- Denver Nuggets, Last season’s record and division finish: 47-25/2nd, Lost in Conference Semi’s
Nuggets fans have a lot to be excited about headed into this season and it obviously starts with the Joker, Nikola Jokic. Jamal Murray will also be back from injury and Michael Porter Jr. played great last season in Murray’s absence. If this trio can play together at the levels they were at last year it will be incredibly difficult to beat the Nuggets.
Last season Jokic put up 26.4 points per game on 56.6% shooting and 38.8% from three. Jokic added 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game to top off an incredible season. Murray averaged 21.2 points per game on 47.7% shooting and 4.8 assists with 4 boards per game. Murray was a good number two option for the Nuggets with Jokic being their clear cut top player. Porter Jr. last year averaged 19 points per game on 54.2 % shooting with 7.3 rebounds. If Porter Jr. can keep up his play this squad can go to another level when everyone is on the floor together.
Murray may not be back right away but when he is this Nuggets trio has the ability to take another step forward especially if Jokic continues to play this way. A year ago the Nuggets were 5th in offensive points per 100 possessions at 118 and on defense they were 11th at 112.5. This Nuggets team can get it done on both ends of the floor but the offense is what makes them special.
2. Utah Jazz, Last season’s record and division finish: 52-20/1st, Lost in Conference Semi’s
Jazz fans had a very exciting season last year which included being the top seed in the West, but it came to an end early in the conference semi’s as the Clippers knocked them off. The same team is back and Quinn Snyder is still the coach so there’s lots of reason to be optimistic about the Jazz being close to that good again. The problem is Denver is also excellent and the Jazz are probably due for somewhat of a step back after how good they were last season.
Donovan Mitchell put up 26.4 points per game on 43.8% shooting and 38.6% from three and added 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Mitchell is the top scorer on the team and leader of the team. Rudy Gobert, the defensive anchor of the team, put up 14.3 points per game on 67.5% shooting while grabbing 13.5 rebounds as well. The Jazz rely on being a great team to win and lack a second scorer on or near Mitchell’s level, and because of that a slight step back should be expected. As a team they were 3rd in points per 100 at 118.8 and 1st defensively at 107.5. They very well could win the division again but Denver looks a tad better right now.
3. Portland Trail Blazers, Last season’s record and division finish: 42-30/3rd, Lost in first round of the playoffs
New coach Chauncey Billups will have a pretty nice roster to work with as he tries to get this team to become a real contender for a title. Everything starts with Damian Lillard who averaged 28.8 points per game on 45.1% shooting and 39.1% from three. Lillard added 7.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game to complement his great scoring capabilities. CJ McCollum is the number two guy for this team and he put up 23.1 points per game on 45.8% shooting and 40.2% from three. McCollum also added 4.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds.
The Blazers were 2nd in offensive points per 100 at 119.1 but they were 29th on defense at 116.7. That’s just the problem for the Blazers. As great as they are on offense, they’re just as bad defensively. If this team wants to become a real contender it will have to play better defense. Billups should know this from his time in Detroit, but whether or not he can change the shit defense is something we’ll have to see.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves, Last season’s record and division finish: 23-49/4th, Missed playoffs
Wolves fans missed out on a first round pick this draft and their bad roster didn’t get better. The Wolves are just relying on last year’s rookie Anthony Edwards improvement combined with Karl Anthony-Towns to win games. Not a good formula for success in a competitive Western Conference. Towns averaged 24.8 points per game on 48.6% shooting to go with 10.6 boards and 4.5 assists per game. Towns is their top player, but Edwards is looking to become a star himself. Edwards as a rookie averaged 19.3 points per game on 41.7% shooting with 4.7 boards and 2.9 assists. In points per 100 offensively the Wolves finished 25th at 110.1 and defensively finished 27th at 116.2. With no significant moves made it’s tough to see this team being much better.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder, Last season’s record and division finish: 22-50/5th, Missed playoffs
The Thunder were shit last season and no major moves were made to get better. They acquired Josh Giddey of Australia 6th overall in the draft but he won’t be a major force right away. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last season averaged 23.7 points per game on 50.8% shooting and 41.8% from three. SGA added 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game. As a team, the Thunder were 30th at 103.9 in offensive points per 100 and on defense they were 26th at 115.1. Don’t expect this team to be better.