George won’t be heavily involved in the offense, as he did average 23.7 points in Indiana last season so you can expect a drive and dish system with Melo and Westbrook to work alongside PG.

Melo gives the Thunder the offensive firepower they so desperately missed following the departure of Kevin Durant. He can be their go to scorer if Russ is out of the game or if the other team chooses to focus more on one of the other stars. He isn’t as versatile as Durant is, but he can be a spot up shooter and can score from a variety of places on the floor.

Westbrook needs to get his team more involved rather than playing for himself, but if Melo and PG provide what people are expecting, the team should flourish. Look for Steven Adams, Patrick Patterson and Roberson to play huge roles for this team too.

Utah Jazz (Division Rank 2)

Is it weird that I rank the Jazz this high? I can see why many people would think so, but to me, it is on the basis of proven ability rather than sheer talent. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect them to do well in the playoffs after losing a player like Gordon Hayward and adding nothing close to that in return, but as a regular season team I see their potential.

Quinn Snyder is an amazing coach that has a lot of depth and interesting pieces to play with.

Rudy Gobert is going to be the focal point of the team now with new pieces like Ricky Rubio and rookie Donovan Mitchell slotting in with veterans like Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles on the roster.

Dante Exum is back on the court, Joe Johnson showed he still has some game left in the tank and with a potentially healthy roster, this team is deep enough to wear out most opponents. Particularly in the case of injuries, they are again prepared should disaster strike similarly to last season for them.

Not a playoff favorite for me, but I trust the roster and coaching staff to get them a good regular season record.

Denver Nuggets (Division Rank 3)

I have no idea what this team is doing but I am putting money on them to over-perform this year.

They don’t have a true point guard that will hold up to real competition unless they trade some of their excess at the big slots for someone later in the season, but the roster seems to mesh well.

Gary Harris is an incredible talent that seems ready to burst out this season. Nikola Jokic is in the same boat with skills most bigmen wish they could have and now he has an All-Star caliber running mate in the defensive stalwart and consistent offensive threat Paul Millsap.

Their depth is the only question mark for me. Far too many bigs and a lack of guard depth could hurt them in the regular season without trades, but come playoff time I want to see the team working together and being the inside out threat I envision when I look at the roster.

Minnesota Timberwolves (Division Rank 4)

I have no faith in this roster. Beyond Karl-Anthony Towns being a transcendent talent and Jimmy Butler being one of the best two-way players in the game, no one else on this roster seems to fit the mold of a good team from years past.

I could be wrong seeing as analysts are all raving about getting players that can play multiple positions from a wing base, which Minnesota has plenty of in Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Butler, but the lack of shooting is what worries me. Bringing in Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson is not the best way to sure up anything to do with outside shooting. If anything it only bolsters one thing, defense.

If the defense that Tom Thibodeau is known for can’t hold up or someone on the team develops a killer shooting stroke, I’m looking at you Wiggins, then I can’t see them getting much out of this season beyond slight improvements overall.

This one will be the death of me as I love the Wolves’ organization, but until they prove me wrong, I don’t put a lot of faith into their system.

Portland Trailblazers (Division Rank 5)

I really wanted to put Portland higher because I love the fans and I love the players as people, but the synergy we saw last year was a mess.

They didn’t answer questions about reliability at small forward or power forward over the summer, unless Zach Collins is their starter at the four. They have the depth at those positions, but Evan Turner is better as a backup ball handler off the bench while Mo Harkless takes the starting minutes, namely due to the lack of point guard depth, and guard depth in general that plagues the Blazers for yet another season.

Power forward is a no man’s land where stretch possibilities, a rookie and disappointing players like Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh will spend their days being eaten alive by players like Millsap, Favors and Towns. This was a weakness they needed to fill in a major way and failed to do anything with it.

I like the team and can see them surprising me should Jusuf Nurkić be healthy and ready to go rather than sluggish and lazy like he was in Denver, but I still put the least amount of stock in the supporting cast surrounding Dame Lillard and C. J. McCollum as the season draws closer.

About Cale Michael

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