Northwest Division Round Up

When we were first getting started on our blog we decided to make a schedule so that we would have a guaranteed daily blog post. To do this, we each picked two divisions to recap weekly. Being the fantasyphiles we are, we decided to do a draft to pick our divisions, snake style. With my first pick I selected the Northwestern division. Not because it is the best division (which it vary well might be) but because each team has a compelling story.

NORTHWEST

W

L

DIFF

19

4

.826

13-2

6-2

2-0

10-2

105.7

96.4

+9.3

Won 10

11

9

.550

6 ½

6-3

5-6

1-2

5-5

94.9

93.1

+1.8

Won 3

13

11

.542

6 ½

9-1

4-10

1-2

9-9

100.5

99.2

+1.3

Lost 1

12

12

.500

7 ½

6-1

6-11

2-2

8-6

100.8

100.7

+0.1

Won 1

10

12

.455

8 ½

6-4

4-8

1-1

6-6

97.2

100.2

-3.0

Won 2

The Oklahoma City Thunder 
Important Stats:
1st in NBA in: Scoring, Record, Point Differential, Points per 100 Possessions
2nd in effective Field Goal Percentage offense, third in Effective Field Goal Percentage Defense.

Compelling Story: Have The Thunder Passed the Heat as the #1 Team in the League?
OKC is first in a lot of the most important statistics including record. Last year they saved their best basketball for the playoffs, this year they picked up right where they left off. Except, this time they are not taking a back seat to Miami. They have always used their elite athleticism to play superb defense, get out on the break and finish in transition. That combined with Durant’s elite shooting puts them over the top.

Their downfall last year was their inability to move the ball, and their willingness to take the easy shot instead of the best one. When the Heat dug in defensively last year, too many times did the Thunder settle for outside shots without probing the defense for a better shot.

Now this year they have corrected their problems and improved upon their strengths. Assists might be a flawed statistic, but when it backs up what you are seeing with your eyes it is the only statistic you need. This year Russell Westbrook has been taking better shots, and making sure his teammates get better shots. His assist have increased by over 3 a game but more importantly his team has been scoring almost 5 points more per 100 possessions than last year. His improvement has been the driving force in their improvement this year, but not just on offense.

Westbrook looks to be finally getting it. Not only is he sharing the ball and taking better shots than ever, he is using his other worldly athleticism to become an unstoppable force on defense. Since playing in the Olympics he has become a better on the ball defender. In the Olympics he realized that his combination of strength and speed allows him to take the ball from anyone at any time.

 Some might point to the trade of James Harden as a reason that the Thunder are worse this year. Although Kevin Martin has played well and covered up for some of the loss of Harden, the Thunder are better this year without him because of the improvements of Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka.

The Minnesota Timberwolves
Important Stats:
80% of their players have missed time due to injury
4th in points allowed, 4th in rebounding
23rd in eFG%, 21st in turn over percentage

Compelling Story: Ricky Rubio is coming back!
The argument can be made that the most compelling story with the team is Kevin Love going public with his frustration. However, I think that his venting about the team’s direction has more to do with his frustration this year combined with his frustration over not getting a five year contract extension. With Rubio coming back his frustration over the team this year will subside. With his frustration over this year subsiding he should feel better about the direction the team is heading in. While this won’t do anything for his ill will about not getting a five year deal it will be enough to make him happy enough to be silent.

The Timberwolves are a good team and the fact that they have been able to stay around .500 with the injuries they have had is truly astounding. They have maintained good defense and rebounding despite all the quality players that have missed games. Rubio coming back will be a big step in the direction of Minnesota become the team that everyone thought they would be to start the year.

The Timberwolves most deficient areas thus far are related to turnovers, assists and shooting percentages. Rubio should substantially improve all of these (once he gets back to 100%). He might not be able to fix everything that ails the Timberwolves but at least he’ll improve the Wolves hilarious commercial percentage with this gem.

Rubio coming back will not only improve the T-Wolves statistically he will help them stylistically. With his return, Minnesota, will go from a plodding team centered around Love and the evil eastern block villan from every bond movie (Nikola Pekovic), to an exciting, entertaining, free flowing team that is routinely on Sportscenter’s top plays. They go from being a team that Kevin Love can’t wait to leave to a team that is a free agent destination. With Rubio back the T-Wolves will become a compelling story.
The Utah Jazz
Important Statistics:
2nd in Assists, 2nd in blocks, 4th in offensive rebound%, third in steals, 6th in offensive efficiency
27th in defensive rebounding%, 21st in turnovers, 18th in eFG% defense, 18th in turnover% defense
Compelling Story: Will the Jazz be Buyers or Sellers by the trading deadline?
Right now the Jazz are around a .500 team. They have a strong nucleus of good young players at almost every position. Their two best players are veteran big men who are in the last year of their contract. Most of those statements would indicate a team that is looking to deal its veterans. However, this was a playoff team last year. Utah has one of the best fan bases in the league and probably the best home court advantage. Their fans expect and demand the playoffs every year. If the Jazz move Jefferson and/or Milsap and just barely miss the playoffs it could insight a riot in Salt Lake City (a very tame Mormon riot but a riot none the less)
The question then remains, is this team good enough to make the playoffs and make some noise as currently constituted? Is keeping Jefferson and Milsap at their current market value a viable option for the Jazz going forward, knowing that they will eventually have to extend their nucleus?
In the end the answer to this question does not have much to do with the teams current performance but with value. The Jazz will first speak with Jefferson and Milsap’s agents about potential deals, to gauge their asking price in terms of years and salary. Based on these conversations they will decide if re-signing both players will make sense for the long term future of the team. They will then gauge the trade market for both players. If they get an offer that helps their team in the long term they will take it.
So the answer to the question of will the Jazz be buyers or sellers is, it depends. They don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing! In all seriousness, whether the Jazz move Jefferson and Milsap will come down to a myriad of factors other than the teams performance this year. Chances are we as fans won’t know all the details until after a trade is consummated, if ever.
The Denver Nuggets
Important Stats:
1st in Offensive Rebounding%, Third in Assists, Fourth in Blocks, 9th in offensive efficiency, 9th in eFG%
26th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage, 24th in defensive efficiency, 20th in defensive eFG%
Compelling Story: Is this really who the Nuggets are?
The Denver Nuggets were a playoff team last year that took a very good LA Lakers team to seven games. This was a team that oozed potential, a team on the precipice of greatness. They showed elite athleticism rebounding and hustle. Ty Lawson looked like the perfect point guard to lead this gazelle like lineup on its numerous fast breaks. JaVala McGee and Kenneth Faried looked to make up the most athletic and long front line in the league. Danillo Gallinari a dead eye three point shooter who could space the floor giving the other Nuggets room to operate. Then in the off season Denver made a deal that amounted to Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington for Andre Iguodala. Essentially super charging their Porsche with even more fast break horsepower and athleticism.
A team that looked to be ready to make the jump seemed to have improved their vertical in the off season. So far this team has not lived up to what fans have hoped for. At this point the statistics would indicate that their problems are a matter of cohesion not a fatal design flaw. 
The statistics point to a very aggressive team that gives maximum effort all the time. The problem is effort without organization is worthless. They force a decent amount of turnovers and get a lot of blocks. In an attempt to make these great plays they are ending up out of position which is negatively effecting their field goal and rebounding numbers defensively.
The hope is that with time the defensive rotations will sharpen. As players mature they will trust their teammates to be in their assigned position instead of trying to force turnovers on their own. The funny thing about this is, if they are in the correct defensive rotation  they will force more turnovers than attempting to do it alone. Team defense is always stronger than individual defense. If the Nuggets are to end up being the team that we believed they would be, they will understand this.
The Portland Trail Blazers
Important Stats:
11th in Turnover Percentage, 6th in turnover percentage forced, 7th in three pointers made
Compelling Story: Does Portland have a franchise player in Damian Lillard?
Before the season if you wanted to make an argument for the Blazers being a surprise team it would have made sense. With Wes Matthews, Nicholas Batum, JJ Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge they looked to have a solid core capable of a playoff run. All those players are averaging over double digits, if you just looked at their individual numbers you would assume that they are having a great season thus far.
In actuality, they are in last place. Albeit in a very tough division and only two games under .500 but last place none the less. The problem is they are one of the worst teams in the league defensively in terms of field goal percentage allowed They are also a below average rebounding team and shoot too many threes (7th in the NBA in attempts) but don’t make a high enough percentage (21st in the league).
Individually thus far all their established players are doing what you would expect of them. The bright spot on the team has been Damian Lillard who has far exceeded expectations. He has 18.9 points 6.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds thus far, while shooting 36% from three. He is so valuable to his team that as a rookie he is seventh in the NBA in minutes played.
All of his offensive numbers have been stellar. However, much like the rest of the blazers he has been lacking defensively. Giving up 110 points per 100 possessions defensively, good for 12th on a team of 14. While this isn’t good it is not necessarily a damning statistic for predicting his career numbers. In the NBA defense is often where you see the most improvement from year one to year two. Especially because the referees don’t hit second year players with the same ridiculous calls the first year players get.
Damian Lillard’s marketing team hit it out of the park by putting videos of him training on youtube (look at our last rankings page to find this video). Now everyone who bothered to watch those know that he is one of the hardest working players in the game. Combine that with the pedigree of being from Oakland the home of other stalwart defensive minded point guards (i.e. Gary Payton, Jason Kidd) and you can expect his defensive numbers to improve. As his defensive numbers improve he will take further steps to become the franchise player the Blazers need.
Outro
I wanted to give a quick shout out to the people who bother to read this blog I (as well as Brian and Andy) really appreciate it. This being said here are two youtube videos requested by our readers.



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