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NBA 2016-2017 Preview: Northwest Division

The division preview series continues with the up and coming Northwest division, which has been dominated for years by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Will a new team take their crown?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Utah Jazz:

Added: George Hill, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw

Lost: Trevor Booker, Trey Burke

Summary: The Utah Jazz won 40 games in the 2016 season. They did so despite three of their best players missing a significant amount of time with injuries, and their prized 2014 rookie (Dante Exum) sitting out the entire year. In addition to hoping for a year with better injury luck, the Jazz made moves to ensure they reach the playoffs this season. Their weakest position was point guard last season, so they traded a 1st round pick for underrated combo guard George Hill. Hill isn’t a dynamic player, but he’s a terrific defender and three-point shooter who will fit superbly alongside star Gordon Hayward. Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw add playmaking ability to the bench along with veteran know-how and playoff experience, useful traits for a still-young Utah team. Coach Quin Snyder gets players to buy in to his system, and he now has all the tools to lead his team to the playoffs. Not only that, but if their fortune with injuries reverses, they could be one of the stronger squads in the league.

Predicted Record: 49-33

Oklahoma City Thunder:

Added: Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, Joffrey Lauvergne, Domantas Sabonis, Ronnie Price

Lost: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, Randy Foye

Summary: The Thunder lost their best player of all time and a perennial MVP candidate in Kevin Durant. Even worse, they lost him for nothing. Fellow franchise staple Serge Ibaka was sent to Orlando for Oladipo, Ilyasova, and Sabonis. After being a Western Conference contender for half a decade, the Thunder are now in the middle of the pack, just another team trying to make the playoffs in the crowded West.

The reason I like them better than most of those other teams is because they still have Russell Westbrook. Russ has come a long way since he entered the league, and is firmly a top 10 NBA player. He can drag them to 40 wins practically by himself, as he did in 2015. Steven Adams is one of the best centers in the NBA, and his presence will ensure a not-horrible defense. Oladipo is a polarizing player, someone who has tremendous athleticism and skills, but still struggles with efficiency and consistent production. If he can make a leap, the Thunder could still slide into the 4th spot in the West. Even if not, they should be an immensely fun team that makes the playoffs with ease.

Predicted Record: 45-37

Portland Trailblazers:

Added: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier

Lost: Gerald Henderson, Tim Frazier

Summary: The Blazers shocked expectations last year by making the playoffs. They did so by having a versatile supporting cast behind their dual pistons of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and by taking advantage of an injury-riddled Western Conference. This season the West should be better, and the Blazers aren’t going to be sneaking up on anybody. They had very little roster turnover, however, and still have a decent amount of talent. On the other hand, Portland doesn’t have too much upside outside of a couple big men, and their injury luck might not hold up for another year. They are going to be a good, fun team who can’t challenge any of the top teams in the West.

Predicted Record: 43-39

Minnesota Timberwolves:

Added: Kris Dunn, Cole Aldrich, Brandon Rush, Jordan Hill,

Lost: Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller

Summary: The Minnesota Timberwolves hit the jackpot in the 2015 draft, striking absolute gold with center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns averaged 18-10 on good efficiency, showed playmaking ability, and flashed signs of being a dominant rim-protector. Barring injuries, he is going to be an All Star for at least ten years, and has good odds at winning an MVP or two. The rest of the roster just isn’t as exciting. Andrew Wiggins can score, but he does so inefficiently, and he doesn’t do much else on the court. He and Zach LaVine have time to improve their all-around games, but nothing from last year suggested they will be ready to lead a playoff push this season.

The T-Wolves did add some solid veterans this summer, picking up a god amongst men in Cole Aldrich, as well as Brandon Rush, a good 3 and D wing. These newcomers will stabilize a rotation that got very thin at times last year, and should be good fits with the Wolves’ younger players. Another improvement should be at backup point guard, as rookie Kris Dunn will almost certainly be able to contribute positively right away. Overseeing it all will be head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau. Thibs is going to work his magic on the defensive end, where the T-Wolves should improve immensely. The question is if they have enough offensively to become a playoff team. I still think they need another year.

Predicted Record: 40-42

Denver Nuggets:

Added: Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Malik Beasley

Lost: Joffrey Lauvergne, DJ Augustin

Summary: The Nuggets are fascinating and boring at the same time. Nikola Jokic came out of nowhere last year to be one of the best rookies in a stacked class, showing off advanced playmaking and scoring skills at a young age. He is joined by a bevy of other youngsters: the three new rookies this season, Jusuf Nurkic, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Gary Harris. They are a promising core that should be a playoff team in a couple years. However, their established veteran talent simply isn’t up to par in the Western Conference. Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler are solid players, but both are injury prone, and they aren’t young enough to improve anymore. Kenneth Faried is an overrated role player, and the rest of their veterans are bench guys, nothing more. The Nuggets will be mediocre, but should be enjoyable to follow.

Predicted Record: 37-45