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
 

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

Comments

Since: Jul 4, 2010
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:19 am
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

I think the Thunder are the team to beat in the West. I would keep James Harden coming off the bench, but give him more minutes and go ahead and award him 6th man of the year. The last thing OKC's starting lineup needs is more points. Keep Thabo Sefolosha in for defense and balance. I would also look for Serge Ibaka to have a break out year. Westbrook was a top 5 PG last year and he's only going to be better this year. It's too bad they're not going to be able to afford to keep this core together for long. 



Since: Mar 6, 2011
Posted on: December 20, 2011 2:53 am
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

OKC is the team to beat, BUT, watch out for Denver and Utah. Everyone understands Denver will be tough....and adding Miller and rookie Faried gives them two more options to create match-up problems. Funny how few pundits talk about Faried. But utah might be the sleeper. Hayward is on the brink of real elite status......Kanter is a question, but he has talent.....and I suspect Milsap may get traded .....i dont see them letting Jefferson go. That said, they can match up well with anyone......and if Burks is for real, the Jazz will be tough. Portland just isnt as good as last year, at least on paper.



Since: Oct 16, 2011
Posted on: December 19, 2011 11:49 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Rick Adelman is one of the few NBA coaches that is good at developing players. He is the perfect coach for a team with young talent. 




Since: May 16, 2011
Posted on: December 19, 2011 11:12 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Can I just say that Kevin Durant is by far the better player of the two. Westbrook is shot happy and a bit of a ball hawk at times. If he just passed to Durant more often they would of stood a better chance against the mavs. And Westbrook is the second most "explosive" pg in the league behind the reigning MVP drose. He is a really good player, but I just think he's way too immature to win anything right now. Kevin Durant has the IT factor, where Westbrook looks like a Allen ivorson type player, great, but never wins anything. Am I a bit premature in my evaluation of him? Maybe but time will tell, but Durant is the real deal and I think he'll get a championship some time in his future, probably without Westbrook tho...



Since: Jul 11, 2010
Posted on: December 19, 2011 10:00 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Westbrook "The NBA's most dynamic and explosive point guard". He's real good but Derrick Rose,the leagues reigning MVP, would be tops on my list!



Since: Jul 11, 2010
Posted on: December 19, 2011 10:00 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Westbrook "The NBA's most dynamic and explosive point guard". He's real good but Derrick Rose,the leagues reigning MVP, would be tops on my list!



Since: Feb 16, 2007
Posted on: December 19, 2011 9:51 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Rick Adelman was the perfect fit for the Wolves.  He's not smart or tough enough to ever lead a team to the championship, but he makes for an exciting regular season team, and Wolves fans fortunately aren't even thinking about a championship.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them finish #2 in their division because Denver is too depleted of any real talent, and Brandon Roy retiring makes the Blazers a little less than mediocre.  



Since: Dec 4, 2011
Posted on: December 19, 2011 9:51 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

First question, no. Durant is the best all-around player on the team. Second question, yes. As in, are you freaking kidding me? Have you seen him play? Of course he is. 



Since: Aug 1, 2009
Posted on: December 19, 2011 9:14 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

The biggest surprise will be the Wolves hands down. Everyone seems to think this team is garbage, but with what will probably be a top 5 offense, if they can find any semblance of defense they are headed for playoff contention. I'm not saying they will make them this year with the lockout and all, but in 2-3 years the Wolves will be part of the usual suspects in the playoffs and not the draft lottery.



Since: Aug 24, 2006
Posted on: December 19, 2011 9:13 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

The Thunder has a lot of talented players, but there are still a lot of question marks. Westbrook was somewhat showed to have some weaknesses in his game during the playoffs, hitting the shot when it counted. Perhaps it was a case of nerves, but time will tell. Harden has improved his game a lot, and could be the sixth many of the year. Ibaka will only get better with time, a physical presence that will be hard for most PFS to deal with. Their biggest question mark is probably at the center position. The trade that they made with Boston did not help them last year, but with Green out for the year, it seems as if they made the right decision. Are they the cream of the wild wild West? I sort of doubt it, but anything is possible.



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com