Today's focus resides in the NBA's Northwest division, or otherwise known in more recent times, "OKC and friends."
The Thunder are the runaway favorites to remain top dog in the division, but it needs to be said even they have unavoidable holes worth addressing. Plus, we're talking about a division that still has the always entertaining/unintentionally hilarious JaVale McGee, the Timberwolves and their annual "this is the year!" talk causing hoops heads across America to sip the kool-aid and Damian Lillard.
Let's get to it.
We'll be previewing each division individually for the next few days, so stay tuned.
What To Like: You mean, aside from the fact Salt Lake City International Airport received 3.5 out of 4 rating on Yelp? Not much. At least Trey Burke's injury is not as severe as previously expected. Burke, Gordon Hayward*, the $49M man Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter truly isn't a bad young core. There I did it.
What Not To Like: The season pretty much and the fact it's going to take a miracle for Ty Corbin to keep his job longer than the next two years.
Random Note: Marvin Williams puts together a semi-solid season, gets traded to a contender and then disappears. In other words, the most Marvin Williams thing ever.
* - I'm a part of the Gordon Hayward fan club. While I'm not sure where, he's somewhere near the top of my White Guy NBA Power Rankings. He hasn't cracked that Kevin Love/Chandler Parsons (CP25!) ceiling yet, but he is a personal favorite. Hopefully that didn't come off too racist.
What To Like: THE DAVID KAHN ERA IS OVER! And everyone is (relatively) healthy. Seriously, a black cloud has been hanging over this squad for the past few years now and if you're a T-Wolves fan, cautiously optimistic could describe feelings heading into the season.
What Not To Like: Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose hit this one on the head. Derrick Williams shows flashes, but this season could be considered important in terms of his true role on the T-Wolves. Also, another aspect to be weary of is Ricky Rubio's shooting if it's yet to improve. While he is blessed with some of the best court vision the league has to offer, there's no reason a starting point guard on a playoff-hungry team should have a 35.9 field goal percentage. No reason.
Random Note: They haven't had much time together, but here's to hoping the Love-Pekovic 4-5 combo meshes well together. Because, you know, if it does, grabbing a rebound may be next to impossible.
What To Like: How he ultimately pans out is anyone's guess, but it's great to see Brian Shaw finally receive a coaching chance after years of being passed over in Los Angeles because of his close connection with Phil Jackson aka Jim Buss' mortal enemy. And while no one expects Denver to mimic their regular season success of last year, a team with Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Nate Robinson, Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Shaqtin' A Fool Hall of Famer/Mario Kart enthusiast JaVale McGee, they'll at least be exciting to watch. Right? Right?!
What Not To Like: The top six teams in the West are all but solidified (Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Warriors, Rockets, Grizzlies). That doesn't give this Nuggets squad a lot of wiggle room in terms of flexibility. Plus, Gallinari may not return until 2014.
Random Note: I'm not sure why Denver gave JJ Hickson $15M when Manimal does basically the same thing (and it's already a logjam with big men). If Denver bottoms out in Shaw's first year, cue the Faried trade rumors. Andre Miller, too.
What To Like: Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge won't be run into the ground this year. Portland's front office brought in a slew of guys who will improve the Blazers bench from last season, easily the worst for fringe-playoff team (Thomas Robinson, CJ McCollum, Mo Williams, Robin Lopez and Dorell Wright).
What Not To Like: Defensively, Portland leaves a lot to be desired. What upsets me the most? The fact Dame Lillard may not make the All Star team for a few years because of the surplus of quality point guards in the Western Conference.
Random Note: Going off other than a hunch, Thomas Robinson and Portland will have a solid marriage. He was never given time to mature in Sacramento and was basically used as scrap metal in Houston for what later became Dwight Howard. In the Pacific Northwest, settling into a role as a consistent reserve perhaps does his career well.
Oklahoma City Thunder
What To Like: Kevin Durant and (when healthy) Russell Westbrook are arguably two of the top five players in the business. That alone puts you in title contention.
What Not To Like: How Oklahoma City keeps their head above water during Russy's absence in critical. Reggie Jackson should fill in admirably, but the question remains who will become the Thunder's third banana left vacant when that trade we won't speak of went down last season and since Kevin Martin bolted for Minnesota. OKC's bench production will be something to keep an eye on, but as Daily Thunder's Royce Young notes, a heap of the focus and concern fall squarely on the lanky shoulders of Jeremy Lamb. Games in November/December may not feel as if they'd have much significance come April, but playoff seedings will prove vital for OKC. A three game skid after Thanksgiving could realistically void home court advantage when Cinco de Mayo rolls around.
Oh, and one more thing. At the risk of him finding my IP address and beating me up, Kendrick Perkins. I'm sure he's a great locker room guy and teams need that, but production-wise, what exactly is he bringing to the table?
Random Note: Let's just say OKC struggles a bit this season - or fails to reach the Western Conference finals - and they still employ the offensive scheme of "get Kevin or Russell the ball and just look active," how hot does that seat Scotty Brooks is sitting on become?