By Ben Anderson
Follow him on Twitter @BenAndKFAN
Northwest Division Preview
Notable Additions: Andre Iguodala
Notable Losses: Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo
The Nuggets acquired Andre Iguodala in the trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, and Andrew Bynum of the 76ers, and in return gave up relatively little. Al Harrington was a high talent low output NBA journeyman and Arron Afflalo was a sharp-shooting defensive wing, though neither are cornerstone pieces for an NBA franchise. Iguodala brings versatility on both sides of the ball for the Nuggets, being one of the NBA’s most gifted wing defenders and a talented shooter/passer to team with Ty Lawson in the Nuggets backcourt. Between Iguodala, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee, the Nuggets have the potential to be one of the NBA’s longest and most athletic teams running the floor with speedster Ty Lawson, capable of wreaking havoc on opposing teams in the mile high city.
The looming question for the Nuggets is whether Danilo Gallinari can step into the go to scoring role expected out of him after arriving in Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade. If Gallinari returns to his pre All-Star numbers from last year, expect the Nuggets to have a fabulous 2012-13 campaign, and to compete for home court advantage in the West. If Gallinari turns in a season comparable to the final 18 games of the 2011-12 season (11.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, .358 FG%, .352 3P%), the Nuggets will find themselves jockeying with the Jazz, Mavericks, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies to keep themselves relevant in the West.
Notable Additions: Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger
Notable Losses: Michael Beasley, Martell Webster
The Minnesota Timberwolves are trying to build a playoff contender with 2011-12 NBA castoffs Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko, Roy back from what was considered a career ending knee injury, Kirilenko returning to Europe with his former ball club CSKA Moscow where he played at an MVP level. Last year the Timberwolves seemed poised for their first postseason run since the departure of Kevin Garnett until long awaited European sensation Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL. After losing Rubio, the Wolves finished the season 5-20, and last in the Northwest Division.
In addition to a missing Ricky Rubio, (who is expected to be rehabbing through the first of the new year) Kevin Love recently suffered a broken bone in his right hand and is expected to games well into December. With injuries to Rubio and Love, expect to see increased minutes for both Roy and Kirilenko, both with injury concerns of their own.
Despite the intriguing off-season moves, and what should be a roster making a furious run for the postseason once they get healthy, trying to compete in the loaded West with out their two best players places the Timberwolves squarely behind the eight ball, where they should finish just outside the postseason once again.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Notable Additions: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb
Notable Losses: James Harden
With the most recent blockbuster move of the NBA off-season, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent 6th Man of the Year award winner James Harden to the Houston Rockets in exchange for sharp shooter Kevin Martin and lottery draft pick Jeremy Lamb. Harden was the NBA’s best bench player last year, and one of the most diverse offensive players in the league. Martin possesses some of the same tools Harden displayed, notably the ability to shoot from deep, and still get to the free-throw line, but doesn’t quite have the dribble drive game that made Harden so deadly in the pick and roll. While Martin should undoubtedly see an improvement in his offensive efficiency, finding open shots off double teams drawn by both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that didn’t exist last year with Houston, the Thunder will need time to adjust to Martin’s lack of defensive prowess and more ball dominant style of basketball.
Despite the step back in talent that comes with the loss of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the engines that make the Thunder go, and frighteningly, both superstars still have room to grow. Though the Thunder may not be the juggernaut they were when they won the West last season, they will win the Northwest Division, and compete for top spot in the West, if not the entire NBA.
Portland Trail Blazers
Notable Additions: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard
Notable Losses: Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford
What had been probably the most promising team in the NBA just a few years ago, the Portland Trail Blazers have seen their future decimated with devastating injuries to former stars Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. While both Roy and Oden will attempt to make NBA comebacks, neither is with the team that drafted them. Instead, the Blazers are moving forward with All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and rookie additions Damian Lillard (6th pick overall) and Meyers Leonard (11th pick overall).
Both Lillard and Leonard have looked promising in the preseason, Lillard already drawing Rookie of the Year attention, but they alone won’t be enough to make the Blazers a competitive team this year. The Blazers attempted to upgrade their roster in the off season by offering Indiana Pacers All-Star Center Roy Hibbert a max contract, a deal the Pacers ultimately matched and left the Blazers empty handed.
The Blazers have a talented starting line up with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and JJ Hickson, but ultimately their bench leaves a lot to be desired. The highlight of the season for Blazers fans will be the development of Lillard and Leonard, but ultimately they should find themselves deep in the lottery come June of next year.
Notable Additions: Marvin Williams, Mo Williams, Randy Foye
Notable Losses: Devin Harris, CJ Miles
The Utah Jazz made a surprising run to the playoffs last year in their first season without All-Star point guard Deron Williams behind a career year from Paul Millsap, and solid years from sophomores Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. Despite a strong regular season, the Jazz were disposed of by the San Antonio Spurs in 4 games.
The Jazz most glaring weakness last year was their inability to shoot the ball from the perimeter where the team finished 4th worst in three point shooting percentage, and made the 3rd fewest three pointers in the league. The Jazz addressed the problem by moving starting point guard Devin Harris for Marvin Williams (.389 3P%), using a Traded Player Exception to acquire former Jazz draftee Mo Williams (.389 3P%), and signing Randy Foye (.398 3P%.)
Despite these additions, the Jazz biggest question going into the season focuses on their big man rotation. While the Jazz have up-and-comers Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter looking poised for breakout seasons, both will see limited minutes behind presumed starters Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. If the Jazz want to build for the future, both Kanter and Favors must be allowed to progress with time on the floor. However Jazz ownership has long stated the goal every season is to play for today, having to make the playoffs to protect the team’s bottom line, and likely most easily achieved in the hands of Jefferson and Millsap.
While the Jazz appear to have improved their most glaring issues in the off season by adding proven three point shooters, this season should feel much like the last for Jazz fans; competing for a mid-level playoff spot in the loaded West, hoping to see greatness from their young players in limited minutes on the floor.