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Ranking The NBA’s Northwest Division Teams

Jonathan Concool ranks the teams in the Northwest Division and analyzes their offseason moves.

Jonathan Concool

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With Kevin Durant’s shocking departure, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s reign over the Northwest Division seems like less of a sure thing moving forward. The Thunder have won the division in five of the past six years and still have a talented roster (especially with Russell Westbrook locked up), but they do seem more vulnerable than ever.

That’s because the other four Northwest teams (Portland, Utah, Denver and Minnesota) continue to develop their young cores and made some solid additions this offseason. Each of these teams feature a lot of youth, and we can expect very competitive play within the division this year.

Today, let’s take a look at where each team in the division stands and evaluate their recent moves.

#5 – Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53 last season)

Key Additions: Kris Dunn, Jordan Hill, Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich, hired coach Tom Thibodeau

Key Subtractions: Tayshaun Prince, Andre Miller, Greg Smith, Damjan Rudez

Minnesota has had a relatively quiet offseason besides the hiring of their new head coach Tom Thibodeau, who is expected to work wonders with this very promising and talented team. The Wolves are focused on building around this current young core, and bring back largely the same group minus some of their older contributors from last year (Prince and Miller). Add in the likes of new veterans Brandon Rush, Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich as well as the addition of lottery pick Kris Dunn out of Providence and the Wolves look like they’re onto something.

Minnesota seems ready to turn things around and end their rebuilding process sooner than later. They have found their cornerstones in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Now, with Thibodeau mentoring the promising duo, these Wolves should make substantial strides next season and beyond. With Dunn, Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine (who can slide over to the one) and Tyus Jones, the Timberwolves also have a considerable amount of depth at the point guard position. Although they may still find themselves below .500 at the end of the year, expect Minnesota to show significant improvement next year under the defensive-minded Thibodeau.

#4 – Denver Nuggets (33-49 last season)

Key Additions: Jamal Murray, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez

Key Subtractions: D.J. Augustin

The Nuggets were close to making one of the biggest splashes of free agency when they offered Dwyane Wade a two-year deal worth over $50 million, but Wade ultimately joined his hometown Chicago Bulls. Denver still seems to have ways to go in their rebuilding process as they’ve had a hard time playing at a high level consistently. With that said, they may have found a developing star in 20-year-old Emmanuel Mudiay as well as some very talented frontcourt players in 21-year-olds Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic. While this team does have a talented young core, they’ll also be looking for veterans Danilo Gallinari (who can hopefully stay healthy after missing 52 games over the last two seasons), Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Jameer Nelson and Mike Miller to produce and lead the team.

The Nuggets will bring back largely the same roster, although adding the three talented draft picks should help this team take a step forward. Murray and Beasley are just 19 years old and Hernangomez is 20, so this is a group with a lot of upside. Still, all three rookies have the talent to contribute in year one – especially on the offensive end. The Nuggets had a hard time scoring last season, ranking 20th in points per 100 possessions (102.7). They struggled even more on the defensive end, ranking 24th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (106.4). To improve on last year’s win total, Denver is relying on some of their young players (particularly Mudiay, Jokic, Nurkic and the rookies) to step up and Gallinari to stay healthy.

#3 – Utah Jazz (40-42 last season)

Key Additions: Joe Johnson, George Hill, Boris Diaw, Marcus Paige, Tyrone Wallace, Joel Bolomboy

Key Subtractions: Trevor Booker, Trey Burke

While the Golden State Warriors have understandably received nearly all of the offseason attention for landing Kevin Durant, the Jazz have quietly had a very strong summer. In adding veterans Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw, Utah now has a very strong mix of younger and older players. This team finished last season just one game behind the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets, which would have been their first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 campaign. However, this young Jazz squad struggled down the stretch when the playoffs were right within their reach. Utah hopes adding these three veterans will push them forward and end their postseason drought.

Another underrated move by the Jazz this summer was extending head coach Quin Snyder, who has done a terrific job with this group. In the always competitive Western Conference, it is hard to say whether the Jazz will definitely be in the playoffs next year, but with the moves they made this offseason and another year of experience for their talented young core, it’s certainly the goal and very realistic.

#2 – Portland Trail Blazers (44-38 last season)

Key Additions: Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shabazz Napier, Jake Layman

Key Subtractions: Gerald Henderson, Brian Roberts, Cliff Alexander

After missing out on their top targets in free agency – Hassan Whiteside (Miami HEAT), Chandler Parsons (Memphis Grizzlies) and Pau Gasol (San Antonio Spurs) – Portland’s offseason actually shaped up pretty well. Evan Turner is coming off of a strong season with the Boston Celtics, while Festus Ezeli improves the frontcourt and provides championship experience on a bargain deal. Portland’s front office made a clear statement that they are all-in with the guys they have now, as they matched Allen Crabbe’s large offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets to keep him in Portland, extended C.J. McCollum for the foreseeable future and re-signed Moe Harkless and Meyers Leonard.

Going into last season, most people had the Blazers at the bottom of the conference after losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. But Damian Lillard and McCollum had other ideas, making the playoffs, advancing past the Los Angeles Clippers in round one and giving the defending-champion Golden State Warriors an impressive fight in the second round. The Blazers seem to be heading in the right direction with a young and talented roster, a front office making strong moves and a very good head coach in Terry Stotts (whose deal was extended through the 2020 season). Expect Portland to build off of what they accomplished last season, as they will try to prove that last year’s success was no fluke.

#1 – Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27 last season)

Key Additions: Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Ersan Ilyasova, Alex Abrines, Daniel Hamilton

Key Subtractions: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave was a devastating blow, butt Thunder fans were able to rejoice as Russell Westbrook added two additional sesons extension including a player option in 2018-2019 to stay with Oklahoma City. They did part ways with other key pieces of their roster last year in Serge Ibaka, who was shipped to Orlando, and Dion Waiters, who took a deal with Miami. In trading away Ibaka though, the Thunder brought in the promising young talent of Victor Oladipo to accompany Westbrook in what should be a very exciting backcourt.

After being one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals last season, the Thunder will definitely have to get used to life without Durant and find new ways to score other than just giving the ball to Westbrook. Yes, they lost Durant, but Thunder fans still have an encouraging roster to look forward to next year as they also brought in Domantas Sabonis from Gonzaga and Alex Abrines from the Spanish league. With Ibaka leaving, expect much more from the Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. Obviously when you lose a guy like KD, it will take some time to get used to throughout the season, but Oklahoma City still has some nice pieces in places (and a guy named Russell Westbrook) so certainly don’t expect them to fall off the grid in the conference.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft

Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.

Shane Rhodes

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The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.

While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.

Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night

Mikal Bridges

Talk about heartbreak.

Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.

And then it wasn’t.

It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.

But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.

Michael Porter Jr.

One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.

While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.

It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.

Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.

Sacramento Kings

This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.

The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.

In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.

And they whiffed.

Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.

While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.

Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.

Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.

Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.

Washington Wizards

Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.

Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.

With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.

Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.

Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.

But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.

There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.

Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.

 

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.

Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.

Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.

For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.

Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.

Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.

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