Welcome back to the fourth edition of my NBA season previews. Today I am looking at the Northwest division. You are probably getting sick of me plugging my twitter (@onpointayden) but if you followed me already, then you could ignore my plugs, so you know what to do. Also, if you missed any of the previous editions, you can catch them at the links below:
Enough plugging, on with the preview.
Oklahoma City Thunder
2018-19 Season Finish: 4th in division, 6th in conference
2019-20 Predicted Finish: 5th in conference, 13th in division
Ceiling: If CP3 buys into the Thunder, I don’t think they will be as bad as people think they will be. However, I do think that the teams I have placed above them are all significantly better as well, therefore I would be mighty surprised if they finished above 13th.
Realistic Finish: 13th or 14th. I think the Thunder are better than the Grizz but I wouldn’t be surprised to see PHX finish ahead of them…well, maybe a little cos LOLPHX.
Star In The Making: His numbers were fairly modest for his rookie campaign but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has all the tools to become a star. He has wingspan (just under 7′), which is what all teams are looking for these days. He also has a very high basketball IQ, which can’t be taught. He will also be learning under one of the greatest to ever do it in Chris Paul (until he is inevitably traded away to Miami), which will allow him to develop his playmaking and defensive skills. But the biggest reason he will probably be a star is because my Hornets drafted him and chose to trade him away. You know who else we drafted and chose to trade away? The 14th best player of all-time according to definitely not the worst rankings I’ve ever seen, Kobe Bryant.
Under The Radar: It is entirely possible that I am biased but the Big Kiwi, Steven Adams put up some solid numbers last season (14 points, 9.5 boards, 1 block and 1.5 steals per game). This is not a slight on Russell Westbrook but with him gone, that not only will allow Steve to grab more boards, which he is easily capable of doing, but will open up some offensive opportunities for him as well. Look for Steve’s numbers to go up across the board this season. Get it…board? Like rebound? Ahh, forget it.
Make Or Break: It’s gotta be Andre Roberson, doesn’t it? He didn’t play at all last season, only played in 39 games the season before, and Nerlens Noel just revealed that Roberson hasn’t been participating in any camps or warmups with the rest of the team, meaning he STILL isn’t ready. I genuinely hope he can get back on the court but if he struggles to this season, I think it’s fair to say his career might be done.
Anything Else?: Isn’t it ironic that this team has shown incredible loyalty (taking back a terrible contract just so they could trade Russ where he wanted to go, flying out to visit Mike fucking Muscala of all people etc) is owned by the dude that fucked the Sonics and the city of Seattle by basically stealing their team?
2018-19 Season Finish: 5th in division, 11th in conference
Predicted 2019-20 Finish: 4th in division, 11th in conference
Ceiling: The Wolves have the talent to push for a playoff spot, especially if Wiggins reaches his potential. I don’t see them higher than the 7th seed though.
Realistic Finish: I think there are 8 teams better than the Wolves, like legitimately better. That 9-12 is wide open though so anywhere within there is realistic.
Star In The Making: Josh Okogie has shown serious potential, particularly as a great defender. He doesn’t make risky steal plays but instead makes smart decisions on when to play the passing lane. He is also a good rebounder for his size (6’4) as well as an underrated passer, due to the fact that he doesn’t get many assists on the stats sheet. I’d argue last season, other than Jrue Holiday, Okogie actually did the best job on defending Harden’s step-back shot.
Under The Radar: Jake Layman had a career year last year after finally earning minutes in Portland, and was one of the better lowkey FA acquisitions this offseason. He showed himself to be a versatile scorer and also sneaky athletic with some of his dunks, and is also a solid rebounder. He does need to hit the 3 at a better clip for the amount he shoots it (2.5 attempts in 18 mins/gm) but if he does that, I expect a leap from Layman this year.
Make Or Break: I know he has already signed a max contract but man, Wiggins might be the most hated (or hated on at least) max player ever, and to be fair, it’s with good reason. The dude has been trash and shown little to no effort in every facet of his game except shot quantity. He even complained about not getting enough shots last season despite leading the team in shots taken and usage rate. But new PBO Gersson Rosas had a very honest talk with Wiggins, placing all of the onus on him. It is now time for Wiggins to either prove the haters wrong, or right.
Anything Else?: Are those lime green jerseys gone forever? Because I think they might be one of the worst uses for Lime Green, a generally bad ass colour, ever. It just does not work for this team.
Portland Trail Blazers
2018-19 Season Finish: 2nd in division, 3rd in conference
Predicted 2019-20 Finish: 3rd in division, 8th in conference
Ceiling: The pairing of Lillard and McCollum are amongst the best in the league and can score on anyone…except Jrue Holiday. This division is really tough and the Blazers are one of the teams always underestimated so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them tear shit up again and get a top four seed.
Realistic Finish: I think the Blazers will miss Harkless and Aminu, guys who can defend the bigger perimeter players as well as all but the most dominant big men in the league, more than they realise. They replaced those two with Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver. All respect to those two but that is a massive downgrade.
Star In The Making: Zach Collins numbers really jumped up in his second season, when you look at it on a per minute basis, as I love to do. He averaged 16 points and just under 10 boards per 40 minutes with a True Shooting % of about 56%. Add to this the fact that Collins is penciled in as the starting PF this season, with more minutes and more improvement, Collins should be even better this year. Also, he is a fantastic shot blocker and his block on Klay was arguably the best of all last season.
Under The Radar: It may seem like I am choosing this based on one game, and you’re kind of right. Anfernee Simons didn’t get much playing time last season. He had a couple flashes; a game where he had 9 points in just 6 minutes of play and another where he had 4 points in less than 2 minutes of play. But then came the infamous game…the 48 minute game. In a game against Sacramento, Simons played all 48 minutes in his first career start, scored 37 points to go along with 9 assists and 6 boards. He also went 7-11 from 3. While he won’t be playing any games like that again anytime soon, his minutes will go up as the main backup to Dame, and him learning from one of the top PGs in the league can never hurt either.
Make Or Break: Yes, I know he blocked LeBron James’ game-winning shot attempt last season, thereby inheriting the crown of the best player in the league, but it seems the rest of the league didn’t get the memo about Mario Herzonja. A guy who always said in Orlando that he “just needed an opportunity” has now had a couple of opportunities and failed to really impress. He will have an increased opportunity in Portland with Aminu and Harkless gone, so can he capitalise or is he destined to go the Jeff Green route and sign one year, veteran minimum deals for life?
Anything Else?: If you didn’t know, Damian Lillard released a rap album this year. A pretty good one, at least by today’s standards. He also had a ‘rap beef’ with Marvin Bagley III, where Dame eviscerated him in a diss track called MARRRVINNN!!!??? And just very recently, Dame basically called Shaq a “not-real rapper” which caused Shaq to come out of retirement and release an admittedly pretty good diss track towards Dame, with no response from him as of yet. I love that my two favourite worlds, basketball and rap, are colliding but the best rapper ever from the NBA was Kobe Bryant, hands down… and yes, that was sarcasm.
2018-19 Season Finish: 3rd in division, 5th in conference
2019-20 Predicted Finish: 2nd in division, 3rd in conference
Ceiling: I truly believe that now they have a PG who can take the pressure off of Mitchell in the backcourt, not to mention the addition of Bogdanovic, the Jazz have the potential to be the #1 seed in the West.
Realistic Finish: I believe the Nuggets and Clippers are better teams. I also think the Lakers are probably better in a seven game series but due to reasons I’ll expand on in a further piece, I give the Jazz the 3rd seed.
Star In The Making: He may already be a borderline all-star talent as it is but my unwritten rules dictate that as long as they haven’t made an all-star game, I can pick them so I am picking Donovan Mitchell. He put up great numbers last season with no real offensive help. With Conley and Bogdanovic coming aboard, things should just open up inside for Mitchell to drive, meaning he won’t have to force many bad shots and efficiency should go up. I’m predicting now that Mitchell makes the all-star game this season.
Under The Radar: It’s probably a bit strange to put a 31-year-old here but I am going to anyway. Joe Ingles aka my favourite Australian ever is one of those guys who does a lot of things that just don’t get appreciated. He averaged 12 points, 6 assists and 4 boards a game while shooting 40% from deep last season. Those are just quality numbers. Don’t forget, this is also the guy that trash talked Paul George then backed it up.
Make Or Break: There was once very high hopes in Utah for the other Australian there, Dante Exum. He was drafted 5th overall back in 2014 and despite not having a stellar rookie campaign, there was promise. Well, since then he has played in only 122 of a possible 246 games. Even when healthy, he has only shown brief flashes of brilliance mixed in with terrible efficiency. I believe he still has two years left on his extension but if he doesn’t get healthy quick, we might see him in the NBL before too long.
Anything Else?: This is just a little fun fact. I think that if you took the % of every teams uniforms that I have loved, the Jazz may have the highest mark of any of them. Very few misses when it comes to Utah uniforms.
2018-19 Season Finish: 1st in division, 2nd in conference
2019-20 Predicted Finish: 1st in division, 1st in conference
Ceiling: It’s title or bust for the Nugs. Well, maybe it’s more than that. They have a really young core so maybe one title isn’t enough? Regardless, for this season, it’s title or bust.
Realistic Finish: The West is going to be so tough but it was tough last year and the Nugs led right up until the end. 1st in the West is a very realistic possibility for this team.
Star In The Making: The Nuggets front office obviously think very highly of Jamal Murray, giving him a 5 year, $170m extension this offseason. Murray has shown flashes of brilliance but seems to be marred by horrible inconsistency. The Nugs brass will be hoping Murray took that extension as an incentive to work hard rather than chill since he secured the bag aka the Wiggins special.
Under The Radar: I’m deadly serious when I say this might be my favourite acquisition of the whole offseason; when the Nugs traded for Jerami Grant. Last season, Grant took the starting PF role from the ghost of Patrick Patterson, and boy, did he exceed expectations. He averaged career highs across the board, including a whopping 39% from 3 while also playing all-NBA level defense on positions 2-5, and he is bringing that energy to DEN. With a more spread offense (rather than standing in the corner hoping/waiting for a Russ kick out), Grant’s numbers should go up and up this year.
Make Or Break: I don’t think anyone is really in danger of losing their job in DEN, but Gary Harris does have some doubters that he needs to prove wrong. After signing his extension two seasons ago, Harris had a bit of a stinker last year, dealing with injuries and whatnot. He needs to prove that A) he can stay healthy, and B) that his play in the 17-18 campaign wasn’t a fluke. Although it might be all for nought if the Nugs send him in a package to Washington for Bradley Beal…
Anything Else?: You know how I just mentioned above that the Jazz might have the highest % of any team in terms of how many uniforms I’ve liked? Well, the Nuggest are probably the other team atop that list.