Hi Bucks’ fans! After leading off with the Southwest Division last week, we are going to be moving on to what I think is the most confusing division in the NBA, the Northwest Division, heading into the regular season. So much is uncertain about this group, and I think the race to the top is actually closer than you might think. I will also be evaluating my predictions from last season at this time. Let’s get into it.
2021-22 Standings: 24-58
2021-22 Odds: 1,000,000 to 1
Yes, those odds were pretty ridiculous, but with that said, I didn’t even make a serious posting about this team last year. Even with the Chet Holmgren injury, which will take them out of any small hope they had for a postseason berth away, this team is still not very good. BUT, they have the makings of something that may be solid and may be a fun team to watch.
For one, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was scoring almost 25 points per game last season, and had a 25-5-5 line overall. Rookie Josh Giddey was the other starting guard, and had a 13-8-6 line. That’s a start of a young and possibly great future back court. I then look around and see an assortment of other potentially promising players like Luguentz Dort, Alexsei Pokusevski, Tre Mann and Darius Bazley. They don’t have useless veterans stealing minutes, and they also have a few other rookies in Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams, and Jaylin Williams (confusing, right?).
To replace Holmgren isn’t going to be easy, but in a sense they aren’t really replacing him if you are considering upgrading from last season. Pokusevski, Jaylin Williams, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl all have some potential, especially Poku, so it’s not like this is a deal-breaking injury. This team is just super young to begin with, and the growing pains won’t be huge at this point. Hopefully for his career, he can be on the court just fine next season when they might actually be a postseason dark horse.
2022-23 Odds: 1,000 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 49-33
2021-22 Odds; Even
Okay, so I almost had the Jazz ranked below the Thunder. But forget about that for a second, I had the Jazz as “even” with the Bucks. Aside from Brooklyn, I don’t think I had anybody with a higher rating going into last season. “Utah is once again best in the West, and I think they have gotten better”. Yikes. Well, they were solid, and with all that went wrong winning 50 games is pretty good. I stated that a few obscure veterans like Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside would make the difference in the next step coming off the bench, and that just didn’t happen. Did anybody really see the Jazz falling this hard, and this fast though, or was it just me?
With Rudy Gobert now gone to the Timberwolves, Patrick Beverley flipped to the Lakers, and now Donovan Mitchell is on his way out to the Cleveland Cavaliers, what do the Jazz have left? Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton and Ochai Agbaji is a good package along with the three unprotected firsts and two pick swaps. Malik Beasley, Talen Horton-Tucker and Jarred Vanderbilt is a nice trio as well. Youngsters like Walker Kessler, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jared Butler are nice players. They also still have veterans to trade in Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley and possibly Jordan Clarkson. So there are a lot of nice pieces in Utah already.
If they play their drafts right over the next half decade, the Jazz have the chance to really become one of the more stockpiled teams in the NBA. For now, a trio of Markkanen-Sexton-Beasley just isn’t going to cut it. Is that the big three at this point if they trade their vets? I really don’t know. Maybe the Jazz will be below the Thunder. Let’s just tie them, that way while we know they won’t be good, I also won’t be wrong on who is worse.
2022-23 Odds: 1,000 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 27-55
2021-22 Odds: 25-1
Okay, so last season we were talking about a Ben Simmons potential trade to Portland for CJ McCollum and others. I said if someone like Anfernee Simons or Nassir Little could step up and play starter-caliber basketball, this team might do better than 2020-21. I said the bench was a random hodgepodge of garbage, and that was pretty accurate. To be fair, Simons did step up, but only because Damian Lillard and McCollum weren’t around. I also said, and this is where I will give myself a pass because I said “if you take him (Lillard) away from this team, they would be in the running for Holmgren or Jaden Hardy (steal for the Mavs here?) in the draft.” That was accurate, and that is exactly how it played out.
Now, Portland is revamped. They have Damian Lillard back and healthy. They have Anfernee Simons now taking on the CJ McCollum role. Jusuf Nurkic averaged a double-double when playing, so he should be good to go. You then add in a really solid semi-star in Jerami Grant from Detroit to go in a forward slot, and now you have the foundation of something here. The rest of the roster is where I’m not so sure.
They brought in Finals hero Gary Payton II from Golden State to be a third guard, they got Josh Hart in the McCollum trade, and after that the bench is mostly the rest of the team from last season after Lillard went down. Nassir Little is still there, and essentially is the leader of a random, young, hodgepodge of players. Injuries could bite this team, but if they don’t happen and things play out according to the visions of the masterminds in Portland, they might have a chance. Having a talent like Dame gives them one, but I’m still giving them lower odds just based on their record from last season and all of the uncertainty.
2022-23 Odds: 40 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 46-36
2021-22 Odds: 500 to 1
Basically everything I listed that must happen with Minnesota to have a chance, did happen. Anthony Edwards built upon his fine rookie season, Karl Anthony Towns was very good, Patrick Beverley brought his “winning ways” to Minnesota, and the bench contributed. I just didn’t see it happening, and I didn’t see it happening to this level.
Now, Minnesota is ready to take the next step after taking a massive step forward in 2022. They sent all the chips in to acquire Rudy Gobert from Utah, as mentioned, and they gave up Beverley, Beasley, Vanderbilt and more to get him. Aside from the Big Four of Towns, Edwards, Gobert and D’Angelo Russell, depth may be an issue, especially now that Taurean Prince got arrested and may miss some time due to that.
They brought in veterans Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers and former Buck Bryn Forbes to help with that, and they also have other young players on the bench as well who could help this team. But even with Gobert, that step they took last season almost felt too big to me. I also don’t really trust Russell as a point guard. It may just be me, but just all of the uncertainty is why I don’t have them winning the division. But, they still are a good team and should be watched out for. Their size especially could be tough for a team even as big as the Bucks.
2022-23 Odds: 8 to 1
2021-22 Standings: 48-34
2021-22 Odds: 5-2
Denver wasn’t as good as I thought they could be, even without Jamal Murray, and I think that is partially due to Michael Porter Jr. only playing nine games. I’m sorry Nuggets’ fans, if any are reading this, I just don’t trust him to become a regular contributor based on his injury history. I stated if they had any real hopes, Murray would need to come back (he didn’t) and Porter would need to become the bonafide number two in his absence (he didn’t). Will Barton and Monte Morris stepped up, Jeff Green was good off of the bench/spot-starting and some of the young guys played admirably in reserve roles. Aaron Gordon was also his solid self, solid defense, moderate scoring, just a more-than-decent-at-everything kind of player.
But this team would be 34-48 without Nikola Jokic last season, because while the role players are good, they are not good enough to run a team on their own. Gordon, Barton and Morris as a big three? Yikes. Even Gordon, Porter and Murray isn’t scary. But, we should be able to see what this team looks like full strength, assuming they are ready to start the season and there aren’t any setbacks.
The Nuggets did lose two of their supporting big three from last season in a trade with the Washington Wizards that netted them Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ish Smith. According to Denver Stiffs, the trade didn’t involve draft picks, and I got to learn that their GM is Calvin Booth (whoever that is). So I’m not really sure how beneficial this trade will be for Denver. I’m not crazy about KCP, and even if there is some super underrated stat I’m missing, Barton and Morris combined is way more value than Ish.
Denver is clearly relying a lot on the return of Murray and Porter, newly acquired Bruce Brown flourishing in a larger role especially with Porter likely to miss some games, as well as Bones Hyland continuing his ascent as a Morris (and possibly Murray) replacement. Finally, they need young players like Christian Braun, Zeke Nnaji and Peyton Watson to contribute. Without those depth pieces, Denver is an injury or two away from becoming irrelevant again.
I said last season a full strength Denver team would have a chance in the Finals against us, and I still agree this season, albeit a lesser chance. I’m also only putting them ahead of Minnesota because they technically are getting two All-Star caliber additions to this season, and they don’t have as much to figure out. I think it will be very close, and might even go to Minnesota in the end, but Denver is the safer bet, especially with Jokic.
2022-23 Odds: 5 to 1
There you have it. Oklahoma City is starting to resemble a real basketball team. Portland is likely going to be Portland again. Minnesota has the potential to ascend to the kings of the division (not comparing them to Sacramento, to clarify), and Denver is hoping returns from injuries and growth of young players will help Jokic keep them afloat. And then there is Utah, who may become the worst team, but I still like their pieces enough to put them over OKC for the time being.
Let me know what you all think, please comment below!