The E2GSports NBA’s 75th season preview and breakdown continues with a look at the Northwest Division in the Western Conference. The reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, emerged from the Northwest and on the roster of the Denver Nuggets, but it was not enough to lead the Nuggets to a Northwest title. In case you missed it, do well to read our previews on the Atlantic, Southwest, Central, Pacific and Southeast Divisions.
Now to the breakdown: UTAH JAZZ Arrivals: Rudy Gay Eric Paschall Hassan Whiteside Departures: Derrick Favors Georges Niang STRENGTH: The Utah Jazz are healthy favorites to win the Northwest as a result of their key talents returning. While the Jazz added some depth pieces in the offseason, they have their team from last season together and When Derrick Favors is the biggest name leaving a team that won the Northwest Division, it has to be a big positive.
Returning to the Jazz are all of their top contributors from last season. Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic are back on the court. Mitchell led the team with 26.4 points per game. The combo of Mitchell, Conley and Clarkson in the backfield provides the Jazz with a lot of options.
GEM: Jordan Clarkson off the bench just might be the most important piece of this team. As important as Mitchell, Conley and Gobert are, the Jazz would not have taken off without Clarkson. The former Laker scored 18.4 points per game on 42.5% shooting in a reserve role. For his efforts, Clarkson won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season, and there is a decent chance that the 29-year-old repeats and wins the Sixth Man for the 2021-22 campaign again.
DENVER NUGGETS Arrivals: Jeff Green Departures: JaVale McGee Paul Millsap STRENGTH: Even with Jamal Murray recovering from a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament, the Nuggets still possess firepower to generate offense. Nikola Jokic is one of the best offensive players in NBA history and the reigning MVP. The Serbian can score at all levels, sling passes and bludgeon you on the offensive glass if all else fails. Michael Porter Jr. just flirted with one of the most efficient 20-a-night seasons in recent memory (19.0 points, 66.3% Shooting percentage) and should be tasked with more responsibility while Murray is out.
Preseason ✅ Let's take a look at some of those top plays again… pic.twitter.com/geLa0WICHf — Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 15, 2021
A healthy Will Barton can get buckets and beat scrambling defenses with kick-outs and dump-offs when necessary. Austin Rivers can provide relief buckets.
WEAKNESS: I wonder who the threatening rim pressure guys are going to be while Jamal Murray is out injured. Jokic will create a ton with his high post passing to cutters, but it would be nice if someone could consistently get downhill without assistance.
GEM: With Murray out indefinitely, Monte Morris will take over as the lead point guard. He has been efficient in his career with a 5:1 assist/turnover ratio but that is over limited minutes. With increased usage, we hope to see him maintain that level of production. His scoring is also bound to take a leap in Denver’s high-powered offense.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS Arrivals: Ben McLemore Larry Nance, Jr. Patrick Patterson Tony Snell Cody Zeller Departures: Carmelo Anthony Zach Collins Enes Kanter STRENGTH: There are a few guys in the league that guarantee you a top-10 offense on the court and Damian Lillard is one of them. He is the second-most dangerous pull-up shooter in the NBA and complements that with legit driving and playmaking. Joining him in the backcourt is CJ McCollum, one of the NBA’s best number twos and a pull-up artist in his own right. Flanking them is Norman Powell, a 40% three-point shooter on high volume that drives with ruthless aggression.
If healthy, the trio could flirt with 70 points a night on a high-30%, low-40% clip from three.
WEAKNESS: While Nurkic is talented, he is finding it increasingly difficult to stay on the floor with a healthy body, as his consistent visit to the Doctor’s office has proven. For the Blazers to have success, Nurkic must elevate and stay in the game this season.
GEM: With the exit of Rodney Hood, most of the backup minutes at guard spots will likely fall to Anfernee Simons. The 22-year-old slam dunk champion is entering his fourth year on the heels of a 42% 3pt shooting campaign. A massive uptick in usage could see his scoring jump from an average of 8 to potentially 13-16 a game and double his three-pointers made.
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES Arrivals: Patrick Beverley Taurean Prince Departures: Ricky Rubio Juancho Hernangomez STRENGTH: With family distraction aside, Karl-Anthony Towns is as elite as they come. Alongside a litany of young talents the Minnesota Timberwolves will have little to no excuses for another 20 to 30 win season. Towns is one of the best big men in the league and he now has had a full offseason to connect with Rookie of the Year Finalist Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, provided Russell stays healthy.
17 pts. 9 reb. 4 ast. KAT's ready for regular season. pic.twitter.com/IuStdjTEIK — Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 12, 2021
WEAKNESS: Minnesota has yet to have high hopes at the beginning of a season since Jimmy Butler was traded there from Chicago in 2017. This season is no different. They seem like they are in a constant rebuild, with new players coming in and out all the time. Even the front office experienced turmoil with the firing of GM, Gersson Rosas after it was revealed that he was, among other things, having an affair with an employee.
GEM: Anthony Edwards’ talent is undeniable. With an average of 19 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, the 20-year-old showed flashes of brilliance but struggled from the 3pt line, shooting 32%. He is a fairly good contributor in rebounds and assists, but will have to prove his value in defensive stats and from the 3point line.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER Arrivals: Derrick Favors Josh Giddey Tre Mann Departures: Al Horford Tony Bradley STRENGTH: The Oklahoma City Thunder are entering the second season of their rebuild process and as the roster continues to get younger, the amount of untapped potential continues to rise. The Thunder may not be a very competitive team in the 2021-22 season, but they have one of the brightest futures in the entire NBA. WEAKNESS: OKC is going to have its hands full in the West. They did not make major moves to justify any jump in the standings and they should get destroyed just like a rebuilding team should.
GEM: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going to be a player to watch. The Canadian missed much of last season with an injury, including the Olympic qualifying event, but is ready to go for the 2021-22 campaign. I would be surprised if Gilgeous-Alexander fails to make an All-Star spot this season. He averaged 23.7 points and 5.9 assists per game in 35 games before getting injured. Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter: @kayodemed.