September is here, and the 2021-22 NBA season technically begins this month. Granted, that “beginning” is simply the start of training camp, but the offseason is short and there is a lot to discuss. There is great attention to be paid to the top of the league but, on a team-by-team basis, season win totals are of considerable intrigue for both casual and die-hard observers.
In this space, we’ll take a glance at the Northwest Division, with five interesting situations to monitor. For clarity, each line below comes from the good folks at DraftKings, and they will arrive in alphabetical order.
Denver Nuggets Over 47.5
The Nuggets won at a 54-win pace a year ago, with Nikola Jokic zooming to the MVP award. The biggest factor in this number being considerably lower is the absence of Jamal Murray, who played 48 games last season. That injury obviously hurts Denver, but Jokic is fantastic, the Nuggets get a full season of Aaron Gordon, and players like Michael Porter Jr. could be in line for a jump. This isn’t a slam dunk over without Murray, but Jokic is reliable and this is a high-floor team.
Minnesota Timberwolves Over 34.5
Minnesota was the equivalent of a 26-win team last season. If you go by their offseason activity, it would seem (quite) odd to project at least a nine-win uptick, but this Over is based on internal improvement and a coaching upgrade. Chris Finch did a quality job, albeit in a small sample, when he took over, and the Wolves should see obvious growth from Anthony Edwards. Then, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell combined to play only 92 games, and Malik Beasley played only half the season in his own right. Patrick Beverley will help too and, while I wouldn’t be running to bet this, 35 wins seems reasonable.
Oklahoma City Thunder Under 23.5
If the Thunder really put their foot on the gas, they’d probably beat this number. There is nothing to indicate that will happen. OKC is still in full-blown rebuilding mode and, with the exception of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, there isn’t a lot to latch onto at this stage. The Thunder will probably let Josh Giddey play through some mistakes on the floor and, while his upside is high in the future, it could be ugly this season. This feels like a team that will be on pace for 25+ wins until February, and then a long lull could be in the offing.
Portland Trail Blazers Under 44.5
Warning: Stay away. With full confidence that Damian Lillard would be on the team all season, this would be an Over lean, and the number would probably be higher to boot. Without that assurance, the Blazers are really a stay-away. Portland routinely outperformed expectations, at least in the regular season, under Terry Stotts, but there is a new era in place with Chauncey Billups. The addition of Larry Nance Jr. was a sneakily positive one, but if you made me choose, the potential volatility would make me pessimistic.
Utah Jazz Over 51.5
The bookmakers didn’t make it easy on Utah backers with a pretty lofty number, but it’s not quite high enough. Even if you don’t think the Jazz will fully repeat last season, they won at a 59-win pace and their point differential was that of a 62-63 win team. Utah is built beautifully for the regular season, and the swap of Derrick Favors for Rudy Gay may even be a positive. Throw in the fact that both Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley missed some time last season, and I can’t lean anywhere but Over. Don’t let the playoff struggles bother you when it comes to a regular season projection.