NBA Floor and Ceiling: Northwest Division

NBA Floor and Ceiling: Northwest Division

NBA

NBA Floor and Ceiling: Northwest Division

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Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a new article series called floor and ceiling where I’ll be featuring the good, bad, and the ugly about all 30 NBA teams. In this series, I’ll sum up what the team did in the offseason and evaluate the roster heading into the 2021 season. Next, it’s the Northwest division with the Jazz, Nuggets, Thunder, Trail Blazers, and Timberwolves. 

Denver Nuggets

Many made the argument that if the Nuggets were with a healthy Jamal Murray, they were true title contenders. It’s not a bad case at all. In the bubble the Nuggets were able to make the WCF and the year after (last season) Michael Porter Jr broke out and Denver added Aaron Gordon. However, going into this next season the Nuggets immediate chances to contend don’t look promising.

This is of course due to Murray’s ongoing recovery from his torn ACL. The young star will most likely miss a significant chunk of the season which makes it tougher on the Nuggets chances to earn a higher seed. Don’t make any mistake about it, they should still be a top eight seed. What with Nikola Jokic coming off an MVP season and MPJ ready to take another leap in his development into stardom.

Denver had a relatively quiet offseason. They added Jeff Green from Brooklyn who will serve as the Paul Millsap replacement. Bones Hyland is an underrated addition via the draft. He can contribute sooner than most think as a reliable shooter with lots of range coming off the bench. Re-signing Will Barton and Aaron Gordon were necessary moves. The Nuggets aren’t a defensive team so they have to bring back the good defensive pieces they do have. Even with a tough hill to climb without Murray, once he does return it will make the Nuggets a very real threat to reach WCF and even the NBA Finals. 

Nuggets floor: First round exit, seeding could lead to unfavorable matchup 

Nuggets ceiling: NBA Finals appearance 

Minnesota Timberwolves 

This is a major, and I mean major season for the Timberwolves organization. There is pressure from top to bottom to show some life and signs of improvement. With the recent reaction from Towns on Twitter to former President Rosas’ firing, it’s even more imperative that they start winning.

The good news is that the roster they have assembled should be well equipped to get better as a unit. Health is finally on their side as all of their best players will start the season at full strength together. They have the right coach for the job in Chris Finch. Additionally, they made a move to trade for one of the best on ball guard defenders in Patrick Beverly.

If the team can indeed improve it’ll start at the top with guys like Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. Both will be starters and asked to play significant roles on a game in and game out basis. The potential of a Karl-Anthony Towns & D’Angelo Russell duo can be fully realized now that they can establish some on court chemistry since they’re both healthy.

Malik Beasley can help add to the Wolves assortment of dangerous offensive pieces as another scorer off the bench. Minnesota’s offense could be potent and the hope is their defense can be middle of the pack. Okogie and Vanderbilt can support Beverly on defense which gives them a solid group of smart and savvy perimeter defenders. Competing for a play-in spot should be the Wolves goal in an ultra important season for the franchise’s future. 

Timberwolves floor: 11-12 seed and no spot in the play-in tournament 

Timberwolves ceiling: 8-10 range, earn the 8 seed in the playoffs by winning in the play-in 

Oklahoma City Thunder 

They may be one of if not the least watched teams in the entire association but the Thunder are building something. Sam Presti is behind it all as he forms a team made up of young players and older veterans that aren’t wanted by playoff level teams. OKC’s roster construction is fascinating when you dive deeper down the depth chart.

It all starts with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who continues to be vastly underrated in larger media circles. He’s clearly a franchise player who could even be a certified star as soon as this season. Around SGA is a group of “unicorn” type players. Unicorn in the sense that there is some skill they have or physical trait that’s unnatural to what we typically see from that respective position.

Rookie Josh Giddey is a more common kind of unicorn in that he’s a jumbo playmaking guard. Standing 6’9″ Giddey will be Alexander’s backcourt buddy for the long term future. Darius Bazley has a big power forward’s body but flashes the off dribble creation skills of a modern wing/bigger guard. Aleksej Pokusevski’s 7 foot lengthy and skinny frame make him able to be quicker and far more agile than a typical player of that height. He also flashes some special passing vision and spot up shooting chops for his age and player archetype. With such an inexperienced roster, OKC will lose a lot but their young players will learn a lot this season and that will help the organizations in the long run. 

Thunder floor: Worst team in the NBA, tied for the highest number 1 pick odds 

Thunder ceiling: 13 seed, still one of the worst teams in basketball with prime lottery odds 

Utah Jazz 

Going from worst to first, the Jazz seem like nothing can stop them from replicating last year’s regular season dominance. They just have a proven formula that’s worked before in today’s league. Overwhelming three point shooting with most of the roster being able to stretch the floor and make defenses pay. As well as an elite defense anchored by a historically great rim protector. Elite defense and shooting to go along with having two top 25 level players and great depth is a recipe for a successful season.

Donovan Mitchell got some unwarranted MVP hype last season but this may be the year where he actually makes a jump to an MVP level. He’s perfectly capable of transforming his amazing postseason production into a full regular season and if he does he will and should be in MVP talks. Gobert is still, like it or not, a top five defender in the game and a dominant paint protector in the regular season.

The surrounding pieces perfectly fit their two core players. Mike Conley brings another smart PnR ball handler and perimeter defender. Joe Ingles brings ultra efficient outside shooting and connective passing. Jordan Clarkson brings high volume scoring off the bench. Bojan Bogdanovic brings another shooting and shot creating threat as a versatile wing. There are still concerns revolving around how volatile their shooting will be in the playoffs and the lack of perimeter defense. However, Utah is tailor made for another commanding regular season. 

Jazz floor: Top four seed in the West and 2nd round exit 

Jazz ceiling: The 1st seed in the West and a WCF appearance 

Portland Trail Blazers

As much as it seems like we are indeed heading into Damian Lillard’s last season in Trail Blazer uniform, there should still be some optimism for Portland. This is a playoff worthy roster. The top six is one of the stronger groups in the league with the rock solid Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic headlining the team. Powell, Covington and newly added Larry Nance Jr round out the starting level players.

After an offseason where Dame asked the Blazers front office to make moves, the response came in the form of acquiring Nance Jr in a trade. Maybe not quite the impact move many wanted but Nance Jr is underrated. He’s transformed himself into one of the better off ball defenders in the game. Combine his defensive impact with a scalable offensive skill set due to his above average shooting and strong passing and you get a quality complementary piece.

Portland is in a position where they have a lot of lineup versatility. They can play big next to Dame and CJ by playing Covington, Nance Jr, and Nurkic. This gives them size to rebound and defend well even with smaller guards who are negative defenders. Then when they need more offensive firepower they can substitute any of those three for Norman Powell and go to a smaller and more deadly offensive lineup. Look, despite all my positivity for the Blazers, they could very well flop and Lillard could be dealt mid- season. All I’m saying is don’t underestimate the team they have assembled right now. 

Trail Blazers floor: Bad first half of the year results in Dame requesting a trade and they fall down to a good lottery position 

Trail Blazers ceiling: Top 5 seed in the west and a 2nd round series appearance 

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