Easily the deepest division in the league, the Northwest is the only division to have four teams (Utah, Denver, Oklahoma City, and Portland) with at least 40 wins. Even better than that, all four of those teams have 46 wins or more.
Denver and Utah were more or less expected to be in this situation, but the ability of Portland to fight through injuries and the emergence of Kevin Durant and the Thunder has taken this division to the next level.
That being said, with the exception of Minnesota, the teams of the Northwest division all have solid foundations to build upon.
Utah Jazz (50-26)
Outlook for the future:
The Utah Jazz have shown, while healthy, to be one of the strongest performing teams in the league. However, they have some difficult roster decisions they’ll have to face this coming offseason. Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver will become unrestricted free agents this summer and both are having fantastic seasons.
Boozer figures to become one of the prize targets in this year’s much anticipated free agent class. His loss would be a big blow to the strength of this team. On the bright side, the Jazz do own the New York Knicks’ lottery pick this season and there should be some decent options available to address the potential loss of Boozer.
Projected draft pick(s): 9, and 54
Biggest draft need(s): offensive minded small forward, power forward, and center
Cole Aldrich fits the mold of player the Jazz have previously had at center, and no, not because he happens to be white. Aldrich had a successful career at Kansas, and in past drafts the Jazz showed they liked players who had long college careers. He has a good understanding of the value of position on offense and defense. The best thing about Cole for the Jazz will be his ability to come in and contribute right away. Even if the Jazz lose Boozer they’re a playoff team in the West, so a project isn’t something the Jazz will be interested in. Aldrich can play on the low post and get open shots for Williams, Miles, and the Jazz wings.
Al-Farouq Aminu is another player who would fill a need for the Jazz, but in a different way than Cole Aldrich or Greg Monroe. Currently, Utah has a substantial amount tied into Andrei Kirilenko, but he’s been very hit or miss in his games with the Jazz the past few seasons. Even when at his best, Kirilenko struggles to create his own offense, something Al-Farouq should have no problem doing. Another wing scorer, who is also capable of running the pick and roll with Williams would be a welcomed addition to the Jazz front court.
Greg Monroe is said to be one of the smartest players in this years draft, and a high basketball IQ is something that Jerry Sloan and the rest of the Jazz higher ups place a high value on. He has the speed and size to be potent on the pick and roll, but needs to develop a more consistent outside jumper to become deadly for the Jazz. Monroe would also add rebounding when at center with Paul Milsap, something the Jazz lack when Okur plays on the perimeter.
Outlook for the future:
The Denver Nuggets do not own a draft pick this year, but that shouldn’t be too major of an issue. All of the key players are under contract through at least next season, leaving the core intact. The Nuggets were able to work off the momentum at the end of last season and have taken their place as one of the elite teams in the league.
The maturity of Carmelo Anthony and the leadership of Chauncey Billups makes them championship contenders. Combine that with the solid play from the surrounding cast of JR Smith, Nene, and rookie Ty Lawson and you have a very dangerous team.
Projected draft pick(s): none
Biggest team need(s): depth at power forward, and center
Players to target: none (NO PICKS)
Oklahoma City Thunder (46-28)
Outlook for the future:
Oklahoma City has made the jump to a dangerous playoff team much faster than anyone predicted. I doubt many people had them as a lock for a playoff spot, let alone in a position to potentially get home court in the first round.
Kevin Durant’s game seems to have exploded this season as he’s putting up some monster numbers. Russell Westbrook has also emerged, showing his potential to be one of the great point guards in this league. Loaded with young, talented guard play, the Thunder should look to add a legitimate low post threat.
Projected draft pick(s): 21, 22, and 49
Biggest team need(s): power forward, and center
Players to target: Larry Sanders, Jarvis Varnardo, and Miroslav Raduljica
Larry Sanders has struggled scoring this season for VCU, which has probably hurt his draft stock enough to see him fall out of the lottery. At the combine in Chicago, Sanders will no doubt be one of the best physical specimens with a huge wing span, incredible standing reach, and above-average athleticism. Adding Sanders to a front-court with Durant and Ibaka would provide a ton of length and athleticism. For the Thunder, getting a player focused on defense would be a nice change considering all their options on offense.
Jarvis Varnado is a player in the Larry Sanders mold, but even more raw and even less ready to contribute on offense. Varnado would be an absolute steal if he’s still available at 49th, but it wouldn’t be a shocker if the Thunder reached for Varnado if the other shot-blockers are off the board. Varnado could add a lot of bulk to his frame, which would go a long way to extending his NBA career. With their multiple picks and young core, the Thunder would have the time to wait for him to develop.
Miroslav Raduljica isn’t being projected as a lottery pick like Donatas Motiejunas, but the discrepancy in talent isn’t substantial. Miroslav is 7-0 and has the frame to play in the post tomorrow for an NBA team. He is comfortable in the post, and is capable, though not entirely comfortable, facing up and shooting from the outside. Defensively, Miro isn’t ready, but the Thunder could keep him overseas for another year, or bring him over and allow him to learn in the D-League.
Portland Trailblazers (46-29)
Outlook for the future:
The Portland Trailblazers have dealt with injuries to an almost absurd degree this year. You name the player and he was most likely out for some period of time, including season ending injuries to centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Even their coach, Nate MacMillan, got injured during a team practice!
Despite this fact, they have managed to stay relevant and fight their way into the playoff standings. The main focus for this team in the offseason, besides getting healthy, should be depth. They are relatively sound at point guard and center after acquiring Marcus Camby, so increased depth at the wing position or someone to play behind LaMarcus Aldridge would be the way to go.
Projected draft pick(s): 19, and 41
Biggest team need(s): small forward, power forward, and center
Gordon Hayward would be a great fit for the Blazers given their slower pace and spread half-court sets. Hayward has the ability to spread the court much like Nicholas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Travis Outlaw have for the Blazers this year. There are rumblings that Fernandez could be going to Europe and Outlaw may leave as a free agent. Hayward would allow them the luxury of going big with him at small forward or getting out and running with him at the power forward.
Gani Lawal would bring more depth to the Blazers front-court. You don’t want a team to overreact, but the Blazers have been absolutely decimated by injuries this season and an insurance policy for Oden and Aldrich is a great idea. Lawal is a great athlete with a lot of potential to grow with the right coaching. He was underused at Georgia Tech, splitting limited post touches with Derrick Favors. He has the ability to block shots and could become a great defender given his physical tools.
Stanley Robinson may not be on the board when the Blazers have their first pick, but if he is, he’ll get a long long look. Robinson is an exceptionally gifted athlete and showed the ability to hit the three this season at UConn, especially early in the season. Robinson has to work hard off the ball to get open looks because he struggles in isolation. Given the attention that will be paid to Roy and Aldrich, cuts and off ball movement by Robinson will give him a high chance of success with the Blazers.
Minnesota Timberwolves (15-60)
Outlook for the future:
Minnesota has had problems with the draft over the last few years, from trading away Brandon Roy in 2006 to the whole Rubio ordeal in last year’s draft. The Timberwolves also struggled mightily during the regular season, at times looking worse than the record-book avoiding New Jersey Nets.
A year like this one usually leads to a “take the best available” draft strategy. But while the season has been one to forget, Minnesota at least has some promising young talent to work with. This talent is most noticeable in the front-court with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love. Beyond that, Jonny Flynn is their point guard for the foreseeable future. The Timberwolves should look to build around these existing pieces.
Projected draft pick(s): 2, 17, 24, 32, and 44
Biggest team need(s): shooting guard, and small forward
Players to target: Damion James, James Anderson, and Kyle Singler
Damion James was a Player of the Year candidate early in the season for the Longhorns. As soon as he started getting so much national attention he started to fall off. What James brings to the table is an excellent motor, rebounding, and the ability to score in a variety of ways. Depending on the defender, James can take a player off the dribble or post him up. This would allow him to play small forward for the Timberwolves giving them an extremely productive front-court or fill in at power forward if Love or Jefferson gets into foul trouble. James can knock down open midrange jumpers making him a weapon when Jefferson and Love are passing out of double teams.
James Anderson has a wide draft range; he could go as high as the lottery or fall towards the end of the first round. Even if the Timberwolves get Evan Turner, they have a spot open at shooting guard for an accomplished scorer. They took a long distance marksman in Wayne Ellington last year, who has been disappointing, so taking a more balanced scorer this year is logical. We’ve written a lot on Anderson, but for those uniformed: he’s a great scorer, works best coming off screens, has shown a new found ability getting to the rim, and shoots a great percentage from the foul-line.
Kyle Singler isn’t a lock to come out in this draft, but if he does, his draft range might be even wider than Anderson’s. At 17, 24, and maybe even 32, the Timberwolves would have to take a long look. Singler has a great ability to score from outside and gets to the line at a high rate. From deep, Singler has shot nearly 40% this year for Duke, and got to the line five times a game. If given the opportunity to shoot open jumpers for the Timberwolves, instead of taking contested shots for the Blue Devils, Singler could thrive and be one of the most productive late first round picks.
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