In 2017-18, the deepest division in the NBA will definitely be the Northwest. The two weakest teams in the group last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, are both young squads and added All-Stars to their roster without losing much.
The other three teams, meanwhile, had a variety of different outcomes to their offseasons. However, all three still have rosters talented enough to contend for the playoffs (or much more, in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s case).
Which team will win the Northwest in 2017-18? This preview will give its predictions and picks. First let’s check in with each team’s situation and then decide which has the most appealing betting odds.
Oklahoma City Thunder (evens at MyBookie)
The Thunder have totally overhauled their roster, bringing in Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton at the expense of several starters and other role players.
Ultimately, it makes them a lot better. Russell Westbrook had very little star help in his 2016-17 MVP season, and having George and Anthony to ease his burden will be huge for the offense.
However, this team will take time to gel. Anthony has led his team in shots attempted per game for all 14 seasons of his career, and George has also done so in his last four healthy seasons. How will they fit next to Westbrook, who just set a single-season record for usage rate?
By the end of the year, the Thunder starting lineup will be lethal, though. Admittedly, a shallow bench does make them susceptible to falling off in case of injuries.
- Projected record: 53-29 (47-35 in 2016-17)
Minnesota Timberwolves (+150 at MyBookie)
The Timberwolves are primed for a huge jump in the standings this season. The young duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins improved all throughout last year, and now they’re getting excellent veterans to play with in Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson.
Butler especially will help, as he’s a top-10 player in the league who played four seasons with head coach Tom Thibodeau when both were members of the Chicago Bulls.
The Wolves are not a good shooting team at all, unfortunately. They could have very poor spacing in many of their best lineups. Suspect depth could also plague this squad, though Thibodeau is known for playing his starters big minutes anyway.
- Projected record: 47-35 (31-51 in 2016-17)
Denver Nuggets (+350 at MyBookie)
The Nuggets were extremely fun to watch last season. Young star center Nikola Jokic captivated fans with his amazing passes and crafty inside scoring, while young guards like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray showed flashes of being explosive offensive players in the league.
Denver is poised to take a step toward contention now that they have Paul Millsap, a strong two-way player who made the last four All-Star Games in the Eastern Conference. His presence fills a major need at the starting lineup at power forward and also as a defensive anchor that was missing last season.
There’s still a lot of youth on this squad, and the defensive personnel could stand to improve some more before this team is considered a true title contender.
- Projected record: 46-36 (40-42 in 2016-17)
Portland Trail Blazers (+900 at MyBookie)
The Trail Blazers had a very quiet offseason, losing only Allen Crabbe from last year’s rotation. They seem content with banking on internal growth from their reasonably young squad. A full season of trade deadline acquisition Jusuf Nurkic will help, too. Nurkic will join guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to form a respectable Big Three.
Portland will be held back by its unimpressive crop of wings and forwards. Al-Farouq Aminu, Mo Harmless and Evan Turner are decent role players, but they aren’t the ideal group of guys to go to battle against the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George and Draymond Green in the Western Conference.
- Projected record: 43-39 (41-41 in 2016-17)
Utah Jazz (+1500 at MyBookie)
We know the Jazz are going to be an excellent defensive team in 2017-18. Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Rudy Gobert is an ace rim protector who puts fear in the heart of all would-be penetrators. Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Joe Ingles are smart individual and team defenders.
The question is, though: who’s going to score for this squad? Utah lost Gordon Hayward and George Hill in the offseason, who were the team’s top two scorers. It’s mostly defense-first guys remaining on the team, and there’s no proven go-to scorer, aside from Joe Johnson — but Iso Joe is 36 years old and a full-time sixth man now.
An elite defense and an offense that should be somewhere between below average and poor means Utah should be just a bit above average in 2017-18.
- Projected record: 42-40 (51-31 in 2016-17)
Our Preview’s Northwest Division Betting Predictions & Picks
In a very strong division, there seems to be one clear favorite: the Thunder. They have the best player in the division (Russell Westbrook) and arguably the second-best (Paul George), and now have a few very good players to support them. OKC will need to make some adjustments to accommodate George and Carmelo Anthony, but that shouldn’t take too long.