NBA Season Previews, Northwest Division Pt. I: Denver Nuggets, Minnesota T-Wolves, OKC Thunder

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Northwest Divsion Part I

Odds c/o Bovada

The Northwest division is one of the most solid in the Association. All five of its teams made the postseason in 2018, and it is quite likely that repeats itself as this division returns five teams, while not necessarily true contenders, that are tough “outs” and absolutely postseason worthy. We will begin by examining the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves,  and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Denver Nuggets: Over/under 47.5 wins

The Denver Nuggets are good but a quite unique team. Its primary playmaker is its center, Nikola Jokic. He passes better than any guard on the roster. The Nuggets lack a true point guard, though, and start sharpshooter Jamal Murray at the 1-spot. He is flanked on the wings by two big scorers in Gary Harris and Will Barton, while Isaiah Thomas should offer yet more scoring punch off the bench. Denver also will benefit from a (hopefully) full and healthy season from All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, whose defense and versatility on the offensive end easily makes him one of the best non-household names in the league.

But it really begins and ends with Jokic. He quietly has been making his ascent to stardom. Last year, he averaged 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game—leading all centers. Jokic also can stroke the three just like a guard (39.6 percent) and posted a PER of 24.52. To ignore just how good Jokic really is, is to entirely miss the picture of this Denver team.

Whether its unorthodox approach can ultimately evolve into a contending team is tougher to say. The Nuggets have plenty of scoring and play better defense than often credited for, but it is in the league’s tougher conference and out-classed by all the top tier teams in it. Even so, the Nuggets should be able to replicate and even improve on what it did a year ago, mostly without Millsap. We like the OVER simply because Denver is sneaky good, evidenced by it snapping a massive Golden State win streak two seasons ago, but accentuated with its sneaky depth and overlooked star players.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Over/under 41.5 wins

The Minnesota Timberwolves were a massive disappointment last year. And it has only gotten worse with Jimmy Butler’s bizarre behavior this week in practice. According to eye-witness reports, Butler teamed up with third-stringers to whip up on the T-Wolves starters, all the while talking to trash to his teammates and the entire organization. Butler is likely on his way out, but what can the Wolves even ask for him with his behavior? Their hands are sheerly dealt into trading the All-Star swingman for what will likely be pennies on the dollar. That still leaves Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns to help this team reach its final destination, and for all Tom Thibodeau’s faults, he is still a premier coach.

Getting more out of Wiggins on the defensive end must be a priority because not only Butler but all swingmen see Wiggins as a massive target on the defensive end. Towns is one of the most gifted centers in the league, but Butler has heavily criticized his toughness (or lack thereof) and his dedication to Fortnite video games over his profession. As to how much truth that holds, probably a lot. The Timberwolves also probably erred in cutting loose Ricky Rubio whose passing could probably better accentuate the talents on this roster than the shoot-first Jeff Teague.

With all the turmoil, it is tough to imagine things going drastically right for this team, and betting the UNDER simply due to the volatility of the team’s chemistry is probably a wise bet here. This is a team talented enough to win 50-games, but one that could easily struggle its way to 40, barring the exact right trade for Butler’s services—which is something we would not bet on, in and of itself.

OKC Thunder: over/under 48.5 wins

The Oklahoma City Thunder start perhaps the league’s most versatile point guard in history in Russell Westbrook, and even after saying bye to Carmelo Anthony, this team is likely better than last season as we can easily label that an “Addition via subtraction” since Anthony is both washed up and never fit in with the Thunder, to begin with.

Andre Roberson’s health is crucial, for those he is not a major statistical difference-maker, he is perhaps the league’s best wing defender, and OKC relies on him nightly to shut down the opposition’s best perimeter players. Paul George is still one of the best small forwards in the league, and after a season with Westbrook, he might find more of a niche in his second season in OKC. Steven Adams is another underrated performer whose stats hardly reflect just how impactful he is, particularly on defense.

The Thunder added Dennis Schroder to its equation too, which now gives them probably the best back up point guard in the league. He should even play plenty with Westbrook, which will allow Russ to take on a 2-guard role, perhaps one is better suited for given his explosive scoring abilities. The Thunder also made a nice addition in Nerlens Noel, who while having been a major disappointment thus far, is again one of the best now-backups at his position. The Thunder are also eager to see just how good Terrance Ferguson can be. He played excellent while filling in due to various injuries last season, and he could be an eventual starter–since Jerami Grant probably is not the long-term answer at the 4-spot.

The Thunder should find its way to 50-wins, and probably not a ton more, but that still calls for the OVER here.

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