It’s day four of 30 teams 30 picks. On Friday, I called the Southeast one of the strangest divisions in the NBA. It is Actually the weirdest. Every team is in some state of flux, whether it’s Oklahoma City’s run-down or Denver’s returning stars. But as we head west, we’re getting deeper into my comfort zone, so I’m more confident than ever.
Western Conference – Northwest Division
Last year, the Utah Jazz won the Northwest and went 15-1 against their division rivals. This year…I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’ll bet my whole life that the Jazz won’t repeat as division champions.
Even if Utah rolled him back, I’d pick the Denver Nuggets to run away with the division. With perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert joining Minnesota’s youth movement and Damian Lillard returning for Portland, I’d honestly be a little surprised if Utah finished in the top three.
It’s less “What’s going on in Utah” and more “What’s going on in the Northwest?” upcoming bets.
Denver Nuggets – including 50.5 wins
Key Additions – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Wing), Bruce Brown (F/G)
Key Losses – Will Barton (G/F), Monte Morris (PG), Austin Rivers (G), JaMychal Green (F)
Context is important, so let’s remember where we last saw the Denver Nuggets. Despite being knocked out fairly easily by the Golden State Warriors, this team won one game against the eventual champions and trailed in most of them.
A team held together by paperclips, duct tape and the all-time great talents of Nikola Jokic. And they didn’t get kicked out of the field by the Kings Of Running People Off The Court.
Jokic has established himself over the past three seasons as one of the best dogs of this generation. And he picks up his bag. Jamal Murray is an absolute killer, and the Canadian has such unique and beautiful chemistry with the big man from Sombor that I would have to imagine his comeback alone with five wins (and should have an immeasurable impact in terms of the wear and tear Jokic will have to endure).
If you add the bucket to get Michael Porter Jr., you have a legitimate title contender. And that’s without even mentioning their two new players.
It’s borderline infuriating how perfect Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are for Denver. Bruce Brown is one of the weirdest players in the league, but the things he excels at (reverse pick-and-roll scouting and off-ball cutting) are a perfect match for what Nikola Jokic likes his teammates to do. KCP is another sharp wing that provides a significant improvement to the Nuggets’ perimeter defense.
Acquiring KCP has the knock-on effect of returning Aaron Gordon to strong forward guard, which is far more effective than chasing the opposition’s wing top scorer throughout the game. Any five-man lineup you can put together from this group of Murray, MPJ, KCP, Brown, Jokic and Gordon is going to be awesome. This team goes easily MORE 50.5 wins, and I kinda like that as a solid value championship bet at +1700.
Minnesota Timberwolves – including 49.5 wins
Key Additions – Rudy Gobert (C), Kyle Anderson (F), Austin Rivers (G)
Key losses – Patrick Beverley (G), Malik Beasley (G), Jarred Vanderbilt (F)
You want to talk about a changing team? Perhaps even more so than the Jazz, I have no idea what Minnesota will be like in the 2022-23 season. Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt were huge contributors to what made the Timberwolves surprisingly good last season, and Beverley in particular felt like an important culture maker.
Those two were the backbone of the improved defense that propelled Wolves to the playoffs, and now they’re gone. But they are replaced by Rudy Gobert, an individual team defense improver.
I like this adjustment for the French reject a little more than I like the adjustment for the rest of the team. Believe me, it makes sense. In De’Angelo Russell, Gobert (who has long been a very good roller in pick and roller) will have a ball guard who not only is ready to give him the ball when it’s open, but is looking to set up lobs. at his roll the man.
For Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, I’m afraid that while Gobert masks a lot of gaps in defense, the spacing can get a little wonky at times.
I think Minnesota is going to be decent, and I know they’ll be interesting to watch. But West is going to be an absolute glove, and this team isn’t hitting 50 wins. I like BELOW 49.5 wins.
Portland Trailblazers – including 40.5 wins
Key Additions – Gary Payton II (L), Jerami Grant (F), Shaedon Sharpe (Winger)
Lost keys – None, really.
I’m a little salty at this line, for two reasons. First, because I was hoping it would be lower so I could beat the top. Second, because I think it’s a bit disrespectful of Damian Lillard’s star power. Let’s not forget: the last time Dame was healthy, Portland won 42 games in 72 games. That’s a 48-win pace in a full season, and I really like the offseason the Trail Blazers have put together.
If Shaedon Sharpe appears at all, this team is going to be a problem. Gary Payton II has proven he can be a top-level defensive game-breaker without sacrificing spacing, and Jerami Grant fits nicely between Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic as perhaps the best wing either one or the other played.
Portland is not a title contender, as we have seen the level at which Damian Lillard along with small distance mates like Payton and Anfernee Simons is in the lead.
But at the same time, we saw how good the Blazers could be with Dame and CJ McCollum. I think Simons can come close to CJ’s secondary scoring, and assuming Lillard is back at full strength, they’re a pretty decent team.
It’s a scary assumption to make, but I do. I trust my fellow Bay Area kid. Give me the MORE 40.5 wins.
Oklahoma City Thunder – including 25.5 wins
Key Additions – Chet Holmgrem (F), Jalen Williams (G), Jaylin Williams (C), Ousmane Dieng
Key losses – This team has been tanking for years, who even cares who they lost?
A fascinating core is beginning to emerge in Oklahoma City. Between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgrem, the Thunder have three young players with elite potential who can do a bit of everything at a high level.
Chet isn’t quite ready to butt heads with the big boys in the West – just imagining him trying to guard Nikola Jokic cracks me up – but OKC could be a fun and sneaky team based on their unique mix length and skill.
I’ll probably stay away from that line altogether, because I feel like the books nailed it. I don’t think this team will be any worse than last year’s Thunder, and I’m sure I won’t be surprised to hold the sack over if they spend another year tanking. I could see a world where Sam Presti trades Shai for even more choices, hitting rock bottom again. But if forced to choose, what I am, give me the MORE 25.5 wins.
Utah Jazz – no line
Key Additions – Malik Beasley (G), Patrick Beverley (G), Jarred Vanderbilt (F), Walker Kessler (C)
Key losses – Royce O’Neale (F), Rudy Gobert (C), maybe Donovan Mitchell (G)?
The books wisely don’t offer a line on jazz yet. There is still too much variance in this situation. It sure looks like Donovan Mitchell is on the way out, but the Venn diagram of teams with the required strengths and teams that would want Mitchell doesn’t have much overlap.
I could see Danny Ainge hanging on to Mitchell longer than a lot of people expected, waiting for the perfect trade package. But if someone comes along and Mitchell moves, all those cool pieces Utah picked up from Minnesota are also likely to go missing.
Vanderbilt, Beverley and Beasley could all help a contending team, and if Mitchell goes for it, there’s no reason the Jazz can’t hit rock bottom.
Without Mitchell, I’d place this team’s line somewhere around OKC’s. With Mitchell, they’re probably around 0.500. Either way, I’m staying away even though the season starts with Mitchell on the team, forcing the books to post a line.
Do you know me. I hate variance.
As always, play it safe and don’t chase.