Northwest Division Preview*
Oklahoma City Thunder
Over/Under 58 1/2 - OVER
I almost went ahead and changed this after they traded Harden, but I kept them at the over for two reasons:
1) Kevin Durant is the best natural scorer—possibly in the history of the NBA. He’s also 24 years-old and only getting smarter and stronger. That should scare people almost as much as LeBron in the post does.
2) Russell Westbrook might get even more opportunities to drive to the hole with Harden gone. I think he’s gonna take even more shots this year, and score even more since he’s become lethal pull-up shooter; the only person better at putting the ball in the bucket will be his teammate, Durant.
Not to mention the fact Serge Ibaka led the league in blocks last year, and he’s improved every year. Everyone is so young still, even with the loss of Harden. Eric Maynor comes back to spell relief for Westbrook, and Maynor is a better defender. Nick Collison lost his second team pick and roll partner to Houston, but he’s still a good shooter and a heady player that understands the game and knows how to sneak inside for offensive boards.
For Dwight, they’ve still got Kendrick Perkins, and for Kobe they’ve got Thabo. For Nash, they’ve got Russell and for Metta W_____ P____, they’ve got the possible 2013 NBA MVP. I like the Thunder’s chances against the Lakers and everyone else. I wouldn’t sleep on them using the Lakers signings plus the Heat loss to spur them to something like 64 wins. They’ve got the talent and the motivation now. Everyone believes they’ve traded their way to second tier status behind the Lakers. They know better.
Portland Trail Blazers
Over/Under 33 1/2 - OVER
A good way to talk yourself into the over for this Trail Blazers team is the core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and rookie point guard, Damian Lilliard. They’ve also got J. J. Hickson backing up Aldridge. I don’t really want to spend time talking about their other role players and back-ups because they’re not very good, but are they so bad they’ll lose 50 games this season? Nope. I don’t like the Blazers as a possible playoff contender, but they’ll be better than 33 wins, I think.
Aldridge should be considered a top 20 player in the NBA and Batum just signed for a shit ton of money, so you gotta hope his impressive advanced stats the last couple seasons, continue to improve even after he got paid (you never know when a player signs that first big $ deal—even though I think Hibbert will continue to improve). Damian Lillard played so well in the preseason, a lot of people are saying the ROY contest won’t just be handed to Anthony Davis.
I’m not happy about betting on Terry Stotts, but maybe he’s just been saddled with shitty teams in Milwaukee and elsewhere. I want to believe in this team because the Oregon fans are impressive, if whiny, and I want basketball to excel in the pacific northwest, which is really beautiful country. Why am I including this regional bias in a season preview? Because I’m tired of writing these (I did them all today), and I haven’t been able to watch as much of CLE-WAS and MIA-BOS as I’d have liked. At least I know the league pass is working.
Over/Under 43 1/2 - UNDER
OK, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams are a good front court and Williams fits in well with Millsap and Jefferson since he doesn’t dominate the ball or try for his own shot that much. Either Millsap or Jefferson will get traded this year, or at some point, since their offensive games overlap so badly, but they’re still a lot to handle. Derrick Favors and a newly trim Enes Kanter backing them up means they’ve got one of the best starting and back-up front-court players in the league.
I hate the Jazz backcourt after losing Devin Harris (and I hate Harris’ schizophrenic game), and I’m not sold that Mo Williams is now underrated after being overrated in Cleveland. Gordon Hayward was a specter against San Antonio last year, and I’m not sure he’s got what it takes to be a successful starter in this league if the playoffs are gonna terrify him so much.
I just don’t really believe in this Jazz team. I know a lot of people are really high on them, and that’s fine because Millsap and Jefferson are excellent, but I don’t think they’re good enough to be .500 in the West.
Over/Under 39 1/2 - OVER
This is based off Kevin Love coming back and missing only 10 games; Ricky Rubio coming back some time in December and picking up right where he left off; Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko getting to 80% of where they were 4 years ago, and Rick Adelman continuing to look similar to Liam Neeson in “The Grey.”
This is definitely wishful thinking on my part, but I think they can get back to where they were last season, and even beyond. I’m listening to Reggie Miller right now as he explains how the Lakers’ Princeton Offense is a continuation of the Sacramento Kings in the early aughts, and I wanted to break my girlfriend’s TV (which would lose me the rest of the late game, and my girlfriend). The Timberwolves are the continuation of those Kings teams, primarily because of Adelman, but also because Rubio and Love both play that brand of basketball, even though Love is talented enough to shoot the ball 35 times a game, and no one in Minnesota except his teammates would care.
I’m a litle concerned at the seemingly Xeroxed skin color of their rotation, but this is a preview and not a meditation on race and the Minnesota area, which is lovely by the way.
Luke Ridnour is a quality point guard in the mean time, and JJ Barea can drop some buckets off the bench when the team needs a fiery spark plug under six feet tall. Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic will get some offensive touches with Love on the bench, and I’m not worried at all. This Minnesota team will be competing for a playoff berth at the end of the year. I think.
Over/Under 51 1/2 - UNDER
I really love this team, and I’d guess so does George Karl. But what happens when they need a bucket late in a playoff game, and the defense has tightened? Who scores when it becomes really tough to score? The only way to attack that problem is to run, run and run some more. Ty Lawson will run this team until they’re fed up with running, and then Karl will make them run again.
JaVale McGee gives them length up front, but he’s still JaVale McGee (no matter how many profiles are done for Sports Illustrated and ESPN Mag). Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufas are some more big bodies when McGee gets in trouble. Maybe Kenneth Faried is a little undersized for power forward, but even if some of the writing about Faried is hyperbolic, it’s not undeserved. The guy just screams energy, like the gif of Russell Westbrook does above. He’s already been spotted flying for an oop from Andre Miller, and I’m pretty sure he’s gonna average a double-double and possibly contend for the rebounding title. Danilo Galinari is a deadeye shooter and possibly this team’s best offensive player. He’s too quick for most power forwards, but can be taken advantage of on the block by some bigger ones.
To augment this frontcourt we’ve got Andre Iguodala: the backbone of Philly’s dominating defense last season and with Memphis’ Tony Allen one of the two best perimeter defenders in the league. Then there’s Ty Lawson, a top 10 point now, who can drop 30 and dish for 15; he will run you silly up and down his home court until your lungs beg for oxygen, then he’ll cackle and take off again.
This is a team in George Karl’s image and just like Melo’s New York team, it’s on him if they fail.
*All bets via Bovada