Top Storylines: Northwest Division
Denver Nuggets – Who Replaces Ty Lawson?
*Photo via Nuggets.com
Yes, the Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay but you're probably high if you think Mudiay can match Ty Lawson’s production.
I know you are thinking, “but Nick, Mudiay is a Rookie of the Year candidate…”
The thing is Mudiay could have a Rookie of the Year type season and still not produce like Ty Lawson. To give you an idea of what Lawson meant to the Nuggets, he accounted for 37.9 points per game last season and led the Nuggets in points per game, assists per game, steals per game and free throws per game.
You might think that’s not a big deal because Lawson was on a lottery team. The thing is Lawson didn’t only produce, he produced efficiently. He finished second in the league in assists to turnover ratio only behind Chris Paul, pretty good company if you ask me.
Trust me, I’m not saying Denver didn’t make the right move trading Lawson – it was definitely time to move one. But now they just need to replace the 37 points a game he accounted for last season. Yes, Mudiay will be able to take on some of the load but he won’t be nearly as efficient. Especially when you consider turnovers will likely be an issue for the rookie. The best bet for the Nuggets will be to handle this as a team. Players like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic will have to step up and stay healthy if the Nuggets want to be a competitive team. – Nick Fay
Minnesota Timberwolves – A Full Moon is Coming.
*Photo via Getty Images
The Minnesota Timberwolves rebuild more often than a general contractor. Kevin Garnett now seems like a dusty old fable, told around camp fires to inspire chivalry. Then there's the lone wolf, Kevin Love, who found himself a more powerful pack to hunt down a championship with. And Ricky Rubio was the imported prodigy, thought to resemble a more athletic version of Steve Nash. The front office has attempted to build around these alphas to no avail.
After this past NBA draft, it appears that the T-Wolves have wiped the slate clean. There's so much youth on this current squad that we should start calling them the Teen-Wolves. And they're good, really good. Andrew Wiggins could be an All-Star before the age of 21, and Zach LaVine is capable of winning the Slam Dunk Contest as well as the Three-Point Shootout. Karl-Anthony Towns was dominant in the summer league, and Tyus Jones may perhaps be a steal for the long term. It may not be this season, or the next one, or even the one after that, but the Timberwolves have a young and dangerously talented group that's set up for success down the road. – Ziad Aziz
Oklahoma City Thunder – Class is in Session.
*Photo via Getty Images
Out is Scott Brooks, and in is Billy Donovan. The former Florida Gators head coach now tests the waters at the professional rank, and boy does he step into a special situation. With two of the biggest superstars in the league on his roster, the Thunder have their sights set on the NBA title. Not the typical scenario for a first year head coach, but hey, Steve Kerr did it. Donovan has built a high level coaching staff including two former NBA head coaches in Maurice Cheeks and Monty Williams.
Former league MVP Kevin Durant is back from injury which provides another interesting dynamic for Donovan. KD is entering the final year of his deal and will be a free agent next summer. If Donovan handles his business, Durant will be back in OKC. And by business, I mean run an offense where Durant and Westbrook are options one and two instead of options one, two, three, four and five. Good luck coach, no pressure. – Parth Goradia
Portland Trail Blazers – R.I.P. City?
*Photo via Getty Images
Gone are Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez --- key contributors to a nucleus that was poised to break into the upper echelon of the Western Conference just a few seasons ago. In their places are a mixture of promising, but unproven, young pieces and career role players looking to fill a huge void in terms of production.
As they work to sort out their roster, the Blazers won’t receive any help from the division. Oklahoma City is on a revenge tour with the Thunder faithful thinking championship. The Utah Jazz continues to improve and the Minnesota Timberwolves are looking to take a major step with “Da Kid” --- Kevin Garnett – leading a group of talented kids on the Timberwolves roster.
Just two seasons removed from Lillard treating NBA fans to an all-time play-off moment with his series clinching shot over the Houston Rockets, punctuated by him grabbing the microphone and exclaiming, “RIP CITY!!!!” to the rowdy Moda Center crowd, the question must be asked: is it R.I.P. for the Blazers this season? – Jay Christian
Utah Jazz – Leader of the Band?
*Photo via Jazz
The Utah Jazz ended the 2014-15 season with a lot of promise. Now, the question is whether it was a fluke, or if they are truly a playoff contender in the rugged Western Conference?
Gordon Hayward showed last year that he is well worth the money by averaging 19 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4 assists, per game. Plus, Derrick Favors is a serious offensive threat, Rudy Gobert came on as an elite rim protector and Alec Burks is healthy with expectations to make the leap.
Their biggest hurdle will come at the point guard spot. With the injury to Dante Exum, someone will have to step up and orchestrate the offense. Trey Burke isn’t much of a playmaker, and backup Raul Neto is unproven. Hayward has showed potential as a point-forward, but we haven’t seen him consistently in that role yet.
If the Jazz can reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012 under a second year head coach with an incredibly young team, it’ll be considered a pivotal success for this franchise. – John Aiello