Northwest Division NBA Preview 2020-21
We continue picking up in the Western Conference’s Northwest Division.
Headed by a point-center, there may be no more unique team than the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic is the key to this offense, with a No. 2 option being the hot shooting of Jamal Murray. Michael Porter Jr.’s upside is probably as high as any forward in the league, and veteran Paul Millsap provides more outside shooting and veteran leadership, along with great defense.
Gary Harris is a solid 2-guard and Monte Morris provides a strong third guard off the bench. Will Barton is something of a wild card, very good on some nights and absent on others. With Denver’s depth including the likes of the enigmatic but promising Bol Bol, this team could be a major force this season and for the next three to five, at least.
Projected Record: 51-21
The Minnesota Timberwolves have stockpiled a lot of talent on the wings. What next? It now is a matter of seeing how the pieces fit together, and more to the point, which are the best. Drafting Anthony Edwards made sense from the perspective of selecting the most talented player, but it did little for team fit. The Wolves already have Ricky Rubio and D’Angelo Russell, starting, both point guards. Factor in hot shooting Malik Beasley, the defensive-minded Josh Okogie, and second-year scoring wing Jarrett Culver, and it is tough to see how “everyone” can get minutes.
Then, the Wolves have an underrated scoring 4 in Juan Hernangomez, who came along with Beasley in the deal with Denver last season. Karl Anthony-Towns is unarguably one of the best centers in the league, and the only player of the starting 5 who is absolutely a lock to start, really. That sheds enough questions on the team, and there is surely talent, but it will take a while before the Timberwolves figure out what they even have, moving forward in this strange rebuild. Edwards might start at small forward, which is then really starting three players who all have point guard tendencies. It is interesting at least.
Projected Record: 33-39
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are in a rebuild, to be sure. The team moves on past Chris Paul this season. Instead, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should see the majority of the usage rate in the backcourt, and he is a budding star. Hamidou Diallo, Laugentz Dort, and Darius Bazley all pack plenty of potential, with a solid veteran starting at center in defensive stud Al Horford. George Hill will be a steady presence off the bench, but the Thunder have a long way to go before it can regularly hang with the real juggernauts in the West. This team will go as far as its 2-3-4 trio develops in one season, which presumably is a decent improvement but still a long ways from a postseason berth.
Projected Record: 27-45
Portland Trail Blazers
With the Golden State Warriors no longer sporting Klay Thompson, the Portland Trail Blazers now possess the best backcourt in the NBA in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent are both super-promising behind that tandem, giving the Blazers a sustainable rotation that also features shooter Rodney Hood. Derrick Jones Jr. starts at small forward with a solid stretch-4 defensive-minded Robert Covington coming in to start at power forward. Behind him? Super-sub Carmelo Anthony. The 5-spot features two strong scorers in Just Nurkic and Enes Kanter. The Blazers have the potential to be a very dangerous team, and Zach Collins and Harry Giles III both still have a lot of potential as developing big men. The Blazers should contend this season.
Projected Record: 48-24
The Utah Jazz still sports a strong defensive team anchored by the loathable Rudy Robert. Mike Conley should have a better second season in Utah, and Donovan Mitchell is the high-scoring star of this team. Bojan Bogdanovic is a superb shooter and Joe Ingles remains in the mix with his deft shooting and ball-handling ability. The Utah Jazz might not win over in the excitement category, but it really could with Mitchell providing plenty of high-flying scoring ability.
The Jazz will be in the picture, but it seems that Bogdanovic has to function as a second scorer, which might not be the worst option. Last season, he broke out to average 20.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. There might be “sexier” options for a second-fiddle, but his shooting ability complements Mitchell perfectly.
Projected Record: 42-30