NBA Season Previews, Northwest Division Part II: Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers

NORTHWEST DIVISION, Part II

Odds c/o Bovada

Here is the second half of the Northwest division preview, featuring the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.

Portland: Over/under 42 wins

The Portland Trail Blazers did little to change its outlook from last season’s mostly mediocre campaign. This is a playoff-worthy team, but little more. Damian Lillard is its star, and a great one at that, but Portland has one of the weakest frontcourt rotations in the league. It is hoping Jusuf Nurkic is enough, but he is likely not, and Al-Farouq Aminu is a versatile forward but hardly dominant. Maurice Harkless is a fringe starter, at best. The Blazers also lack depth in a major way, though the addition of Seth Curry could add some vital shooting to the second unit. Portland is likely to hover around .500 mostly because it is outclassed by so many teams in the Western Conference and also because there is little more upside to come in its major talents.

Shooting guard CJ McCollum starts alongside Lillard to form one of the league’s better backcourts, but that tandem really is not enough with such mediocre forwards and big men. The Blazers are still hoping second-year big man Zach Collins blossoms, but it has thought the same thing about Meyers Leonard for several seasons, and Evan Turner is one of the worst high-usage players of all reserves in the league. We cap this team at 45 wins, with 40 being the basement, and 42 nearly the median in that range. It means, again, we are going to PUSH on Portland’s 42-wins. It is an accurate mark for a team that is good, not great and has little chance of improving on what it did a year ago.

Utah: Over/under 49.5 wins

The Utah Jazz, for a number of reasons, are one of the most intriguing teams in the West. This curiosity begins with runner-up for Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell. Known affectionately as “Spida,” Mitchell was taken No. 13 overall last year to end up being probably the best in his draft class (Jayson Tatum enters this argument clearly). Mitchell now looks to build on last year’s campaign and provided he stays healthy, this should be his first All-Star season. The Jazz is a team built on a defensive identity too, and it goes from the 1 to the 5-position, with Ricky Rubio being a super point guard defender and Rudy Gobert being the league’s most dominant rim protector. The Jazz also possesses depth, and it is a team with few, if any, glaring weaknesses. Joe Ingles is quietly one of the better swingmen due to his deadeye shooting and underrated defense.

The Jazz also have a unique trio of players at the power forward spot, with Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder, and Georges Niang. Niang, in particular, looked really impressive in the preseason with his defense and athleticism, and Crowder is a lock-down defender in his own right. Favors has been something of a disappointment over his career, but he is still capable of a double-double on any given night.

Perhaps the biggest question mark on Utah’s roster is deciding what it can manage to get out of former No. 5 overall pick Dante Exum. Exum has been a flop mostly, but he seems to be showing some signs of possibly capitalizing on his high potential. Grayson Allen of Duke joins as this year’s rookie for the Jazz, and he could be a lot better than pundits (who mostly focus on his “dirty” plays) are willing to admit. Then again, that whole notion of surprising teams might be firmly behind Utah after how tough it played in the 2018 postseason. This could be another jump for Utah, and we like the OVER on the shoulders of Mitchell’s athleticism, maturity, and his leadership.

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