2011 Season Preview- Northwest Division

The Northwest Division is filled with plenty of young talent.

Between two budding stars in Oklahoma City, the reigning rebounding resides in Minnesota and two of the top three picks in the 2011 NBA Draft were within the division. 

The Thunder are just hoping Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can continue to co-exist and put aside any tension from the past. Both are strong competitors capable of carrying the team to a victory.

Minnesota is hoping its two rookies can help snap a seven year playoff drought.

The Jazz continued to load their front court, selecting a power forward with the third overall pick.

Portland was forced to use its amnesty provision on Brandon Roy. The 26-year-old guard had to retire because of he was lacking cartilage in both of his knees.

Denver lost three of its players to China during the lockout, but a few new faces could restore them as contenders for the post season.

Oklahoma City Thunder (46-20)

As the NBA lockout was set up to help teams recover from missteps taken over the past few years, the Thunder was perhaps the only team to receive no benefits from the new agreement.

The team has drafted well, never panicked when negotiating with free agents and received the better end of each trade it has made since moving to Oklahoma City in 2008.

The roster had no players that needed to be cut with the amnesty rule, sitting well beneath the salary cap, even with two of the most talented young players in the game, the only glaring weakness the Thunder has is inexperience.

A run to the Western Conference Finals showed Oklahoma City has moved even closer to championship contention but needs to prove it is ready to take the next step without reshuffling its roster.

Smart Move: By not making any moves, the Thunder remain a factor during the summer of 2012, when the talent pool significantly increases. Instead of adding a veteran that isn’t a great fit, by once again remaining patient, Oklahoma City can remain a long term contender.

Questionable Move: Nate Robinson was the odd man out in the crowded Thunder back court. If James Harden is moved into the starting lineup, the team will miss Robinson’s ability to instantly provide an offensive spark.

Watch Out For: After swatting away a league-high 198 shots last season, Serge Ibaka could be a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Playing a full season next two Kendrick Perkins will allow him more opportunities to roam away from his opponent and protect the rim.


Portland Trail Blazers (36-30)

Portland thought it lost a franchise player when Brandon Roy underwent knee surgery eventually forced him to retire.

Instead, power forward LaMarcus Aldridge morphed into an All-NBA player. As Portland shifted to make Aldridge the primary focus of the offense, he responded by averaging career-highs with 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field.

LaMarcus Aldridge quickly became the franchise player in Portland after Brandon Roy was injured.

He was snubbed from the All-Star Game, mainly because of the surplus of talent at the power forward position in the conference, but his performance earned him a position on the All-NBA Third Team.

Smart Move: Roy isn’t the only significant injury Portland experienced. Former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden underwent knee surgery, sidelining him for the year. Instead of running him out of town, the Blazers retained the restricted free agent by agreeing to a one-year $8.9 million contract.

Questionable Move: By briefly getting involved in all of the trade rumors, Portland floated Gerald Wallace‘s name. After just half a season with the Trail Blazers, making him disgruntled is not how the team should try and rebuild.

Watch Out For: Portland was able to move Wesley Matthews into the starting lineup and he averaged 15.9 points per game, shooting 49% from the field and 40.7% from three-point range.


Denver Nuggets (25-41)

Resigning center Nene was the right move for the Nuggets, the only problem is his five-year $67 million deal is too steep.

The contract averages $13.4 million per season, too much money to pay for a player unlikely ever to be selected to an All-Star Game.

Nene shot a league best 61.5% from the field last season.

The 6-foot-11 center has never averaged over eight rebounds, blocked more than 1.3 shots or even played more than 33 minutes per game.

While he was the best center on the market and there were other suitors, having Nene account for more than 22% of their salary cap is way too much for Denver.

Smart Move: Denver lost J.R. Smith to China and needed help behind Arron Afflalo at shooting guard. The Nuggets sent a future second round pick for the rights to Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer.

Questionable Move: Afflalo is one of the top defensive shooting guards in the league and by not making him a real offer to stay.

Watch Out For: Ty Lawson became the starter midway through the year and proved he belonged. He shot over 40% from three-point range for the second consecutive year. Lawson’s 37 points, seven rebound and six assist performance against Minnesota showcased his talents.


Minnesota Timberwolves (22-44)

After spending the summer with Team USA at the FIBA World Championships, Kevin Love came back to Minnesota ready to play.

Once the season began, he became the most consistent double-double threat in the league.

Kevin Love had only eight games with less than 10 rebounds last season.

Against New York, Love became the first player in 28 years to score 30 points and grab 30 rebounds in the same game.

Not only did his 31 point, 30 rebound effort lead a furious comeback to topple the Knicks, it set up his All-Star campaign.

Love kept busy this off-season, shedding 20 pounds and ready to improve on his 20.4 point, 15.3 rebound per game averages from a year ago.

The Timberwovles haven’t reached the post season since 2003-04, but if Love continues his excellent play, the streak may end this year.

Smart Move: The selection of Derrick Williams provides the stretch forward the team can use to keep Love in the post. Plus if he can contribute significant minutes immediately, Michael Beasley can be moved for a shooting guard the team desperately needs.

Questionable Move: Minnesota added yet another point guard, this time agreeing to a deal with Jose Barea.

Watch Out For: Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft is set to make his NBA debut. He is one of the most talented passers in the world. In his pre-season debut, Rubio scored six points, dished out seven assists and six rebounds in 24 minutes.


Utah Jazz (21-45)

A look at Al Jefferson’s stat line would indicate he had one of the most productive seasons of any center in the league.

The 26-year-old averaged 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. What isn’t evident is that he is perhaps the worst defender in the league.

Al Jefferson must improve his defensive play if Utah is going to make a playoff run.

Jefferson routinely surrenders post position, failed to provide any help side defense and the Jazz surrendered 6.8 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

Utah needs to an improved defensive effort from Jefferson if it expects to recover from the tailspin it closed the season, dropping 20 of its final 28 games.

Smart Move: Selecting Enes Kanter with the third overall pick, Utah continued to add talent to its front court and can become a factor towards the trade deadline, look for Mehmet Okur’s $10 million expiring contract to become valuable.

Questionable Move: The team needs a small forward and had the opportunity to make a small bid on Travis Outlaw and fill a glaring need on the roster.

Watch Out ForPaul Millsap excelled coming off the bench and Derrick Favors, the third overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, averaged 8.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

About Brendan Galella

Brendan Galella founded Shatter the Glass to make the NBA even more accessible to basketball fans. Composing player rankings, team evaluations and intriguing observations, he hopes to turn every reader into a dedicated and educated basketball follower.

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