Tag Archives: Gordon Hayward

A Man With A Plan

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From 2008-2013, the Boston Celtics were always in contention to win the NBA Title which included them winning it all in 2008. However following Boston’s elimination in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2013, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge decided that it was time to start over. And instead of Ainge waiting for aging players such as small forward Paul Pierce and power forward Kevin Garnett to completely break down physically, he was able to ship them off to the Brooklyn Nets while receiving a litany of draft picks in the process. And as longtime Celtics head coach Doc Rivers did not want to participate in a rebuild in Boston, he was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers which resulted in more draft picks for the C’s since Rivers was still under contract with them.

Brad Stevens

Ainge would then raise some eyebrows when he pegged Brad Stevens to replace Rivers as the Celtics head coach. Stevens had never coached in the NBA as he was the men’s head basketball coach of the Butler Bulldogs. Stevens’ time at Butler was highlighted by him reaching the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and 2011, but how would he be able to fare in the NBA?

In Stevens’ first year with the Celtics, Boston would go 25-57 which was to be expected. However the following season would see the Celtics win total improve by 15 games and they earned the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics would continue to build off of that as they won 48 games during the 2015-2016 NBA season, and this past campaign would see them earn the best record in the Eastern Conference with a mark of 53-29. Boston would make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2012, however after being eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was clear that the C’s still had a ways to go in order to close the gap on them and become legitimate contenders to win the NBA Championship.

Gordon Hayward

That gap closed somewhat on Independence Day when the Celtics signed small forward Gordon Hayward to a four-year deal that is worth $128 million. Hayward has spent his entire NBA career with the Jazz which included him averaging 21.9 points per game this past season while earning his first NBA All-Star Game selection. The acquisition of Hayward reunites him with Stevens who was his head coach at Butler, while it also displays that Ainge’s plan is coming to fruition.

Although that the Celtics 17 NBA Championships are more than any other organization in league history, no star player wanted to come to Boston when Ainge decided to rebuild. And instead of Ainge going for a quick fix in order to turn around the fortunes of the Celtics, he did it the old-fashioned way which required patience on his part, along with the ability to take some ridicule in Beantown.

Danny Ainge

Ainge has never been willing to give away draft picks as he has instead stock piled them like poker chips. In sending Pierce, Garnett, and shooting guard Jason Terry to the Nets, the Celtics received four, first-round picks in the NBA Draft. Ainge’s ability to sell water to a whale has been magnified as the trade with Brooklyn allowed the Celtics to select small forward Jaylen Brown third overall last year. This year the Celtics had the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets who earned the first overall selection in the NBA Draft. And with Ainge not blown away with point guard Markelle Fultz who was projected to be the top pick in the draft, he made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and moved down to the third overall selection. The Celtics would then select small forward Jayson Tatum and in the process they procured a first-round pick from the Sixers for next year. The Nets also owe the Celtics a first-round pick for next year which will more than likely be in the top five of the draft which means that Ainge can draft another quality player early, or find a sucker that is willing to give him a king’s ransom in order to move up as the rich simply get richer.

Ainge has also taken chances on bringing players to the Celtics that nobody else wanted. In 2011, point guard Isaiah Thomas went undrafted by the NBA. Thomas would begin his NBA journey with the Sacramento Kings. In three years with the Kings, Thomas’ numbers improved and in his final season in Sacramento, he averaged 20.3 points per game. Thomas was then traded to the Phoenix Suns where he averaged 15.2 points in 46 games. Thomas would then be traded to the Celtics in 2015 and he has gone on to become a household name.

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas has averaged 24.7 points per game during his time with Celtics and this past season saw him become an MVP candidate as he averaged 28.9 points. And once you factor in the emergence of Thomas, along with the overall improvement of the Celtics, things are changing as far as this organization’s reputation around the NBA.

Now Boston is once again becoming a popular destination among free agents around the NBA which was illustrated by Hayward joining the Celtics, and there is more to come.

The draft picks that the Celtics are in possession of gives Ainge plenty of flexibility if he needed to get another star player to team with Thomas and Hayward. This past season saw Brown show flashes of his potential, while Tatum has gotten off to a hot start in the NBA’s Summer League as the Celtics now have one of the deepest teams in the league.

Ainge has built the Celtics into a contender simply off of the fact that there is always a sucker in regards to making a trade. Ainge was able to find that sucker in the mode of former Nets general manager Billy King who mortgaged the future for three washed up players. Pierce and Garnett are retired, while Terry is currently playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Nets are still on the hook for one more first-round pick to the Celtics.

Ainge learned from one of the best as far as making trades as former Celtics general manager Red Auerbach knew how to exploit loopholes in the NBA’s rule book, while also finding a sucker to make a trade with. And this ability by Auerbach allowed the Celtics to draft Larry Bird and Kevin McHale, while acquiring Robert Parrish to form one of the best front court’s in NBA history as the combination helped Boston win three titles in the 1980’s.

Now Ainge is writing his own chapter and as he doesn’t appear to be slowing down with making moves, the 18th NBA Title for the Celtics doesn’t appear to be that far around the corner.

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Salt Lake City’s Not So Little Secret

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The Utah Jazz are nestled in Salt Lake City which is one of the NBA’s smallest media markets. And with that the Jazz organization has always struggled in bringing in some of the NBA’s talented free agents. But that hasn’t prevented the Jazz from competing as from 1984-2003, they made the playoffs in each year. After losing in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the Jazz fell on hard times which included them losing 57 games during the 2013-2014 season for their worst mark in franchise history.

Quin Snyder

When Quin Snyder became the head coach of the Jazz in 2014, the bar of expectations for him wasn’t that high. Snyder didn’t have any previous experience as a head coach in the NBA, but he had succeeded at every level that he coached at which included leading the Missouri Tigers to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in each of his first four years there, and being the NBA’s Developmental League Coach of the Year in 2009 when he was the head coach of the Austin Toros.

But in Snyder’s first season with the Jazz, the team won 38 games after they were expected to once again hover around the 25-win mark. And last season, the Jazz won 40 games to miss out on a playoff berth by just one victory. However after small forward Kevin Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer in order to join the Golden State Warriors, it opened things up in the Northwest Division. And with the Thunder still trying to figure things out without Durant, along with the Portland Trail Blazers struggling, guess who has decided to take control of the Northwest Division?

At the NBA’s All-Star break, the Jazz are sitting atop the standings in the Northwest Division. The Thunder are in second place as they are three games behind Utah, while the Blazers are languishing in fourth place as they’re 11.5 games out. Utah’s 35-22 record is good enough for fifth overall in the Western Conference as this is a team that could be ready to make some noise when the NBA Playoffs roll around this spring.

Dennis Lindsey

The key to the success of the Jazz begins with their general manager Dennis Lindsey and their executive vice president of basketball operation Kevin O’Connor. Lindsey has been Utah’s general manager since 2012 when O’Connor assumed his new role within the organization and together these two men have embraced the fact that the Jazz are a small-market team. The Jazz have focused on getting their core key players through the NBA Draft which is paying off in a big way.

Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert

In 2010, the Jazz selected small forward Gordon Hayward ninth overall in the NBA Draft. In each of Hayward’s seven NBA seasons his numbers have improved which includes him averaging 22.2 points per game this season as that has resulted in his first All-Star Game selection. Center Rudy Gobert was the 27th overall selection by the Jazz in 2013. And like Hayward, Gobert’s production has increased in each season with the Jazz as he is fifth in the NBA this season in rebounds at 12.6 per game, while he’s also leading the league in blocks at 2.5 per contest. Hayward along with Gobert are two big reasons for the success of the Jazz this season, and once you factor in the contributions of veterans such as point guard George Hill and veteran swingman Joe Johnson, Utah can no longer fly under the radar as they are a very formidable team.

Prior to joining the Jazz, Lindsey was the assistant general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. And during Snyder’s time in the D-League, the Toros were operated by the Spurs. The Spurs have become the pinnacle for success in the NBA as they’ve made the playoffs in each of the last 19 seasons while claiming five championships over that stretch. One key for the Spurs that Lindsey has brought to the Jazz is unselfishness and ball movement. And if you watch the Jazz play under Snyder, their offensive system mimics what the Spurs do as the basketball and players alike are constantly moving. This unselfishness by the Jazz has led to victories this season over the Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Cleveland Cavaliers who are the defending NBA Champions as more quality wins could be coming down the pike for them.

The second half of the season for the Jazz will get going this Friday as they’ll begin a three-game road trip which starts against the Milwaukee Bucks and includes meetings against the Washington Wizards and Thunder. Next month the Jazz will have a stretch of seven games where six of those contests will be on the road, including games against the Houston Rockets, Thunder, and Cavaliers. But the Jazz should be able to continue to hang with the big boys of the NBA due to what they bring to the table.

Aside from the unselfishness of the Jazz on offense, they are leading in the NBA in fewest points allowed per game this season at 95.7 as it doesn’t hurt to have a rim protector like Gobert, another big body in power forward Derrick Favors who can also plug up the paint, and Hayward who is one of the better perimeter defenders in the Western Conference which gives Utah a puncher’s chance to do some damage during the NBA Playoffs.

Things are only going to get better for the Jazz as shooting guard Rodney Hood should return to the team soon after suffering a hyperextended knee last month. Hood is Utah’s third leading scorer at 13.7 points per game which is only going to make this team that much more difficult to deal with.

Unlike the Thunder and Trail Blazers who have had their issues, the Jazz continue to take care of their business which includes regularly beating up on the also-rans of the NBA. And with the current success that the Jazz are having, it could sway Hayward to remain in Salt Lake City as he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But winning cures everything, and a deep run this spring by the Jazz could keep Hayward there for years to come.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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The Salt Lake City Star

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Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward is accustomed to flying under the radar. In high school the only Power 5 basketball program that offered Hayward a scholarship was the Purdue Boilermakers. Hayward would ultimately play his college ball for the Butler Bulldogs where he would help them reach the Final Four in 2010 for the first time in school history. And after Hayward averaged 15.5 points and 8.2 rebounds as a sophomore, he would forgo his final two years in college in order to try his hand at the NBA.

The Jazz would make Hayward the ninth overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. With the Jazz, Hayward was joining a team that was fresh off of making the Western Conference Semifinals and they were led by an iconic head coach in Jerry Sloan whose 1,221 career wins are the third most in NBA history. But as a rookie Hawyard had a front row seat for the ongoing feud between Sloan and former Jazz point guard Deron Williams which led to the head coach resigning and the point guard being traded. The Jazz would remain in contention for the playoffs with Tyrone Corbin as the head coach until the 2013-2014 NBA season when they lost 57 games for the first time since their first season in Salt Lake City which was 1979-1980 campaign. After Corbin was fired in 2014, he would be replaced by Quin Snyder who would be the architect of the Jazz’s rebuilding process with Hayward as the center piece.

In each of Hayward’s seven NBA seasons his production has increased. This season Hayward is averaging 22.2 points per game and he is a big reason why the Jazz are in first place in the Northwest Division. And in spite of the fact that Hayward was not selected to the NBA’s All-Star Game, if he is able to lead the Jazz to their first postseason appearance since 2012, he will no longer be a secret to the basketball world outside of Salt Lake City.

What makes Hayward the player that he has become is the fact that he is able to hold his own at one of the toughest positions in the NBA. The small forward position in the NBA features the likes Jimmy Butler with the Chicago Bulls, LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, and Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. Grant it that only Durant plays in the Western Conference, but Hayward has been able to hold his own as one the better small forwards in the NBA.

After Hayward missed the first six games of the NBA season due to a finger injury, he debuted by getting 28 points in a 114-109 win over the New York Knicks. On November 29, Hayward scored 31 points and dished out 7 assists in a 112-101 victory over the Houston Rockets which was the first of three consecutive games in which he scored at least 30 points. To Hayward’s credit he has five, 30-point games so far this season and for him it is coming at the right time.

Hayward is scheduled to earn nearly $16.7 million from the Jazz for next season, but he has the ability to opt out of his deal this summer in order to become an unrestricted free agent. And with the NBA’s new television deal, player salaries are exploding as Hayward could be in line to benefit from that. However would he entertain leaving Salt Lake City?

Hayward is a native of Indianapolis, Indiana where he played for a small college in Butler before playing for the Jazz in one of the smaller NBA markets. Big market teams such as the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Lakers could potentially be in line for Hayward’s services this summer where he could become a household name.

If Hayward were to leave Utah, the two teams that make the most sense for him are the Celtics and the Lakers. The Celtics are coached by Brad Stevens who just happened to be Hayward’s college coach at Butler as the two have a rapport. And The City of Boston would welcome Hayward with open arms as they looking to see the Celtics get back to being a championship level team. The Lakers have one of the younger teams in the NBA and if there is a glaring weakness on this team, it is the fact that they are missing a proven scorer to build around. In the case of both the Celtics and Lakers, they each run offenses that are predicated on ball movement and moving without the basketball which are two things that Hayward excels at.

For the Nets they are simply desperate to become relevant as they are arguably the worst team in the NBA. The Nets are still recovering from one of the worst trades in NBA history when former general manager Billy King mortgaged the future on getting washed up players from the Celtics in 2013. The Celtics have the option to swap first-round picks with the Nets this year, while Boston outright will receive their first-round choice next year. Thus the Nets need  a quality player that would make them respectable while also putting people in the seats. But would Hayward want to be a part of rebuilding process in Brooklyn while doing it under the umbrella of the media in New York City?

The Heat were spurned nearly three years ago when James decided to return to the Cavaliers. Heat president Pat Riley allowed longtime shooting guard Dwyane Wade to leave in free agency last summer to sign with the Bulls, while a blood clot condition prematurely ended the playing career of power forward Chris Bosh. The Heat are also dealing with a rash of injuries which includes the likes of swingman Justise Winslow as they are on pace to lose 50 games for the first time since the 2007-2008 NBA season. But the Heat still have Riley calling the shots and he’ll be more than willing to pull out all of the stops in order to get things turned around, and luring Hayward to Miami could team him with a healthy Winslow and center Hassan Whiteside which would once again point this organization in the direction of the playoffs.

But whichever NBA city that Hayward will call home next season will definitely benefit from having one the better wing players in the league. And if Hayward continues to produce at the level that he currently is, his silky smooth playing style will no longer be a secret that is only known to the folks of Salt Lake City.

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2016-2017 Northwest Division Projections

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X-Portland Trailblazers 51-31 (4)

After winning 51 games during the 2014-2015 NBA season, the 2015-2016 campaign was expected to be a down one for the Portland Trailblazers. The summer of 2015 saw the Trailblazers ravaged by departures which included power forward LaMarcus Aldridge joining the San Antonio Spurs and shooting guard Wes Matthews signing on with the Dallas Mavericks. But Blazers general manager Neil Olshey didn’t cry over spilled milk as he simply went to work in building his team around All-Star point guard Damian Lillard. Last season saw Lillard become the focal point of the Trailblazers offense to the tune of averaging 25.1 points per game. And when the regular season was over, Portland shocked many people as they were heading for the NBA Playoffs. But the Blazers weren’t just content to reach the postseason as they advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals for the second time in three years. Now the Trailblazers will head into this NBA season looking to build off of their last campaign and add to what they accomplished.

Damian Lillard

Aside from Lillard being the best player on the Trailblazers team, he is rapidly developing into one of the best players in the league. Along with averaging 25.1 points per game last season, Lillard averaged a career high in assists with 6.8. Lillard isn’t afraid to mix it up in the post as well where as averaged 4 rebounds per contest last season. And as Lillard goes, so goes the fortunes of the Trail Blazers, but he has a team around him that can compliment his style of play.

Center Mason Plumlee has seen his numbers improve in each of three NBA seasons, and after being a starter in all 82 games for Portland last year, he could be poised to average a double-double in points and rebounds this time around. Like Plumlee, the Blazers also employ players in their front court such as power forward Ed Davis and center Meyers Leonard who can play off of Lillard’s ability to get to the basket as they are finishers at the rim who don’t require set plays to be run for them.

Lillard is consistently paired with guard C.J. McCollum to give the Blazers one of the fastest backcourts in the NBA as it is simply pick your poison with both players who have the ability to take over a game.

During the summer, Portland signed swingman Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million deal. Turner gives the Trailblazers another ball handler, while he is a solid defender. And due to the attention that Lillard and McCollum will receive, Turner is going to see more than his fair share of open looks at the basket which should allow for him to have one of his more productive seasons in the NBA.

Aside from Turner, the Trail Blazers also signed center Festus Ezeli in free agency. Ezeli was an under utilized big man during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but his championship experience could pay dividends for a young team in Portland.

Terry Stotts

Terry Stotts is set to begin his fifth season as the Blazers head coach, and in spite of the fact that he has guided this team to the postseason in each of the last three years, he is an underrated commodity in the NBA. But Stotts has a team this time around that could be more than just a playoff participant as the Trail Blazers have the potential to do some damage in the Western Conference.

Y-Oklahoma City Thunder 50-32 (5)

This past June the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared to be on the verge of heading to the NBA Finals, until things came apart for them in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had a 3-1 series lead against the Golden State Warriors until the wheels fell off. And as the 2016 NBA Playoffs ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Thunder, the sorrow didn’t end there for them.

After nine years with the Seattle Supersonics/ Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, small forward Kevin Durant decided to leave. Durant spurned the Thunder’s offer in free agency in favor of joining the Golden State Warriors. Durant’s departure signals the end of his pairing with point guard Russell Westbrook as one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA. But if anyone is expecting the Thunder to feel sorry for themselves after Durant left town, think again.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti is one of the best front office people in the NBA when it comes to putting a team together which means that Oklahoma City should be poised for another run to the NBA Playoffs.

Russell Westbrook

After Durant left, the Thunder made it their business to sign Westbrook to a three-year extension that is worth $85.7 million as he will be the centerpiece for head coach Billy Donovan. This new deal will keep Westbrook in Oklahoma City through 2020 which is more than enough time for him to show the basketball world that he is ready to emerge from Durant’s shadow.

When Durant missed the majority of the 2014-2015 NBA season with a foot injury, Westbrook led the league in scoring at 28.1 per contest. And I don’t see Donovan attempting to hold him back this year.

Enes Kanter

But around Westbrook, the Thunder have a very talented team that consists of the likes of centers Enes Kanter and Steven Adams. Last year with the Thunder, Kanter averaged 12.7 which was the result of not enough basketballs to go around for everyone, but this time around he should become more involved in the offense due to the loss of Durant. Adams is a wild man on the boards and at the defensive end of the court as you never know what you’re going to get from him which makes him an X-factor for the Thunder.

Aside from losing Durant, center Serge Ibaka was traded to the Orlando Magic. In exchange for Ibaka, the Thunder received shooting guard Victor Oladipo, power forward Ersan Ilyasova, and the draft rights to power forward Domantas Sabonis.

Oladipo is expected to be a running mate in the Thunder’s backcourt with Westbrook and he should be able to have an immediate impact. In three years with the Magic, Oladipo averaged 15.9 points per game, and as long as he is healthy, the sky is the limit this season for him in Oklahoma City.

Last year Sabonis was a second-team All-American for the Gonzaga Bulldogs where he averaged 17.6 points, and 11.8 rebounds per contest. Sabonis is the son of former Portland Trail Blazers center Arvydas, and he will flash some of the moves that his old man did once upon a time on the hardwood.

Billy Donovan

In Donovan’s first year as the head coach of the Thunder, he stayed out of the way while letting his superstars in Westbrook and Durant do their thing. This time around I can see Donovan being more hands on, but I doubt that he will attempt to stop the one-man show that is Westbrook.

Y-Utah Jazz 41-41 (8)

The last two NBA seasons have seen the Utah Jazz overachieve, but it still wasn’t enough for them to make the playoffs. The Jazz won 40 games last season and missed making the NBA Playoffs by one game which is something the head coach Quin Snyder will attempt to build off of as Utah is seeking their first postseason berth since 2012.

Gordon Hayward

If Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward played in a bigger market, he would be a household name. In each of Hayward’s first six seasons in the NBA, his offensive stats have increased which included him averaging 19.7 points per game. Hayward is developing into one of the better wing players in the NBA, and his continued improvement is vital to any success that Utah seeks. Like Hayward, the numbers of power forward Derrick Favors continue to improve as he is one the most underrated big men in the Western Conference. At 7’1″, the length of center Rudy Goubert gives opponents problems, and after he averaged 11 rebounds and 2.2 blocks last season, he is a prime candidate to be the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year this time around.

With the return of point guard Dante Exum who missed the entire 2015-2016 NBA season after suffering a torn ACL, the Jazz decided to trade point guard Trey Burke to the Washington Wizards for a 2021 draft pick. And along with veteran guard Shelvin Mack who led the Jazz in assists last year with 5.6, Exum will be looked at as being one of the floor generals for Utah.

Last year the Jazz were one of the younger teams in the NBA, but general manager Dennis Lindsey has attempted to remedy that as over the summer he signed veteran swingman Joe Johnson, point guard George Hill, and power forward/center Boris Diaw. All three players have tremendous experience in the NBA which includes Diaw winning an NBA Championship in 2014.

Eight of Utah’s first eleven games will be on the road this season, but this is a Jazz squad that
should be up for the challenge.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves 37-45

The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of a very long hibernation. You have to go back to 2004 in order to find the last time that the Timberwolves made the playoffs as they’ve become an afterthought in the NBA. Minnesota has had its fair share of misses at the NBA Draft, but they finally appear to be headed in the right direction.

Tom Thibodeau

Tom Thibodeau is set to begin his first year as the T-Wolves head coach and president of basketball operations as he will be bringing law and order to the franchise. For five years Thibodeau was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls and in each season he was able to get them to the postseason. Under Thibodeau, the Bulls were one of the better defensive teams in the NBA and that is a philosophy that he will attempt to instill into the young Timberwolves who gave up 106 points per game last season which was tied for 23rd in the NBA.

Karl-Anthony Towns

The Timberwolves have the last two NBA Rookie of the Years to work with in shooting guard Andrew Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns. Last year Wiggins led the Timberwolves in scoring at 20.7 points per contest and it would not surprise me to see him make the All-Star team this year. Power forward Karl-Anthony Towns was a double-double machine last year for the Timberwolves, and he has the potential to be the second best big man in franchise history behind Kevin Garnett. The T-Wolves also have a pair of young ball handlers in point guard Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine, while guard Kris Dunn could be in the running to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year which would make it three years in a row that the franchise could claim that honor.

Five of the Timberwolves first seven games will be on the road, and even if they start slow, this should a be an exciting team as the NBA season progresses.

Denver Nuggets 35-47

After a decade of success, the Denver Nuggets are fading into obscurity. From 2004-2013, the Nuggets made 10 consecutive playoff appearances, but the last three years have seen them fail to reach the postseason while winning no more than 36 in any campaign. And as Michael Malone is set to begin his second year as the Nuggets head coach, he must find the right formula that can once again make Denver a playoff contender in the Western Conference.

One thing that has hurt the Nuggets in recent years is that they don’t have a consistent go-to scorer. Last year the Nuggets had seven players average at least 10 points per game with small forward Danilo Gallinari leading the team with 19.5 points per contest. However the Nuggets lack of a consistent 20-point per game scorer will hurt them against the better teams in the Western Conference.

The keys to any potential success for the Nuggets during the 2016-2017 NBA season will come down to the development of point guard Emanuel Mudiay, the health of Gallinari, and how power forward Kenneth Faried will play off of them.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Last year as a rookie, Mudiay averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists as he was one of the better first-year players in the NBA. Mudiay has the potential to be a quality floor general and the Nuggets could be ready to improve if he continues to make progress.

In five seasons with the Nuggets, Gallinari has averaged 15.6 points per game, but his main issue has been his inability to remain healthy. In eight NBA seasons, Gallinari has never appeared in all 82 games as he has been done in by knee injuries. But in spite of that Gallinari is still a solid perimeter scorer as he is a career 41% scorer. And if Gallinari is able to appear in at least 70 games this season, it should be a big boost for the Nuggets.

 

 

If there were an All-Energy team in the NBA, Faried would be on it. There’s nothing fancy about Faried’s game as he plays with the mentality of a junkyard dog. Faried scraps and claws as he does whatever is necessary for the Nuggets to win. Faried is one of those rare players in the NBA that doesn’t need a play to be called for him, but when the game is done, he’ll have 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals, along with the respect of his opponents. And it is that ability of Faried which will allow him to play off of Mudiay and Gallinari.

As a team the Nuggets were 22nd in the NBA in points allowed last season as they surrendered 105 per contest which must improve if they want to become a playoff contender.

Six of Denver’s first seven games for the upcoming NBA season will be on the road and they last thing that need is a slow start which could derail their postseason chances before they even start.

X-Division Winner
Y-Clinched Playoff Berth
Source: Basketball-reference.com
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2015-2016 Northwest Division Projections

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Y-Oklahoma City Thunder 58-24 (2)

The past five years years have seen the Oklahoma City Thunder emerge as a contender for the NBA Championship. But injuries put the Thunder in a bind last season as they missed the NBA Playoffs last year for the first time since 2009 in spite of the fact that they won 45 games. What was even more surprising than Oklahoma City missing the playoffs was that Scott Brooks was fired as the head coach of the Thunder in spite of never having a losing season in a full season as their head coach along with leading the franchise to just their third appearance in the NBA Finals. To replace Brooks, Thunder general manager Sam Presti went to the collegiate ranks where he found Billy Donovan.

Billy Donovan

Donovan spent the last two decades at the University of Florida where he led the school to a pair of national championships with four Final Four appearances while compiling a record 467-186. Donovan played in the NBA for a cup of coffee during the 1987-1988 NBA season as he appeared in 44 games for the New York Knicks. But during his time at Florida, Donovan sent his fair share of talent to the NBA in current Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal just to name a few. But in spite of Donovan’s lack of experience in the NBA, he emerged as the right guy for the job in Oklahoma City due to the fact that he has the ability to work with different personalities which is something that the Thunder have and need.

Kevin Durant

Thunder small forward Kevin Durant was the NBA MVP in 2014 along with being a six-time All-Star and he’s lead the league in scoring on four occasions. But Durant spent the majority of last season on the bench for the Thunder as he only appeared in 27 games due to a foot injury. Durant’s absence allowed point guard Russell Westbrook to be the focal point of the Thunder offense. Westbrook led the NBA in scoring last season as he averaged 28.1 points per game while also averaging a career-high in assists with 8.6. Westbrook also proved his worth last year with 12 triple-doubles. But Westbrook’s ability and the health of Durant are only the tip of the iceberg for a Thunder team that has tremendous potential for the upcoming NBA season.

In the past few years, Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka has become a more vital part of the offense in Oklahoma City, but he is at his best when he is grabbing rebounds and blocking shots as opposed to being more a perimeter player. However the Thunder now have a situation in which Ibaka will be able to play off of center Enes Kanter. The Thunder acquired Kanter from the Utah Jazz last year just prior to the NBA’s trade deadline. Kanter is a legitimate back-to-the-basket player as he averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds in 26 games for the Thunder last season. Kanter won’t be the top scoring options for the Thunder with Durant and Westbrook on the court, but he’ll still be vital in the Western Conference which is full of quality big men. The Thunder used a first round pick on center Steven Adams in 2013 as he was deemed as a project. But what Adams lacked in skill when first arrived in the NBA, he has made up for with raw ability as he has a very high ceiling as far as his potential. Last year the Thunder acquired shooting guard Dion Waiters who is the perfect off-guard to compliment Westbrook while also fitting Donovan’s system.

There will be an adjustment period for the Thunder as Donovan learns his players, but his style of ball movement should make Oklahoma City a very dangerous team when the NBA Playoffs roll around next spring.

Portland Trail Blazers 37-45

The last two seasons saw the Portland Trailblazers emerge as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference, but they’ve now gotten caught up in the financial squeeze of the new NBA as their small market wasn’t able to retain their top talent. The Trailblazers won 51 games last year, but injuries limited their chances in the NBA Playoffs as they lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies. But the Blazers suffered a bigger loss this off-season as they were gutted in free agency. Longtime Trailblazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge left Portland this off-season and he joined up with the San Antonio Spurs. And what the Blazers lose in Aldridge is the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer while no other player that has been apart of Rip City has grabbed more rebounds than him. And with shooting guard Wes Matthews joining the Dallas Mavericks, shooting guard Arron Afflalo along with center Robin Lopez now with the New York Knicks, and small forward Nicolas Batum being a member of the Charlotte Hornets, the Blazers have lost five of their top six scorers from last season which amounts to nearly 69 points per game from last year that Portland must find a way to account for in the upcoming NBA season.

Terry Stotts

More than ever Trailblazers head coach Terry Stotts will rely on point guard Damian Lillard to carry this team. In three years in the NBA, Lillard has averaged 20.2 points per game which is a number that you can expect to increase this season as he is now the main scoring option in Portland. The Blazers have some youngsters in their front court as they acquired power forward Mason Plumlee from the Brooklyn Nets while signing former Los Angeles Lakers power forward Ed Davis. Both Davis and Plumlee have potential and this year they will each have ample opportunity to improve their respective games as each player will receive an increase in minutes.

With the Western Conference being extremely top heavy this season, the Trailblazers will be fighting an uphill battle all season long.

Denver Nuggets 35-47

After a taste of success, the Denver Nuggets are going back to the being the lackluster NBA franchise that they were in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. The Nuggets lost 52 games last year which marked their worst season since the 2002-2003 NBA season and they will be fighting an uphill battle once again in the Western Conference. Michael Malone is set to begin his first season as the head coach of the Nuggets and they will have a different feel this year.

This off-season the Nuggets traded point guard Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets. Lawson led the Nuggets last season in assists with 9.6 per game while he was also the team’s leading scorer (15.2). But Lawson was becoming a malcontent which made him expendable which is why he is now a member of the Rockets. The Nuggets didn’t waste that much time replacing Lawson as they used the seventh overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft on point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay is 6’5″ and he has the potential to become a combo guard, but he’ll be a work in progress for the Nuggets.

The Nuggets still have small forward Danilo Gallinari and power forward Kenneth Faried while veteran point guard Jameer Nelson will provide a person that Mudiay can learn from, but they lack that go-to-guy in late game situations as they’ll be an afterthought in the Western Conference.

Minnesota Timberwolves 35-47

The Minnesota Timberwolves have the potential to be an improved team this season, but they still have a ways to go if they want to qualify for the NBA Playoffs. The Timberwolves are coming off of their second worst season in franchise history as they went 16-66. And since 2008, the Timberwolves have had four seasons in which they’ve lost at least 60 games. But the future is bright for the Timberwolves as they finally won the NBA Draft Lottery and they received the number one pick in the NBA Draft for the first time in franchise history which they used on center Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns will now be apart of a young Timberwolves core that has a ton of potential.

Andrew Wiggins

The sky’s the limit for Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggings. Wiggins was the first overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers who traded him to Minnesota as a part of the deal for power forward Kevin Love in the summer of 2014. Wiggins averaged 16.9 points per game last year and he will begin this NBA season as the reigning Rookie of the Year. Things could be very exciting for the Timberwolves this season depending on the health of point guard Ricky Rubio. An ankle injury limited Rubio to just 22 games last season. But a healthy Rubio could give the Timberwolves a tough combination on the fast break as he would team with Wiggins. And Rubio will have the opportunity to learn from veteran point guard Andre Miller who is as crafty as they come.

Karl-Anthony Towns

For the upcoming NBA season, we could see Wiggins and Towns morph into a solid inside-out combination that the Timberwolves have lacked for a very long time. Towns was the first overall pick of this past summer’s NBA Draft and Minnesota is looking forward to using him in the post. Towns can also benefit from center Nikola Pekovic who is returning from injury as he has become a solid rebounder over the past few years. Along with Pekovic, the Timberwolves will be able to provide a veteran presence in their front court in power forward Kevin Garnett. This will be Garnett’s 21st season in the NBA and he has spent 13 of those years in Minnesota where he is the Timberwolves all-time leader in all major statistical categories, but more importantly, he is a leader.

The Timberwolves will have a rallying cry for the upcoming NBA season in their former head coach Flip Saunders. Saunders recently passed away at the age of 60 after a brief battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and he’ll be replaced by Sam Mitchell who played 10 seasons for the Timberwolves. The Timberwolves won’t be Mitchell’s first jaunt around the block as an NBA head coach as he coached the Toronto Raptors to their first Atlantic Division Title in franchise history in 2007.

The Timberwolves will be a work in progress this season, but they will indeed be fun to watch.

Utah Jazz 32-50

The Utah Jazz were expected to be one of the worst teams in the Western Conference last year, but under first-year head coach Quin Snyder, they were able to show signs of life as they won 38 games. But the Jazz will have their hands full during the upcoming NBA season if they intend on being a player in the Western Conference.

Gordon Hayward

Last year the Jazz were 26th in the NBA in points per game at 95.1 as they didn’t have one player average 20 points per contest for them. Small forward Gordon Hayward has spent all five of his NBA seasons in Salt Lake City and he is coming off of his best year in the league as he averaged 19.3 points per game. Hayward will once again be the featured player in Snyder’s system and it wouldn’t surprise me if he flirted with averaging 25 points per game for the season. The Jazz also have a pair of lengthy big men in the NBA in center Rudy Gobert and power forward Derrick Favors as that law firm combined to average 17.7 rebounds last season. Gobert is 7’1″ with a rather long wing span and as he set to embark on his third NBA season, the future is really bright for him.

The Jazz were backing on improved play from their young backcourt of shooting guard Dante Exum and point guard Trey Burke. But Exum suffered a knee injury during international competition for his native Australia which will keep him out of action for the upcoming season while the Jazz really need Burke to become more of a floor general if they are going to contend for a playoff spot.

Like most teams in the Northwest Division, the Jazz will be fighting an uphill battle.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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