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: Oct 22, 2007
Posted on: December 19, 2011 8:20 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

Does anyone actually think that Kevin Durant is the 2nd best player on his team?  And does anyone really thing that Russell Westbrook is the NBA's most dynamic and explosive point guard?



Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: December 19, 2011 8:19 pm
 

2011-2012 NBA season: Northwest Division preview

This is a competent analysis as we have come to expect from Ben. The Thunder are sitting in a good spot now and might actually end up first in the Western Conference. The tension noticed last year between Durant and Westbrook by some must be defused. There seems to be enough opportunity for both but might we see Westbrook as the scoring leader this year? Factor in the rise of James Harden and his challenge with Sefalosia for starting minutes and there might be some tension on the team. Scott Brooks has shown the ability to manage that if it occurs.

The Nuggets appear to be way too high on this list after losing three key players and another not signed yet. Nene is a nice player but has never been dominant. Miller will never be happy unless starting and that role seems already promised to Lawson. Rudy Fernandez has shown great promise and a declining production in the NBA. His shooting last year was his worst. A serious shortage of bigs, the absence of a go-to player (Miller?) and the need to reorient the team to new roles might make getting out of the gate slow and in a shortened league season that can be terminal. Perhaps the most mystery is really reserved for Utah which is touting Al Jefferson as improved (in order to trade him?) and must manage PF minutes and C minutes to make too many players happy. Young and hungry is what I expect from them.

Portland has had lots of woe-is-me press lately with the retirement of All-Star Brandon Roy and the setback of Greg Oden (for the year?) But adding Raymond Felton for Andre Miller makes this a more mobile team and a better chemistry may also be achieved. LaMarcus Aldridge last year was way better than others added to the All-Star roster and he continues to lead this team with immense talent and a commitment that strikes fear in opponents. Elliott Williams could be a candidate for rookie of the year, depending on his playing time. He was drafted last year and needed two knee surgeries to correct some misalignments. Now he appears to have crazy hops and a solid game. Minnesota is no longer Minnesota with the addition of Rick Adelman. He must believe the talent is there and his system will score tons of points. The bigger questions are can they rebound and play defense?


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