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NBA 2013-14 Preview: Northwest Division
By: Staff Writer - StatFox
Published: 10/9/2013  at  12:00:00 PM
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StatFox continues its run of previewing all six NBA divisions in the next six weeks before the regular season tips off on Oct. 29. Next up is the Northwest Division, which Oklahoma City won by a narrow three-game margin over Denver last season.

Once the NBA season begins, check out NBA Best Bets for all the Expert picks both Against the Spread and Over/Under Totals. StatFox Scott was 57% (130-99-5) in Totals last season (including 58% in playoffs) and 52.4% ATS (122-111-2) on his regular season Best Bets. StatFox Gary was 59.4% (19-13-1) on Totals in the postseason, while StatFox Dave was 53% ATS (10-9) Best Bets for the NBA Playoffs and StatFox Brian was 52.1% ATS (25-23) Best Bets in the postseason.

NORTHWEST DIVISION

DENVER NUGGETS

2012-13 SU record: 59-29 SU (67.0%), 4th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 49-39 ATS (55.7%), 6th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Northwest Division: 6-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Western Conference: 22-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 40-to-1

GUARDS
TY LAWSON is turning into something of a one-man army as the roster around him crumbles. As good as he is as a quick playmaker who can knock down an open three, his supporting cast is lacking . . . EVAN FOURNIER is better than RANDY FOYE now, and he’s certainly a bigger part of Denver’s future. Fournier proved surprisingly ready for the NBA last season. While Foye brings more scoring power to a team that suddenly lacks offense, he’s both inefficient and one-dimensional . . . NATE ROBINSON will provide instant offense and lead the second unit . . . ANDRE MILLER will lose a few minutes this year, but the 37-year-old still has good basketball left.

FORWARDS
Coming off a late-season ACL tear, DANILO GALLINARI will be lucky to make it back by December . . . KENNETH FARIED will likely never develop into anything more than an energy guy and high-volume rebounder, but he’s good at what he does . . . WILSON CHANDLER can shoot and defend multiple positions. With Gallinari a question mark, he could be in for a much bigger role this year . . . DARRELL ARTHUR is an interesting second-unit player. He’s an athlete who was starting to show some skill in Memphis before getting hurt . . . Gunning wingman JORDAN HAMILTON may get a longer look in the second half of the season . . . QUINCY MILLER is likely ticketed for more D-League action . . . ANTHONY RANDOLPH is a lost cause.

CENTERS
The time has arrived for JAVALE MCGEE. The front office wants him on the floor full-time. For all the knucklehead plays, he’s still an incredible athlete in a massive 7-foot frame . . . Talk of J.J. HICKSON potentially starting is absurd. A brutal defender unable to play within the flow of an offense, he’s a second-unit talent . . . TIMOFEY MOZGOV is Plan B behind McGee. The 7-footer can defend and set screens.

StatFox Take: While the Nuggets are still a long shot to win the NBA championship, their success on their home court gives them a chance to surprise people out West and steal the conference. Last season they were 38-3 at home and with some improvements on the road under new head coach Brian Shaw, maybe they will have home-court locked up throughout the playoffs when that time comes around.

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

2012-13 SU record: 31-51 SU (37.8%), 22nd in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 38-42-2 ATS (47.5%), T-21st in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Northwest Division: 10-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Western Conference: 50-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 100-to-1

GUARDS
Unlike last year, RICKY RUBIO should be 100 percent healthy for all of this season. He’s one of the NBA’s most creative playmakers. Now if only he could make a jump shot . . . KEVIN MARTIN has become much more of a catch-and-shoot player after years of attacking the basket and living at the line. He is coming off his best year shooting the ball . . . If the Wolves don’t move J.J. BAREA, they’ll have him in the sixth man role they initially envisioned before injuries destroyed the roster a year ago . . . ALEXEY SHVED did a nice job holding down this backcourt as a rookie last year, but he’s a second-unit talent, which is the role he’ll be in this season.

FORWARDS
KEVIN LOVE should bounce back completely this season, as his hand injury is unlikely to linger. Lock him into the All-Star game . . . CHASE BUDINGER never got a chance to get going last season, but he’s exactly the kind of spot-up shooter and savvy cutter who should thrive alongside Ricky Rubio. Unfortunately, he is sidelined with a knee injury for several months . . . COREY BREWER gives the Timberwolves a defensive specialist to platoon with Budinger. Someone has to convince him he can’t shoot, though . . . With Love back, DERRICK WILLIAMS returns to the bench as a seemingly never-ending project . . . SHABAZZ MUHAMMAD seems like a low-risk, but low-reward, second-unit scorer . . . DANTE CUNNINGHAM will back up both post spots. He figures to play sparingly unless injuries hit.

CENTERS
NIKOLA PEKOVIC signed a $60M deal in August to return to the team and hold down the low post. He’s an absolute beast on the offensive boards . . . GORGUI DIENG seems ready to help off the bench. He’s a bit limited athletically and on offense, but can block shots . . . RONNY TURIAF will battle Dieng for bench minutes.

StatFox Take: The Timberwolves have some nice pieces, but they are still missing a dominant scorer and the athletic defenders necessary to finish atop the Western Conference. With first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad possibly heading towards the D-League, this is clearly a team in rebuilding mode, even with a healthy Kevin Love returning.

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

2012-13 SU record: 65-28 SU (69.9%), 3rd in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 51-40-2 ATS (56.0%), 4th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Northwest Division: 1-to-4
Odds to Win 2013-14 Western Conference: 11-to-4
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 7-to-1

GUARDS
RUSSELL WESTBROOK is going to likely miss the first 4-to-6 weeks of the regular season after getting another procedure done on Oct. 1 to reduce swelling on his knee. It will probably take him some time to get rid of the rust of not playing all summer . . . THABO SEFOLOSHA should play even more minutes this season with Kevin Martin gone. He has added a three-point shot to his repertoire . . . REGGIE JACKSON could end up absorbing a lot of the minutes that went to James Harden two years ago and Martin last season. But he’s nowhere near the offensive threat . . . JEREMY LAMB will push Jackson for that sixth-man role. He’s dominated against lesser competition . . . DEREK FISHER will get minutes as a player/coach.

FORWARDS
KEVIN DURANT may have to take on an even bigger role in the regular season as the Thunder try to replace Kevin Martin’s offensive production. Either way, he’s the MVP among the league’s non-LeBrons . . . SERGE IBAKA has had his postseason issues and still struggles defensively outside of rim protection, but he has added value with his mid-range shooting . . . NICK COLLISON’s biggest skill is his ability to take charges. He’ll continue to log big minutes at the four and five as a glue guy . . . One of two very raw young players, PERRY JONES III and ANDRE ROBERSON, has a chance for playing time on a thin team.

CENTERS
KENDRICK PERKINS was a disaster in last year’s postseason, but still provides the kind of low-post muscle the Thunder look for . . . Rookie STEVEN ADAMS could take over for Perkins down the road, but he’s too raw to make an impact this year . . . HASHEEM THABEET fills out the final roster spot.

StatFox Take: With Russell Westbrook missing time at the beginning of the season, it’s tough to see Oklahoma City winning the Western Conference again like it did last regular season. But come playoff time, the Thunder have a great chance of making another NBA Finals appearance once their team has had enough time to gel. Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson will need to step up, but at 7-to-1, the odds are favorable for a team that could very well be hoisting a trophy come June.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2012-13 SU record: 33-49 SU (40.2%), 21st in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 34-43-5 ATS (44.2%), 25th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Northwest Division: 15-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Western Conference: 65-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 125-to-1

GUARDS
DAMIAN LILLARD is for real, an elite shooter and a natural running the pick-and-roll. Though we’re a little worried about what will happen if pick-and-pop partner LaMarcus Aldridge is dealt sometime this season . . . WESLEY MATTHEWS will be battling for playing time with Portland loading up on wings . . . C.J. MCCOLLUM can play either guard spot, but primarily he’s a scorer and a potentially elite shooter. He’ll often share the backcourt with Lillard, as Eric Maynor did last season . . . MO WILLIAMS will provide the Blazers with a veteran guard presence who is more than capable of lighting it up on any given night. He is, however, a major defensive liability…If he straightens out his jumper, WILL BARTON could end up being a solid second-unit player . . . EARL WATSON gives them a much more reliable back-up point guard than Ronnie Price was . . . Sharpshooter ALLEN CRABBE will likely find himself in the D-League early on.

FORWARDS
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE’s name will be in trade rumors all season, but it won’t affect his role as this team’s No. 1 option . . . NICOLAS BATUM will continue to do a little bit of everything, playing point forward to allow Lillard to play off the ball at times, and serving as a dangerous three-point shooter . . . DORELL WRIGHT can lock opponents down when he wants to. He’ll push Wesley Matthews for minutes . . . Portland will be the next team to try to squeeze production out of 2012 No. 5 pick THOMAS ROBINSON. After Sacramento and Houston both gave up on him almost immediately, Robinson in danger of falling off the NBA map . . . VICTOR CLAVER provides some energy as a second-unit bit player . . . JOEL FREELAND has six fouls to give.

CENTERS
ROBIN LOPEZ will be a better fit alongside Aldridge than J.J. Hickson was. Lopez isn’t skilled, but he can take some defensive responsibilities away from Aldridge . . . MEYERS LEONARD is, as expected, still a work in progress. He’s enormous and there’s some raw talent, but he too often looks lost.

StatFox Take: The Trail Blazers got off to a decent start in 2012-2013, but injuries and inexperience derailed this team, as they ended the season with a 13-game losing skid. The team lost J.J. Hickson, a major offensive contributor, but brought in Robin Lopez to play center and drafted C.J. McCollum, another guard who paired up with Damian Lillard can do some damage from the outside. The Blazers are a ways away from competing with the NBA’s elite and are not a good bet to take a major leap this season.

UTAH JAZZ

2012-13 SU record: 43-39 SU (52.4%), 13th in NBA
2012-13 ATS record: 42-38-2 ATS (52.5%), T-10th in NBA
Odds to Win 2013-14 Northwest Division: 100-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 Western Conference: 90-to-1
Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 200-to-1

GUARDS
TREY BURKE is a savvy floor general who can shoot, but he’s also short and a mediocre athlete (and we’ve seen how that’s worked out for Brandon Knight). He’ll step right in at the point, but immediate success is hardly guaranteed . . . ALEC BURKS is locked in at the two. He’ll be able to hang in defensively, and he’s a decent ball-handler and passer. His shaky jumper is an issue . . . BRANDON RUSH returns from an ACL tear and could emerge as the sixth man . . . JOHN LUCAS III is here as a Plan B at the point and to help mentor Burke a bit . . . IAN CLARK won’t see a lot of action as a rookie, but he can play either guard spot.

FORWARDS
DERRICK FAVORS will run into foul trouble, but he will be a nightly double-double threat and rim protector . . . GORDON HAYWARD becomes Utah’s No. 1 option on offense. He’ll struggle to create his own shot with defenses focusing on him, but he is a knock-down, three-point shooter who’s improving off the dribble . . . MARVIN WILLIAMS is coming off heel surgery and will miss at least the first month of the season. He’s not a part of Utah’s long-term plans, but will likely see minutes due to the team’s lack of depth . . . RICHARD JEFFERSON is a player/coach at this point in his career . . . JEREMY EVANS will be brainstorming for the dunk contest.

CENTERS
ENES KANTER is a major upgrade over Al Jefferson as a defender and in the team concept on offense. He immediately becomes one of the league’s better starting centers . . . ANDRIS BIEDRINS at least has a chance to reestablish himself as a capable back-up . . . RUDY GOBERT has freakish size, but he’s a major project who is nowhere near ready to contribute.

StatFox Take: With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap finally out of Utah, it’s now Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter’s turn to anchor this frontcourt. New point guard Trey Burke is going to be asked to contribute a lot offensively for a team that has a very low ceiling. The Jazz could shock some people and grab an eight-seed in the West this season, but they won’t come anywhere near a Western Conference top seed or NBA championship in the near future.

All NBA Previews

ATLANTIC Division
CENTRAL Division
SOUTHEAST Division
NORTHWEST Division
PACIFIC Division - Wed, Oct. 16
SOUTHWEST Division - Wed, Oct. 23
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