The Western Conference this season is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining in a while. We have superstars making major comebacks, emerging teams looking to take that next championship step, and new faces in new places. Let’s break it all down as we continue our 2013-14 NBA Season Preview.
Northwest Division Predictions:
1) Oklahoma City Thunder:
PG: Reggie Jackson/Russell Westbrook (when he’s back)
SG: Thabo Sefolosha/Jeremy Lamb
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka/Nick Collison/Perry Jones
C: Kendrick Perkins/Hasheem Thabeet
One question is facing the Thunder and that is the health of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Many consider Westbrook a top 5 talent in the league when healthy, but after suffering a torn meniscus in last season’s playoffs, the answer to his health in unknown. We all want to see him healthy, not only because he is fun to watch, but the Thunder aren’t the same without him.
The Thunder still have the amazing Kevin Durant on their team but the balance of the team shifts without Westbrook. Kevin Martin is no longer with the club, so players like Thabo Sefolosha and second year player Jeremy Lamb have to step it up on the offensive side, especially for the first four-six weeks that Westbrook is sidelined. I think this team is still elite, but their lack of depth will hurt them come playoff time. I think we see a slight decline in the Thunder this season.
2) Denver Nuggets
PG: Ty Lawson/Andre Miller/Nate Robinson
SG: Randy Foye
SF: Danilo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler
PF: Kenneth Faried/J.J. Hickson
C: JaVele McGee/Timofey Mozgov
The Nuggets were the best regular season home team last season and one of the more exciting teams in the league. It all starts with Ty Lawson, who has established himself as a very good point guard. It seems like health is a big factor for a lot of NBA teams, and the Nuggets aren’t excluded in that with Danilo Gallinari who is recovering from knee surgery. Gallo has to come back strong and be one of the highest scorers on this team.
Faried and McGee make up for a freakishly athletic frontcourt, but have to defend their position and create their own offensive opportunity. The cloud that will be hanging over this team is how they will play over the course of the entire season without George Karl, who won Coach of the Year but was let go because of his failures in the playoffs.
3) Minnesota Timberwolves
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Kevin Martin/Alexey Shved
SF: Corey Brewer/ Chase Budinger/Shabazz Muhammad
PF: Kevin Love/Derrick Williams
C: Niokla Pekovic
Is it time for the T-wolves to turn the corner? Hey, guess what they need on their side…good health! Kevin Love is a top 10 player when healthy and a walking double-double. His 2012 season was nonexistent and if he can Ricky Rubio can play together for this entire season, the -Twolves will be one of those teams that you are going to want to watch.
Minnesota spent some money this past offseason on Kevin Martin, who is a proven scorer in this league. They also added some defense with with the beast in Nikola Pekovic. They have a legit starting five with J.J. Barea the spark plug off the bench, and Alexey Shved had his moments. The Wolves really need Derrick Williams to improve greatly this season especially since he was the #2 pick, but I don’t think they use him right as a 4; I see him more as a 3. Controversial rookie Shabazz Muhammad will also be called upon this year and I think he will answer the call. His natural scoring ability will work well with unselfish players like Rubio and Love, both who call for defensive attention.
4) Portland Trailblazers
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthews/C.J. McCollum
SF: Nicolas Batum/Dorell Wright
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge/Thomas Robinson
C: Robin Lopez/Meyers Leonard
Another one of those teams that aren’t bad but nowhere near a serious team is the Portland Trailblazers. LaMarcus Alrdridge is a phenomenal player and gives the Blazers great consistency night in and night out. Aldridge must have been stoked once he met Damian Lillard and saw that he was for real. The eventual Rookie of the Year has a high ceiling and is a pure scoring point guard.
The Blazers built their frontcourt by adding Robin Lopez, former top 5 pick Thomas Robinson, who I think is in the first great situation in his young career, and drafting Meyers Leonard (I don’t know why either). Nicolas Batum is a nice player, but I don’t think he’s anything more than that. The same goes for Wesley Matthews, who fills up the stat sheet and is a solid complimentary player. The Blazers are hoping for Lehigh product C.J. McCollum translates his natural scoring ability and himself and Lillard become one of the best scoring backcourts in the NBA, perhaps Splash Brothers 2.0
5) Utah Jazz
PG: John Lucas III
SG: Gordon Hayward/Alec Burks/Brandon Rush
SF: Richard Jefferson/Jeremy Evans/Marvin Williams
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Enes Kanter/Andris Biedrins
When it comes down to one of the worst teams in the West, the Utah Jazz might take the cake. John Lucas III is an 8th-9th man at best, yet he is the floor general in Utah. Gordon Hayward has turned into a good pro but he’s not carrying a team anywhere. Richard Jefferson is somehow still collecting checks and finding himself not only on NBA teams, but also in important roles. The positivity out of the Jazz is the frontcourt reins being passed down from Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson fulltime to Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both who the Jazz received in the Deron Williams trade back in the day. I predict an ugly year in Utah.