Culture of Hoops

NBA Preview: A question for every NBA team – Northwest Division

James Harden and Kevin Durant formed a strong trio with Russell Westbrook, but how important was Harden for the Thunder?

By Erik Ong (@FantasyHoopla)

This NBA preview for the Northwest Division was written before the season, but unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy affected its timely publication. Regardless, the NBA season is still young enough to delve into some previews outlining the important questions for each NBA team. Besides, we all love the NBA, consuming as much information as possible comes naturally!

Denver Nuggets: How well will Iguodala jell with the Nuggets?

Andre Iguodala and the Denver Nuggets are a match made in basketball heaven. He’s a talented defender who can shine on offense when he’s running in the open court, something that the Nuggets plan to do a lot of this season. He’s the team’s best perimeter defender whose versatility should prove to be invaluable to the team. Unlike his situation with the Philadelphia 76ers where he was tasked to be the playmaker on many occasions, the offense is clearly going to be orchestrated by Ty Lawson. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Iguodala as he’s probably on the best team with the most talented role players the league has ever seen. He can follow direction and will do what needs to be done, when and where it is needed most. We should see him do a little less passing and a little more scoring in Denver.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Did the Timberwolves do enough to finish with a .500 record?

On paper the Timberwolves are much improved, but they are starting off the season on a sour note. They are missing star point guard Ricky Rubio who is still recovering from a torn ACL, and all-star power forward Kevin Love who broke his right hand this preseason while doing knuckle push-ups. Both players are expected back some time in December with remaining starters Nikola Pekovic, Brandon Roy, and Andrei Kirilenko won’t be able to notch enough Ws during Love and Rubio’s absence. It might have been a different story if both players started off the season healthy, but it is what it is, and Minnesota will have to suffer through another losing season.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Can the Thunder keep James Harden?

There is no question as to whether the Thunder would prefer to keep James Harden or not. He has played a huge role in the team’s success the last few seasons. The question on whether they can keep him is purely about economics and whether they can afford the current NB Sixth Man of the Year or not. The team signed defensive phenom Serge Ibaka to a four-year, $48 million contract extension this August. That’s a big chunk of change considering they’ve got Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with hefty deals in the books. The Thunder made it to the NBA Finals last season and are currently the Los Angeles Lakers’ toughest competition in the Western Conference. Harden has said that he would prefer to stay with the Thunder, but also knows what his talents are worth in the open free agent market. Losing Harden would be too much of a setback for a team that has come so far over the last four years. They should find a way to dig deep into those pockets and cough up the dough needed to secure Harden. It’s worth paying good money for a talented player who fits with your team. James Harden is that guy for the Thunder.

Portland Trail Blazers: Will a high-octane offense get the Blazers back into the playoffs?

New coach Kaleb Canales and his offensive system won’t be enough to get the Blazers to the playoffs just yet. The team will need time to get veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum in sync with rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, and that can take awhile. Lillard who has been outspoken about his aspirations to be an instant contributor to the Blazers and win the Rookie of the Year award in the process, will have his hands full. The team has a lot of offensive weapons and it will be his job to make sure they’re locked and loaded to ensure maximum damage is done. We won’t see a drastic turnaround in the team for them to make the playoffs, but we should see enough significant strides for them to finish with a much better regular season record.

Utah Jazz: Will the Jazz trade assets to make room for Derrick Favors?

Outside of the Los Angeles Lakers’ combo of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the Jazz has one of the league’s most talented frontcourts. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were clearly the keys to the team’s success last season, but the Jazz also have a very talented third-year power forward in Derrick Favors. Is three going to be too much of crowd in the paint for Utah? As much as it would benefit the team to develop Favors via an increase in playing time, it’s just too difficult to sit Millsap because he is that good. However, Millsap is on the final year of his contract, and both the contract and Millsap himself could fetch some quality assets from other teams. It’s a tough call as Millsap and Jefferson have found a way to both flourish while sharing the paint. For now, a three-way timeshare between the big men will have to work out, but it shouldn’t surprise many if the Jazz ship off Millsap after receiving an offer they couldn’t refuse. It hasn’t reached a critical point, so there is no need for Utah to splash around, and it should be content to slowly develop Favors.

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