There’s five teams in the Northwest division, but this year there’s really just two. The finally healthy Denver Nuggets and the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves will battle each other for control of this division, and one will definitely walk away with home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It wouldn’t be surprising if they both did, actually.
But not so fast, my friend. The Portland Trail Blazers would like a word. They’re bringing back their MVP and superstar Damian Lillard, and have added some pieces around him to replace C.J. McCollum. Competing for the division would require a lot of breaks for them, but it’s not impossible.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz will be hanging around the bottom of the division. The Thunder are rebuilding, and the Jazz are tearing down. Neither will compete for the playoffs, but they’ll have intriguing young players to watch. Let’s break down the division:
Tier 1: The contenders
Denver Nuggets Over/Under 50.5 wins
The Nuggets start and end with Jokic, but this year he’ll have some help. Jamal Murray returns from an ACL injury that sidelined him all of last season. Michael Porter Jr. will be available after a back injury limited him to nine games last year. They added Bruce Brown and Kentavius Caldwell-Pope. They lost Montee Morris and JaMychal Green, but their departure shouldn’t affect the Nuggets too much. If their roster stays healthy, the Nuggets will be a beast to contend with in the Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves Over/Under 48.5 wins
The Timberwolves made a huge splash over the summer when they shipped out a million picks, Patrick Beverly, Malik Beasley, and bunch of young players to the Jazz in exchange for Rudy Gobert. They also added Austin Rivers, Kyle Andrson, and Bryn Forbes in free agency. They grabbed Wendell Moore in the draft, using the Mavericks’ pick that they acquired in a deal with the Houston Rockets. The Timberwolves are clearly going for it this season, hoping that Gobert can solve their defensive woes and free up Karl-Anthony Towns to wreak havoc on offense.
Tier 2: Trying to win
Portland Trail Blazers Over/Under 41.5 wins
The Blazers added Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II this summer, but the most important addition to the team will be a healthy Damian Lillard. If he can return to superstar form, and Anfernee Simons can take another leap in his young career, and Jusuf Nurkic can stay on the court, the Blazers can challenge for the play-in tournament at least, maybe even a playoff spot if things break right. That’s a lot of ifs. Lillard is hard to bet against, though.
Tier 3: Playing for the future
Oklahoma City Thunder Over/Under 25.5 wins
The Thunder bring back a young but exciting core of players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Kenrich Williams, and Lu Dort. Chet Holmgren would’ve joined them, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in an exhibition game over the summer. The Thunder won’t be competing for a playoff spot, but they’ll be too good to complete a proper tank job.
Utah Jazz Over/Under unavailable
How do you even talk about the Jazz? Every day another piece of their roster is shipped out. Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are gone, as are Royce O’Neal, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Eric Paschall. In return, they’ve acquired a stack of draft picks, Colin Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Beasley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jarrod Vanderbilt. Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson remain, but it’s obvious they’ll be gone, too, as soon as the Jazz find a deal that suits them. The Jazz won’t be competing for championships or even a playoff spot this year, but instead doing their best to develop young players and acquire even more draft picks.
Players to Watch
Jamal Murray. The electric scoring guard is back after missing an entire year. Is he still the same player? If he is, the Nuggets are going to be a tough out every night.
Rudy Gobert. The Timberwolves are betting on Gobert taking them from a lower tier playoff team to a contender. At age 30, is that too much to ask of him? They only want him to protect the rim and be a menace rolling to the rim. I think he’s up to it.
Damian Lillard. Was last year just a season of bad injury luck for Lillard? Or was it the beginning of a decline after years of playing explosive and reckless basketball as an undersized guard? We’ll know pretty quickly into the season. Maybe getting Lillard just needed some time to get his body right.
The Nuggets will win the Northwest division, but they’ll be in a battle with the Timberwolves. If either team faces lengthy injury issues, the other could pounce. The Nuggets are the more talented team at full strength, and even if Porter Jr. misses significant time, Jokic and Murray might be enough to get it done.
Division Award Winners
MVP. Nikola Jokic might be the NBA MVP, so he’s definitely going to be the MVP of this division. There’s a chance Karl-Anthony Towns takes the leap we’ve all been waiting on for years now, but the best bet is Jokic.
Defensive Player of the Year. Rudy Gobert will be motivated to prove he’s worth everything the Timberwolves traded for him, not to mention will be on a team with slightly better perimeter defense. He won’t get exposed as often as he did in Utah.
Sixth Many of the Year. Bones Hyland is fun and can get buckets. Watch for him to have a big year off the bench for Denver.
Most Improved Player. Anthony Edwards is going to have a third year leap like we recently saw from Ja Morant. If the Timberwolves end up overachieving this season, he’ll be the reason why.
Rookie of the Year. Jalen Williams of the Thunder (not Jaylin Williams of the Thunder) will have the chance to put up some good stats on the perpetually tanking Thunder. This should’ve been Chet Holmgren, but alas.