2018/19 NBA Western Conference Preview: Northwest Division

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DENVER, CO - JULY 9: The Nuggets announce new contracts for Will Barton and Nikola Jokic at the Pepsi Center on July 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Western Conference has three divisions just like in the East. I have previewed each team in the Pacific Division. Did you know that each team in the Northwest division finished with a winning record? Now, here’s a preview of each team in the loaded division.

Take a look at my Pacific Division preview.

2018/19 NBA Western Conference Preview: Northwest Division

Oklahoma City Thunder

Projected Starting Five: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Andre Roberson, SF Paul George, PF Patrick Patterson, C Steven Adams

Projected Bench: PG Dennis Schröder, SF/PF Jerami Grant, SF Corey Brewer, C Nerlens Noel, PG Raymond Felton, SG Alex Abrines

OKC had an up and down season despite finishing with the fourth best record in the West. Westbrook averaged a triple-double for his second straight season (25.4/10.1/10.3) with his high level of intensity. Adams had a career year averaging 13.9 points and nine rebounds acting like the third wheel on most nights. They were one of the top defensive teams in the league until their best defender Roberson went down for the season with a knee injury. However, they would lose to the Jazz in the first round in six games.

The OK3 experiment of Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony did not work out. It also didn’t help that Melo wouldn’t take a lesser role on the team so they got rid of him. They did manage to re-sign George despite fearing to lose him like they did with Kevin Durant. He and Westbrook have a great connection on and off the court. OKC improved their bench by adding Schröder, Noel and kept Grant. They should be a better team that can compete in the West.

Utah Jazz

Projected Starting Five: PG Ricky Rubio, SG Donovan Mitchell, SF Joe Ingles, PF Derrick Favors, C Rudy Gobert

Projected Bench: SF Jae Crowder, SG Grayson Allen, SG Alec Burks, PG Dante Exum, SF Royce O’Neale, SF Thabo Sefolosha, PG Raul Neto

The Jazz were one of the big surprises in the league last season. Last offseason, they lost Gordon Hayward in free agency and found a gem in the draft with Mitchell. He was supposed to be the backup two guard to Rodney Hood but he outperformed him and Hood was shipped away at the trade deadline. They made the postseason and knocked off the Thunder but lost to the Rockets. Mitchell became a rising star something most experts including the Jazz didn’t see coming. He has the athletic ability, scoring and defensive versatility to succeed in the league.

Utah was second in the league in defensive rating (101.6). Most of it has to do with their seven foot one Frenchman centre. Gobert, also known as the Stifle Tower is a defensive presence in protecting the paint blocking 2.3 shots per game. With that, he won the Defensive Player of the Year. Utah is one of the teams on the rise in the NBA.

Denver Nuggets

Projected Starting Five: PG Jamal Murray, SG Gary Harris, SF Will Barton, PF Paul Millsap, C Nikola Jokic

Projected Bench: SF Michael Porter Jr., PG Isaiah Thomas, PF Trey Lyles, C Mason Plumlee, SF Juan Hernangomez, SG/SF Torrey Craig, SG Malik Beasley

The other team on the come up is the Nuggets. They finished one game short of making the playoffs by losing an overtime thriller to the Timberwolves. Denver is one of the highest scoring offences in the league. They’re led by their youth in Murray and Harris and one of the most talented NBA bigs in Jokić. Jokic can face up, score in the post, shoot the three, rebound and is a great passing big man. Murray is a great shooter and scorer and Harris can play on both ends of the floor.

In the draft, the Nuggets got a steal in Porter Jr. Porter missed most of his freshman year at Missouri with back surgery and was the most talented player in the draft. Also, they will have Millsap back healthy after missing 44 games last season with wrist surgery and swingman Barton playing multiple positions while coming off the bench. Thomas also signed with the Nuggets to prove to himself that he can be a Celtics type of star again.

Portland Trail Blazers

Projected Starting Five: PG Damian Lillard, SG CJ McCollum, SF Evan Turner, PF Al-Farouq Aminu, C Jusuf Nurkic

Projected Bench: SF Maurice Harkless, SG Seth Curry, PF Zach Collins, SG Gary Trent Jr., C Meyers Leonard, PG Anfernee Simons

Portland surprised some when they finished behind the Rockets and Warriors in the Western Conference Playoff standings. However, they would get swept in the first round by the Pelicans. Despite that, they have one of the best backcourts in the game in Lillard and McCollum. Lillard, who is one of the best point guards in the NBA can still take over games and deliver great performances. He was an All-Star last season after being snubbed over the last few years and named to the All-NBA First Team. With Lillard getting all the attention, McCollum is a very underrated player that can score, shoot and is a great complement to him.

If Portland wants to make noise in the West, their role players have to step up. They have some respectable complementary pieces in Nurkić, Turner, Aminu and Harkless. They added Curry to bring some shooting and scoring to the second unit.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Projected Starting Five: PG Jeff Teague, SG Jimmy Butler, SF Andrew Wiggins, PF Taj Gibson, C Karl Anthony-Towns

Projected Bench: PG Derrick Rose, PG Tyus Jones, C Gorgui Dieng, PF Anthony Tolliver, SF Keita Bates-Diop, SG Josh Okogie

The Timberwolves for the first time in 14 years made the playoffs. Their last visit to the postseason was when Kevin Garnett was the league’s MVP and led them to the Western Conference Finals in which they lost to the Lakers. Last seasons T-Wolves would lose to the Rockets, who had the league’s best record in the opening round. Make no mistake, this team is good enough to be a top-four team in the West. Especially with hard-nosed coach Tom Thibodeau, they are expected to play hard every night.

Towns leads the Wolves and is one of the best centres in the league. He has an all-around game that can make him unstoppable with his array of post moves, shooting and rebounding. In addition, they have one of the best two-way players in Butler as well as Wiggins. Wiggins has to be consistent if he wants to be a star because his motor has been questioned at times. Butler is the key as he affects the game with his shot-making and defensive abilities. Also, he will be a free agent in 2019 and is looking at a big payday.

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