Published on 11 Oct 2022 8:44 pm (UK Time)
The 2022-2023 NBA Season is right around the corner. While there were many eye-opening blockbuster acquisitions during the Free Agency Market period over the summer, seeing their action on their new teams remains to be seen. In the Northwest Division, the Denver Nuggets look to stake claim to the top of the mountain, thanks to their MVP in Nikola Jokic, but a young Minnesota Timberwolves team and a Portland Trail Blazers team looking to prove they can contend with the best in the league are out to make a statement of their own.
Could Jokic three-peat as regular season MVP? Will Damian Lillard bring Portland to a deep playoff run?
Minnesota reached the playoffs for the first time since 2018 when Jimmy Butler led them. Despite their first-round exit to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Timberwolves showed much promise and a glimpse of who they could be in the future. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell are the pieces that the Wolves need to help them excel in a Western Conference that appears to be depleted in terms of competitiveness. Even more, the Wolves acquired Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz Minnesota should not only be competitive this season, but they will be a fun team to watch.
Predictions: Anthony Edwards will not only be an all-star for the upcoming season, but he will also be Minnesota’s top scorer and most likely be in contention for the scoring title. Karl-Anthony towns will put up double-double performances and will be mentioned in the MVP race. As for the Wolves as a team, they will make the postseason again and will get past the first round.
Starting Lineup: D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Rudy Gobert
Oklahoma City Thunder
The good news for Oklahoma City is that they drafted Chet Holmgren. The bad news is that the Thunder won’t be able to utilize him thanks to a foot injury that will make him miss the entire season. OKC will have to go back to developing their young core of Josh Giddey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Aleksej Pokusevski, Luguentz Dort, and Darius Bazley, with Gilgeous-Alexander seemingly ahead of the development process. Oklahoma City are going to have another long season, but there is always a silver lining to such things.
Predictions: I don’t expect Oklahoma City to somehow will their way into the postseason, especially with Holmgren sitting out with an injury and missing the entire season a la Blake Griffin. The Thunder will have a bad season, which means they will be in the draft lottery, only this time, they will be considered favorites to secure the number one draft pick to acquire Victor Wembanyama.
Starting Lineup: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
Nikola Jokic is once again MVP of the NBA, but could he make a bid to win a third consecutive award, joining Larry Bird and Bill Russell as the only players to do so? As long as Jokic is still a double-double and sometimes a triple-double machine, that could be the case. As for the rest of the Nuggets, Jamal Murray missed an entire season while recovering from a torn ACL, but the real question is can he get back to what he was back in the bubble in 2020 when he became the leading scorer?
Michael Porter Jr. had a good season back in 2021, only to be hindered by a back injury last season. Porter Jr. should be ready to play for the upcoming season and hopefully return to his 2021 production numbers. Bones Hyland averaged 10.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game last season, but should make a leap.
Predictions: Along with Jokic returning as an all-star, Jamal Murray will also become an all-star as well. In addition, Murray and Porter Jr. will both be in the running for the Most Improved Player award this season. Denver will see their scoring production rise, and heading into the playoffs, the Nuggets will have a deep playoff run, granted they stay healthy. Aaron Gordon will also be vital to Denver with his production also.
Starting Lineups: Jamal Murray, Bones Hyland, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic
NBA Northwest Division Champions
Throughout the free agency period, Utah had a clearance of talent going elsewhere. Rudy Gobert left to play for the Timberwolves, Donovan Mitchell was dealt to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Patrick Beverley was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers and Bojan Bogdanovic joined the Detroit Pistons. This left the Jazz to start back at square one, but now they will have to rely on Jordan Clarkson as their primary scorer and Mike Conley to be the quarterback for their young core.
In the NBA Draft, Utah selected Walker Kessler from Arizona and signed undrafted talent Johnny Juzang to a two-way contract. The Jazz will have to develop their young talent, but the main building blocks are Clarkson and Conley.
Prediction: Much like Oklahoma City, I don’t see Utah rallying into the postseason. I will say that Jordan Clarkson will be an all-star and make a bid to win the scoring title, which will be the only highlight for the Jazz. Utah will not only be in the draft lottery but along with the Thunder, they will be considered favorites to acquire the number one draft pick to get Victor Wembanyama.
Starting Lineup: Mike Conley, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Lauri Markkanen, and Walker Kessler
Portland Trail Blazers
Last season was a blunder for Portland, who finished with a record of 27 wins and 55 losses. The Blazers missed out on the postseason, ending their eight-year streak thanks to injuries. Despite missing the playoffs, Portland saw the rise of Anfernee Simons, who averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game with 88 percent at the free throw line.
In the NBA Draft, the Trail Blazers selected Shaedon Sharpe from Kentucky and Jabari Walker from Colorado. If this is any indication to go by, Portland could be looking to get younger and look to start over, but not without trying to prove naysayers wrong this upcoming season. The Blazers find themselves between a rock and hard place, but they will have to figure out if they want to reach the postseason or forego the draft lottery.
Prediction: Portland should be fortunate that they still have Damian Lillard, but they should be looking toward Jusuf Nurkic to continue improving on his production. Lillard will be an all-star for Portland and Anfernee Simons will build upon the production he had last season. Should he do so, Simons finds himself in the running for the Most Improved Player award. As for the postseason, there’s a 50-50 chance they can make it, either as the sixth seed or in the play-in.
Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic
Utah was the Northwest Division champions last season, but with their clearance of talent and looking to start over, the race for the title becomes wide open. Denver and Minnesota seem like the primary choices to win the divisional crown, while Portland could play spoiler against either one. As for Oklahoma City, they’re going to be without Chet Holmgren, which isn’t good news, but they are prime contenders in the race to acquire Victor Wembanyama.
NBA Northwest Division Predictions
Portland Trail Blazers
Oklahoma City Thunder