NBA Northwest Division Preview: Nuggets Poised to Make Noise
It’s hard to believe, but the 2022-23 NBA season is right around the corner. To help get you set for the upcoming campaign, I’ll be previewing all six of the league’s divisions in the weeks leading up to opening night (October 18).
I began my previews last week with the Southeast Division. Today, we dive into the Northwest, starting with a team many have billed as a potential title contender.
Note: All teams are listed in order of NBA Finals odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
Denver Nuggets (+2000)
2021-22 Record: 48-34 (Lost in First Round, 1-4)
Led by back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are set to welcome back Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. from injury. Murray missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL, while Porter appeared in all of nine games before having to undergo another back surgery. With both players reportedly healthy, Denver’s sky is the limit.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+3300)
2021-22 Record: 46-36 (Lost in First Round, 2-4)
Coming off just their third playoff berth in the last 19 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves went all in this offseason, acquiring three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, from the Utah Jazz in exchange for multiple players and four first-round picks.
While some have questioned what is undoubtedly a steep haul, there’s no denying Gobert’s impact on the floor. The 30-year-old should immediately improve a T-Wolves defense that ranked 24th last season, surrendering 113.3 PPG.
Portland Trail Blazers (+16000)
2021-22 Record: 27-55 (Missed Playoffs)
Widely expected to be on the cusp of a rebuild, the Trail Blazers continued their efforts to assemble a capable squad around superstar Damian Lillard.
Portland re-signed breakout guard Anfernee Simons, acquired forward Jerami Grant from the Detroit Pistons, and landed defensive specialist Gary Payton II in free agency. Throw in the addition of 2022 first-rounder Shaedon Sharpe, and the Blazers could find themselves back in playoff contention.
Oklahoma City Thunder (+50000)
2021-22 Record: 24-58 (Missed Playoffs)
Oklahoma City Thunder fans will have to wait at least one more year to see prized rookie Chet Holmgren, who will miss the entire 2022-23 season due to a Lisfranc injury. That said, Holmgren’s absence may not be the worst thing in the world for a rebuilding Thunder squad whose focus continues to lie on accumulating draft capital.
Utah Jazz (+50000)
2021-22 Record: 49-33 (Lost in First Round, 2-4)
It’s a new era in Salt Lake City, with the Utah Jazz embracing a full-on rebuild. Gone are superstars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell and veteran sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic. Fortunately, the president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, is one of the best in the business.
Still, it’ll likely be years before the Jazz are back to being perennial playoff contenders.
Most Likely MVP Candidate: C Nikola Jokic (+1000)
The reigning MVP was a one-man wrecking crew last season, posting per-game averages of 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists while leading a depleted Nuggets roster to a 48-34 record and a spot in the postseason. With Denver expected to be one of the top teams in the West, why not a third-straight MVP award for The Joker?
Rookie to Watch: SG Shaedon Sharpe (Trail Blazers)
With Holmgren on the shelf, I’m going with Portland’s Sharpe. Selected seventh overall out of Kentucky, the 19-year-old didn’t play a single game for the Wildcats, electing to redshirt his freshman year before ultimately deciding to enter the NBA Draft.
Despite his relative inexperience against high-level competition, analysts have praised Sharpe’s athleticism, with some claiming he carries as much upside as any rookie from the 2022 class. He may not fit the Blazers’ “win-now” timeline, but Sharpe should still earn plenty of minutes.
Favorite Futures Bet: Portland Trail Blazers to Make Playoffs (+154)
While I admittedly was a member of the “Portland should rebuild” club, I like the offseason moves made by general manager Joe Cronin. Both Simons and Grant should help take some of the scoring load off the shoulders of Lillard, while Payton provides much-needed defensive help for a team that couldn’t stop anyone last season (27th in points allowed per game).
The Blazers also fully guaranteed Josh Hart and his 12.9 million contract and welcome back promising forward Nassir Little from injury. It may not be enough to compete for a championship, but I like Rip City to at least return to the postseason.