Blog Entry

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Posted on: December 19, 2011 7:07 pm
Edited on: December 19, 2011 8:30 pm
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Posted by Ben Golliver

kevin-durant-por

We're less than one week away from the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season. After an interminable lockout and a rushed free agency period, here's a first look division-by-division preview at how the league is shaping up. We continue with the Northwest Division.

2011 Standings

1. Oklahoma City Thunder, 55-27, lost in Western Conference Finals
2. Denver Nuggets, 50-32, lost in first round of Western Conference playoffs to Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Portland Trail Blazers, 48-34, lost in first round of Western Conference playoffs to Dallas Mavericks
4. Utah Jazz, 39-43, NBA Draft Lottery
5. Minnesota Timberwolves, 17-65, NBA Draft Lottery

Best team: Oklahoma City Thunder

The young, deep Thunder arguably bring the fewest questions to the table of any NBA team to start the 2011-2012 season. Are they in shape? All-Star forward Kevin Durant and key reserve guard James Harden stayed the busiest during the lockout, going on whirlwind streetball and charity game tours but guard Russell Westbrook kept busy and fit while taking classes at UCLA and big man Serge Ibaka played for Real Madrid. How will the Thunder react to the abbreviated preseason and condensed regular season? With a core that is essentially 25-years-old or younger they should be prepared to take it in stride.  

The biggest question for Oklahoma City is how they respond to being a target rather than a team on the rise. Having won two playoff series last year and entering this season with expectations of being a top-3 team in the West, their task becomes fighting off all the teams gunning for them rather than sneaking up on veteran teams or overwhelming average teams with their talent. Durant is as laser-like as superstars get so you can assume the Thunder will adjust smoothly, but that process is often easier said than done.  

Worst team: Minnesota Timberwolves

This might just be the year when Minnesota transforms from laughingstock from must-watch League Pass team. The addition of coach Rick Adelman has drawn considerable praise and he brings a level of professionalism and poise that's been lacking in the land of 10,000 lakes. He also gets a bunch of new talent to work with, including long-anticipated Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, 2011 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams and free agent signing J.J. Barea. The centerpiece is still All-Star forward Kevin Love, who doesn't have much help up front. The Timberwolves still aren't likely to scare too many teams this year, but they just might eke out some wins by catching people napping when in previous seasons teams were able to sleepwalk through them.  

Biggest surprise: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets qualify as the biggest surprise because... who are they? Coach George Karl, point guards Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and re-signed center Nene Hilario are the known quantities, but otherwise it's plenty of question marks. Will new addition Rudy Fernandez finally evolve into an emotionally mature NBA player? Will any of the Nuggets trapped in China find their way back to the Mile High city? Karl is a master at pulling together difficult situations and he certainly has his hands full.

Three Best Players: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge

Durant drew some MVP whispers last season and yet still had to fight off critics who believe he is actually the second best player on his own team, thanks to Westbrook, the NBA's most dynamic and explosive point guard. It's a potent 1-2 tandem and the pair have said all the right things about working together towards a title rather than competing for the limelight.

The third best player in this division is a bit up for grabs, with Aldridge, Nene and Love all making legitimate cases for consideration. Love beat out Aldridge for the final 2011 All-Star spot but Aldridge's athletic, dominant two-way play and Portland's winning ways over the balance of the season proved that was an oversight. For Nene, it's time to take a step forward in Denver's first full post-Carmelo Anthony year. His mega-dollar extension and the absence of Kenyon Martin demands it.

Biggest Question: How does Raymond Felton fit in with the Blazers?

New point guard Raymond Felton landed in Portland thanks to a draft day trade that sent Miller to Denver. Felton's higher-octane game will be a new look in the Rose City, where the Blazers have been most comfortable as tortoises in recent years thanks to the deliberate play of Miller and former guard Brandon Roy. Felton's desire to push tempo must mesh with coach Nate McMillan's demand to keep turnovers at a minimum and his desire to create his own offense must mesh with shoot-first guards Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, while still ensuring that Aldridge gets plenty of touches. Felton is in a contract year so, while the demands are many, the potential rewards are great, too. 

2012 Projected Standings

1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Denver Nuggets
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Utah Jazz
5. Minnesota Timberwolves

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Comments

Since: Aug 11, 2008
Posted on: December 25, 2011 1:25 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Maybe it's just me but when writers make these picks each year it really seems like it's mostly a carbon copy of last season. Are these guys afraid to make gutsy picks?  OKC is a safe pick and probably the right one. I have big doubts about Denver and Portland. I like them both but there may be a cluster of mediocrity after OKC.  The Wolves are better and have a proven coach who brings a winning culture every where he coaches. Utah has a beast in Enes Kanter and Derek Favors has an incredible upside. This team never starts over, they adjust. While OKC is a lock to win 50-53 games the other 4 teams will hang around the 30 win mark give or take a game or two. There I've said it. 1-OKC  2-Minn  3-Den 4-Por 5 Utah. Any one of the 2 thru 5 could surprise the whole league. That's why they actually play the games.



Since: Jan 6, 2010
Posted on: December 21, 2011 12:38 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Portland is going to suprise many and this may be the year of a deeper playoff run. Their defense will be awesome and you will see a huge amount of pressing and traps. They are not huge, but they are extremely fast and athletic. They will finally be running the ball and that will take the pressure off the defense, IMO.  JCrossover, Felton, Wallace all run like the wind. LA loves to run too, throw in the vetern leadership of Thomas and Camby and you have a pretty deep team. Should be fun to watch!




Since: Jan 3, 2010
Posted on: December 20, 2011 11:36 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

I think Love is better than Westbrook.  I think Portland is good enough to take second in the NW.  T wolves may surprise this year...and not be last.



Since: Apr 11, 2007
Posted on: December 20, 2011 8:55 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

It is clear to me that Durant is the best player in the division, by quite a bit, I do not think Westbrook is in the conversation, really, in essence he looked good, or better then he should have because teams had to prepare for Durant, I'm not saying Westbrook is bad, on the contrary, he is very good!.
      
; The blazers need to get rid of the woe is me feeling, and just go out and play ball, I do not like the kurt thomas signing, at all, he does not fit their tempo now, he will be a solid back up to camby, but they needed a back up that could run with the youngsters, felton is going to have them gunning it up court in a hurry, but with camby, and now thomas, they will alwasy be one guy short on the break....Chris johnson might be the answer. Nickolas Batum, if you have never seem him play you do not know what he could be, it should be his time now, his gangly athleticism needs to mature, right now, if it does, and aldridge and wallace play like they should, i htin the Blzers may just take this division....surprise!



Since: Nov 15, 2006
Posted on: December 20, 2011 4:57 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

That was a well written, well thought out article.  I especially liked the analysis of the Utah Jazz. Well done Bolliver.  Are you chanelling your college days?  Looked like you spent about twenty minutes throwing that together the night before it was due. 


Buffalo Bob
Since: Dec 11, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:40 pm
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Since: Dec 20, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 11:11 am
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

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Since: Oct 1, 2006
Posted on: December 20, 2011 9:26 am
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Northwest Preview?  I thought this article would kind of give a rundown of all the teams.  It mentions the Jazz twice... the word "jazz" is listed in last years standing and then in this years predictions.  Thats it.  No mention of the players, the coaches, offseason moves... nothing. (except the word Jazz twice) I'm not disagreeing with your analysis of the other teams, but if your going to call it "Northwest Preview" at least make something up about all the teams.  Just mention a player to watch... Say something... anything...



latonya05
Since: Dec 20, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 8:51 am
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Since: Oct 11, 2006
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:44 am
 

Imagine Howard on OKC

The Thunder might have a magic rabbit to pull up their sleeve with Sam Presti running things. They are a conference finals favorite as it stands, no doubt. And while I'm almost sure they're going to give it a shot with this nucleus as it stands, would it not make some sense, from a talent standpoint, to move Westrbrook and Perkins for Dwight Howard? The Magic would do that in a heartbeat. The Thunder would have some issues at the point, but they could probably get Chauncy Billups over, or something like that, with another move. The thinking here is that Durant and Harden scoring, with Ibaka and Howard dominating the blocks, would be a truly unstoppable nucleus. As excellent as Westbrook is, and as much as I hope Perkins is in shape and not hurt this year, it's a beatable squad. I don't see Howard/Durant/Harden/Ibaka being beat by anyone, including the Heat.


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