Closing in on the season, let’s take a look at easily the best division in the NBA coming into this season.
The Jazz quickly rebounded from the departure of Gordon Hayward by adding Ricky Rubio, Jonas Jerebko and Thabo Sefolosha over the summer.
The spotlight now surrounds star big-man Rudy Gobert, who is an incredible anchor on defense and could pair extremely well with Rubio on offense.
Veterans Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors remain to fortify the squad; with Johnson adding that clutch factor, and Favors standing as another big body down low.
Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Joe Ingles and Jerebko will have the opportunities to get good minutes at the SG and SF positions and need to bring their A-games in order to help this team excel.
Dante Exum should be set to take the back up PG spot. He has shown flashes but still needs to step out of his shell. He will surely benefit learning from Rubio.
Ultimately, the Jazz are in a tough spot, as a talented team in an even more talented conference. They will need guys to hit the next level in order to do better than a first round exit.
Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s safe to say the Thunder have moved on from the Durant Daze. They still have their star and MVP Russell Westbrook, and thanks to brilliant management and a great organization from the head office to the players, now have Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
The Thunder gave up Enes Kanter as part of the deal to get Melo, but the presence of the two superstars, George and Anthony, heavily outweigh anything they lost.
With a projected starting five of Westbrook, Roberson, George, Melo and Adams, the Thunder have to be in the early conversation for potential top teams in the league and title contenders.
They added some backup by picking up Patrick Patterson, a stretch four with good defensive awareness, who will help bolster the bench unit that also includes, Jerami Grant, Kyle Singler, Alex Abrines and Raymond Felton.
If they can mesh, Melo, George and Westbrook could be nearly unstoppable. Depth may be concerning, but then again the Thunder managed pretty well last year, and have only improved.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers have been stuck in that middle ground for a while now and need to find a way to take it to the next level as a team.
They acquired Jusuf Nurkic mid way through last season and he proved to be a great addition. It will be interesting to see how his presence helps them off the start this season.
The core of Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis are all back. Turner did a good job last season stepping in as a reliable sixth man, while guys like Aminu, Harkless and Vonleh showed flashes, but need to further establish their presence with consistency. On the other hand, Meyers Leonard has shown consistent improvement and could be set to become one of the NBA’s best big men.
The Blazers will need a whole team effort, in conjunction with some All Star level play from their Lillard and McCollum in order to pursue playoff aspirations.
The Nuggets showed they have a very exciting team as they pushed for the playoffs last season, pulling off some amazing wins, including ones over the Warriors and Cavs after the All Star break. They did not make the playoffs but definitely have the foundation for an exciting season this time around.
This team is full of potential, with young guys like Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, Nikola Jokic, Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Malik Beasley, Garry Harris, Mason Plumlee and newly-acquired Trey Lyles. Most notably, Jokic has shown the ability to fill the stat sheet and stand as a center piece for this squad.
The Nuggets also added former All Star and veteran talent Paul Millsap, to bolster their front court, along with Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur. At the SF position Wilson Chandler offers an all-around game that can keep up with the best of them. Finally, Jameer Nelson. Bottom line is this team is deep.
If the majority of the youngsters can play towards their full potentials, then this team could be a contender. However, that is much easier said than done with an 82-game season in the NBA.
The Timberwolves made one of the first major splashes of the offseason by picking up All Star Jimmy Butler. Butler will join the core of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and newly-acquired Jeff Teague. Teague will replace Ricky Rubio, who is no longer with the team.
Along with Butler and Teague, the T-Wolves also picked up Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks, who will join the supporting likes of Cole Aldrich, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng and Shabbazz Muhammad.
Crawford and Brooks bring veteran talent and cold blooded shooting, to a team already loaded with talented wing players and big men. Muhammad and Dieng give the T-Wolves a couple of versatile utility guys that can guard many positions and really provide hustle plays.
The major talents of Towns, Butler and Wiggins are enough to constitute a devastating Big 3. The team’s success will depend on how far these guys can lead the way. A championship should not be out of the question.