Monday, November 05, 2012

2012-13 NBA Preview: Northwest Division

Wins Produced Order of Finish
1. Denver 56-26
2. Oklahoma City 53-29
3. Minnesota 56-26 53-29
4. Utah 49-33
5. Portland 33-49

This division is stacked, as even last place Portland has enough young talent to exceed their projection by a pretty good margin.  Denver has a fantastic collection of young athletes, and the addition of Andre Iguodala gives them a defensive presence that has been missing.  Oklahoma City probably cost themselves a title shot by trading James Harden, but Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb should make up enough of Harden's production that they won't completely fall off a cliff (Kevin Durant will have a lot to do with keep the Thunder afloat, as well). Minnesota will be without Kevin Love for close to two months following his knuckle pushups injury, but there schedule is weak enough and their supporting cast is improved enough that Rick Adelman should be able to keep things hovering around the .500 mark until Love returns.  Utah's collection of young big men is unparalleled in the NBA, and if Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors bust out, the Jazz could end up stealing this division.  Mo Williams isn't a pure point guard, but neither was Devin Harris, and Mo and the also-newly-acquired Marvin Williams will give Utah better spacing than they had last season.  Portland has a fine young nucleus of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, and if Damian Lillard is anywhere near as good as he projects to be (and early returns are very promising) the Blazers will have one of the better young cores in the NBA.  The problem is, the Blazers still might have the 5th best core in their own division, meaning that the Northwest should be the class of the NBA divisions for the next few seasons.

Wins Produced All-Northwest Team
PG Ty Lawson, Denver
SG Andre Iguodala, Denver
SF Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
PF Kevin Love, Minnesota
C Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota

Canaan's All-NorthwestTeam
PG Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City
SG Iguodala, Denver
SF Durant, Oklahoma City
PF Love, Minnesota
C Al Jefferson, Utah

For a comprehensive breakdown of Lawson vs. Westbrook, go here.  I love Ty Lawson, and do think Westbrook is overrated, but if I had to choose one to build my team around, I would still take the greater upside Westbrook brings.  Iguodala, Durant, and Love could find themselves on the 1st Team All-NBA, so their inclusion here is a no-brainer.  The numbers like Nikola Pekovic quite a bit, and while he is a perfect compliment to Kevin Love, I'll take Al Jefferson's rebounding and myriad of post moves over Pekovic's superior defense and toughness.

Wins Produced Anti-Northwest Team
PG Eric Maynor, Oklahoma City
SG Raja Bell, Utah
SF Wilson Chandler, Denver
PF Anthony Randolph, Denver
C Hasheem Thabeet, Oklahoma City

Eric Maynor is not the worst point guard in the division; Nolan Smith and Maynor's own teammate Reggie Jackson rate much worse. Maynor is coming off an injury,though, and so must re-establish himself as one of the better backup point guards in the NBA.  Raja Bell is quickly nearing the end of his career, if he isn't already there, and all of the young talent amassed in Salt Lake City will hopefully have Bell dressed in a suit most game nights.  Anthony Randolph is the worst-case scenario for Thunder rookie Perry Jones III, an absolutely salivating talent that has never been able to turn that talent into anything useful on a basketball court.  Thabeet is one of the more famous busts in draft history, but he should see a decent amount of playing time now that Cole Aldrich is in Houston, which can't help the Thunder's title chances.  Wilson Chandler isn't this bad, but he also isn't as good as most people think (Tas Melas from The Basketball Jones, for example, famously--and hilariously--claimed that Chandler was a star), and with so much talent on the Nuggets, he shouldn't see more than 20 minutes a night.

Wins Produced Northwest MVP: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Canaan's Northwest MVP: Durant, Oklahoma City

If everyone gets tired of voting for LeBron, Durant will be first in line to take over as league MVP.  A fourth straight scoring title would put Durant in rare company, and his improving defensive play, rebounding, and play-making proves KD is no one-trick pony.  The Thunder will still be near the top of the West even without James Harden, and Durant is the number one reason why.

Wins Produced Northwest LVP: Wilson Chandler, Denver

Again, Chandler isn't this bad, but the threat that he will take minutes away from Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried scares me.  His contract is also ridiculous (5 years, $31.72 million), but the Nuggets seem to only sign players so they can use them in trades (Nene, Arron Afflalo), so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on Chandler's deal.

Northwest DPOY: Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City

Iguodala will give Serge a run for his money, but Ibaka's shot-blocking will be enough to hold off Iggy, even considering how Ibaka still doesn't quite have positioning and help defense down quite yet.

Northwest Matador of the Year: Raja Bell, Utah

At this point in his career, the former "Kobe Killer" is a statue, and if he ever even sees the floor for the Jazz this year, he will almost certainly be torched.

Wins Produced Northwest ROY: Damian Lillard, Portland
Canaan's Northwest ROY: Lillard, Portland

Lillard put up monster stats at Weber State, and it looks like he's going to pick up right where he left off in Portland.  The two-man game between Lillard and LaMarcus Alldridge should be giving opponents nightmares for years to come.

Wins Produced Northwest Rookie Bust: Meyers Leonard, Portland
Leonard is a project whose ceiling cannot be much higher than Tyler Zeller's, Andrew Nicholson's, or Jared Sullinger's, who were all taken well after Leonard was snagged at #11.  Why the Blazers would essentially punt on production from such a high pick this year when they have enough young talent in place to challenge for a playoff spot is beyond me.  If Leonard is still on Portland's roster in 3 years, I will be shocked.   

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