Our preview of the 2023 NBA season continues with a look at the Northwest Division, featuring the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic, the slumping Jazz, and the tanking Thunder.
Additions: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Ish Smith, DeAndre Jordan, Christian Braun (21st Pick in 2022 Draft), Peyton Watson (30th Pick in 2022 Draft), Jack White, Collin Gillespie
Subtractions: Monte Morris, Will Barton, JaMychal Green, Bryn Forbes, Austin Rivers, Facu Campazzo, DeMarcus Cousins, Markus Howard
Other: Getting back Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. from injury, Re-signed Vlatko Cancar to 3 year, $6.8M deal, Re-signed Davon Reed to a 2 year, $4M deal
Outlook: The main reason the Nuggets will be great is Nikola Jokic, the back-to-back reigning MVP and already one of the greatest players to ever pick up a basketball. Jokic alone just about guarantees a playoff berth, and as he’s in his prime with minimal injury history, he should get the Nuggets there this year. The Nuggets did revamp a lot of their roster, and I’m mixed on the moves. KCP is a good addition, as is Bruce Brown, but Monte Morris in particular is a big loss, and the Nuggets’ big man depth is awful. DeAndre Jordan might be the worst non-rookie or fringe young guy player in the NBA, and any minutes he gets will be brutal. Still, Jamal Murray will be about 18 months removed from his ACL tear, and even if he’s not 100%, his pick and roll chemistry with Jokic will add a ton to the offense, while Brown and KCP will strengthen the defense. The wild cards are Michael Porter Jr. and his health (I’m skeptical) and talented young guard Bones Hyland, who was awesome for the Nuggets down the stretch, and could be huge for the Nuggets offensively if Porter is a wash.
Additions: Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson, Austin Rivers, Bryn Forbes, Eric Paschall, CJ Elleby, Wendell Moore Jr. (26th Pick in 2022 Draft), Josh Minott (45th Pick in 2022 Draft), A.J. Lawson
Subtractions: Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley, Leandro Bolmaro, Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, McKinley Wright IV, Greg Monroe
Outlook: The Wolves made perhaps the single biggest move of the offseason by trading for Rudy Gobert. Not only did they overhaul and bolster their own roster, the trade also set the Jazz on a rebuilding course and determined a new price for superstars in trades – a price that was so high it may have prevented the Kevin Durant trade from occurring. Gobert is one of the best floor raisers in the NBA, a singlehandedly dominant defensive presence and a useful offensive player in the regular season. Pairing him with the best shooting big man of all time in Karl Anthony Towns and a slashing athletic wing force in Anthony Edwards seems like a good combo. And, in the regular season, I think the Wolves will be extremely good (I also love the Kyle Anderson signing). I don’t really believe in the Towns-Gobert combo in the playoffs on the defensive end, or in D’Angelo Russell as a lead playmaker, but the Wolves should win a ton of regular season games – this might even be a low estimate.
Additions: Jerami Grant, Gary Payton II, Shaedon Sharpe (7th Pick in 2022 Draft), Jabari Walker (57th Pick in 2022 Draft), Jared Rhoden, Isaiah Miller, Norvel Pelle
Subtractions: Eric Bledsoe, Ben McLemore, CJ Elleby, Dennis Smith Jr., Kelvin Blejins, Brandon Williams, Kris Dunn
Other: Re-signed Anfernee Simons to a 4 year, $100M deal, Re-signed Jusuf Nurkic to a 4 year, $70M deal, Re-signed Drew Eubanks to a minimum contract
Outlook: The Blazers had an injury-riddled down season last year after a consistent half-decade as a solid playoff team, shedding many of their prior core including CJ McCollum in the process. They’ve reloaded the roster around aging superstar Damian Lillard, trading for veteran forward Jerami Grant, signing defensive specialist Gary Payton II, bringing back starting center Jusuf Nurkic and super sixth man (or starter) Anfernee Simons, and adding young talent. If Lillard is healthy and better than he was in his miserable 2022 campaign, the Blazers have enough talent to be pretty good. However, I remain skeptical of Chauncey Billups’ coaching ability, and still think the Blazers don’t have quite enough defense or dynamism offensively. Barring another leap from Simons or another young guy like Nassir Little, the Blazers are a strong play-in or lower playoff seed playoff team to me.
Additions: Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Talen Horton-Tucker, Leandro Bolmaro, Walker Kessler, Stanley Johnson, Simone Fontecchio, Johnny Juzang
Subtractions: Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neale, Hassan Whiteside, Trent Forrest, Eric Paschall, Danuel House, Juancho Hernangomez
Other: Shopping Donovan Mitchell and other veterans for rebuilding offers.
Outlook: Of any team in the NBA, the Jazz probably have the most up in the air right now. Having already traded one franchise cornerstone in Gobert, they’ve been in discussions to trade Donovan Mitchell, their younger star player. Additionally, other veterans such as Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have been rumored about in trade talks as well. Thus, it’s difficult to quite predict the Jazz’s season, as it depends on if those guys get traded, when they get moved, and what the return is. It’s likely that most of their veteran core will be shipped out, and probably for young guys and draft picks, so the Jazz will be in tank-land. However, we don’t quite know that for sure, and definitely don’t know if it will happen before the season, so I priced in at least some games of Mitchell and the others in Jazz uniforms to boost their record a bit. Still, the Jazz will probably be quite bad this year.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Additions: Chet Holmgren (2nd Pick in 2022 Draft), Ousmane Dieng (11th Pick in 2022 Draft), Jalen Williams (12th Pick in 2022 Draft), Jaylin Williams (34th Pick in 2022 Draft)
Subtractions: Isaiah Roby, Olivier Sarr, Mamadi Diakite, Jaylen Hoard
Other: Re-signed Mike Muscala to a 2 year, $7M deal
Outlook: Disaster has already befallen the Thunder, as it was announced last week that prized rookie Chet Holmgren would miss the entire 2023 season due to a foot injury suffered in a Seattle Pro-Am game. The Thunder have been dreadful the past two years, and with no additions outside of rookies, and their best rookie out, they don’t stand to improve much. Sure, their roster is mostly young guys, and there will be internal development (hence the gain in wins from 24 to 28), but in the highly competitive Western Conference, a team with only a few vets and a lot of unproven young guys is most likely to be terrible. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is once more tethered to a bad roster, though hopefully he plays more with promising second-year player Josh Giddey this season. I liked the Thunders’ draft a good bit, and they should once again be enjoyable enough, but a third year of tanking seems locked in.