Northwest Division Round Up: Overachievers and Underachievers

The Northwest division has a clear leader in Oklahoma City, after that the second place team is separated by the last place team by only two games. Every team in this division has a reasonable shot at the playoffs, making this by far the most competitive division in the league. As a writer, this makes the division interesting, but at the same time maddening. It’s very easy to look foolish discussing the weakness of a last place team only to have them catch fire and skyrocket up the standings. In this week’s round up I will break down an overachiever and an underachiever for each team.

NORTHWEST

W

L

DIFF

L10

23

6

.793

15-2

8-4

2-1

13-3

105.7

96.7

+9.0

Won 2

8-2

17

15

.531

7 ½

9-1

8-14

2-3

12-9

101.9

100.0

+1.8

Lost 1

6-4

14

13

.519

8

9-4

5-9

2-2

8-6

95.6

94.6

+1.1

Won 1

6-4

15

14

.517

8

11-4

4-10

2-1

10-8

96.9

99.0

-2.1

Won 1

7-3

15

16

.484

9

9-4

6-12

1-2

9-12

98.6

99.4

-0.8

Lost 2

4-6

The Oklahoma City Thunder
http://www.nba.com/thunder/
This Week’s Games: 1-1:
1. Loss @ Miami 103-97
2. Win vs Dallas 111-105 (OT)
3. Win vs Houston 124-94

Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 3-0
1. vs Phoenix on Monday at 8:00
2. vs Brooklyn on Wednesday at 8:00
3. vs Philadelphia on Friday at 8:00

The Thunder started off the week with a tough loss at Miami in a finals rematch. Miami came out on fire and OKC battled back like champions. The Thunder are good enough of a team that they are not out of any game, ever, regardless of opponent. OKC further showed their mettle by beating Dallas in OT. Dallas hit an immaculate reception style one footed three to tie the game, sending it to overtime. Most teams would have been deflated after giving up such a lucky shot, not the Thunder. The Thunder accepted this lucky shot, moved on and battled back to win the game. After that OKC blew the doors a formerly red hot Houston team.

This week I expect OKC to continue their strong play, winning all their games. Since, they are playing average level teams you would expect nothing more than three more wins from one of the best teams in the league.

Overachiever: Serge Ibaka
Key Statistics: 14.4 PPG, .610 true shooting %, 119 Points Per 100 possessions, 18.7 usage rate

Ok, I’ll admit it, I chose Ibaka in part because his bevvy of awesome nicknames. From the Serge Protector , Air Congo, Iblocka to Dr. Nasty he probably has the best pseudonyms in the league. Most of his nicknames have to do with his superior athleticism and defensive ability. However, his name graces this list because of his improved offensive game. With the departure of James Harden, Ibaka has helped take over the offensive load. Ibaka has increased his shots but he has also increased his shooting percentage, meaning he isn’t just scoring more, he’s scoring more efficiently. His progression along with that of Durant and Westbrook has allowed OKC to not miss a beat despite Harden tearing up the league in a different uniform.


Underachiever: Eric Maynor
Key Statistics: 3.5 PPG, 110 defensive rating, 94 offensive rating, .380 eFG%, 8.2 PER

When Eric Maynor went down at the start of last year it really hurt the Thunder. With Reggie Jackson not able to step in and perform as a rookie the Thunder were forced to turn to the ancient Derek Fisher. The result was a second unit that lacked continuity and organization. This was masked by the fact that James Harden could score in any situation. This year Maynor was supposed to come back and give stability to a Hardenless bench. Maynor has not been back to his pre-injury self to this point in the year, posting his worst numbers career numbers across the board. He is having his worst year offensively, defensively, rebounding, shooting and pretty much any other facet of the game you can think of. The Thunder would be improved if Maynor could regain his form or if they got solid back up minutes out of Reggie Jackson. In the end, the Thunder are an elite team and Maynor’s play probably won’t make a difference one way or another, but I had to pick someone.

The Denver Nuggets
This Week’s Games: 3-1
1. Loss @ LA Clippers 112-100
2. Win vs LA Lakers 126-114
3. Win @ Dallas 106-85
4. Loss vs Memphis 81-72
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-1
1. vs LA Clippers on Tuesday at 9:00
2. vs Minnesota on Thursday at 9:00
Denver’s length and athleticism is among the best in the league. If they can turn games into track meets only the Thunder, Clippers and Heat have a chance to consistently beat them. This week they sped up the pace against the Clippers, Lakers and Dallas. Only the Clippers had the horses to match up with the Nuggets in an up and down game. Memphis, however, was able to slow down the pace handing Denver the loss. This week they will need hot shooting in order to beat LA and should easily beat Minnesota if they can push the pace.

Overachiever: No One
Key Statistics: 7th in offensive rating (3rd last year), 21st in defensive rating (20th last year)

Initially my thought was Kenneth Faried was the overachiever. However, after looking at his numbers the only thing that went up was his minutes, his effectiveness is the same as last year. Ty Lawson has increased his assists but his scoring and percentages have went down. This team is better than it is playing right now, but as of now this team is underachieving as a whole.


Underachiever: Andre Iguodala
Key Statistics: 103 offensive rating, .079 win shares/48, 17.9 turnover % (all career worst), .531 True Shooting %,  18.8 assist rating, 14.6 PER (second worst of career)

Iguodala was supposed to come to Denver and put them over the hump. Iggy has fit in seamlessly with Denver, but not in a good way. Right now Denver is playing  at about the same level that they were last year even with Iguodala. He hasn’t exactly played terrible but the expectations were that he would be the final piece to make them a contending team. Two of the best indicators of play via advance statistics are win shares and rating per 100 possessions, Iguodala has posted the worst numbers of his career in both these statistics. If Denver is to be the team we hoped they would be they need more from Iguodala

The Portland Trailblazers
This Week’s Games: 1-2
1. Loss @ Sacramento 108-96
2. Win vs Sacramento 109-91
3. Loss @ LA Lakers 104-87
4. Win vs Philadelphia 89-85
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. @ New York on Sunday at 7:30
2. @ Toronto on Wednesday at 7:00
3. @ Memphis on Friday at 8:00
To this point in the season Portalnd has showed that they are better suited in a game where they slow down the pace and hold the other team to a low score. This week they held Sacramento and Philly to under 100 points and won, their two losses came when they gave up over 100 points to the Lakers and the Kings. This week they have a tough schedule playing all three games on the road. They should be able to slow down the pace against Toronto but will fail to do so against New York. Memphis however loves to play in a slow down pace and should beat the Blazers.

Overachiever: JJ Hickson 
Key Statistics: 116 offensive rating, 11.0 rebounds a game, .557 field goal percentage 

Hickson was released by Sacramento last year, and was all set to go to Golden State as a free agent. Portland stopped this by claiming Hickson off waivers. Hickson should count his lucky stars because he has really found a home in Portland. Last year he came in and immediately contributed for Portland. This year he improved upon his good numbers and is on the verge of a break out season for Portland. He is scoring more efficiently than ever in his career. On top of that Hickson is rebounding better than ever, which is necessary considering they moved him to the five this year. Most importantly Hickson is providing something that can not be quantified statistically, he’s bringing immense energy to the Blazers.


Underachiever: Luke Babbitt
Key Statistics: 4.3 ppg, .380 fg%, 100 offensive rating, 10.7 per

 I could have picked anyone on the Blazers bench, but went with Babbitt because he was supposed to be the best scorer off the bench. The Portland starters are among the best in the league in scoring but their bench is near the worst. Babbitt is looked to do nothing besides score and he has had trouble doing that for Portland. The Blazers will need more from their bench in order to compete for a playoff spot, Babbitt is the most likely contributor if they are to find one on their team.



The Minnesota Timberwolves
This Week’s Games: 1-2
1. Loss @ New York 94-91
2. Loss vs Houston 87-84
3. Win vs Phoenix 111-107
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-1
1. @ Utah on Wednesday at 9:00
2. @ Denver on Thursday at 9:00
The Timberwolves, were 1-2 this week but they were competitive in every single game. With their defense they are able to keep every game close. Having a healthy Rubio will be the difference between close losses and close wins. Rubio has missed games recently returning from a knee injury and when he has played he has played limited minutes. If they are to move up the standings it will be on the back of Rubio. This week I expect them to split games in Utah and Denver depending on how they are able to control the pace. 


Overachiever: Nikola Pekovic 
Key Statistics: 16.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 103 defensive rating, 12.4 turnover percentage, 23 % usage rate 

Nikola Pekovic has arrived on the scene and I don’t mean as the villain in Superman. He has improved in most of the areas you look for from the center spot. His scoring and rebounding have went up in his third nba year. As those numbers went up his turnover percentage and defensive ratings went down. With the injury to Rubio he has stepped up to take a larger share of the offense increasing his usage rate. Pekovic has been great this year and not just at wearing sweet hats.

Underachiever: Derrick Williams
Key Statistics: 22.9 usage rate, 102 defensive rating, 8.2 points per game.

Derrick Williams came out of college as an elite prospect, getting drafted at the number two spot overall. His talent was expected to fit next to Kevin Love and push Minnesota over the top. Right now he looks to be either a wasted pick or a bad fit for Minnesota. He is a player who really misses Ricky Rubio, his athleticism and length lends itself to the fast break basketball that Rubio creates. Williams this year has increased his usage rate which decreasing his scoring and defensive rating. Williams is young and should improve but at this point it might make sense for him to do it an another uniform.




The Utah Jazz
This Week’s Games: 1-2
1. Win @ Orlando 97-93
2. Loss vs Golden State 94-83
3. Loss vs LA Clippers 116-114
Next Week’s Games: Projected Outcome 1-2
1. @ LA Clippers on Sunday at 9:30
2. vs Minnesota on Wednesday at 9:00
3. @ Phoenix on Friday at 9:00
The Utah Jazz are currently in a funk. They have a lot of very good players but no great players. With Jefferson and Milsap in the last year of their contracts a trade seems imminent. The problem is Utah fans will not suffer a losing season without stringing up the general manager. Expect them to try to deal Jefferson and Milsap in a move to get them a player that can help them win right now while giving Kanter and Favors more playing time. This week they start out with a tough game against LAC on the road, a game I do not expect them to with. Utah will continue its poor play and lose to Minnesota who should presumably have Ricky Rubio back. Their only win of the week will come against Phoenix who is even more of a mess than Utah.

Overachiever: Gordon Hayward 
Key Statistics: 13.3 ppg, 17.7 ppg/36, .370 3p%, 4.0 3pa

Gordon Hayward is a perfect fit for Utah, and it’s not just because he’s a white guy playing Salt Lake City. He plays very good defense, can shoot and is a match up problem for most two’s in the league because of size. Hayward has improved his scoring in less minutes than last year mostly by taking more three pointers a game and making a higher percentage. His play along with that of Kanter and Favors will allow the Jazz to be competitive in the future. 


Underachiever: Alec Burks
Key Statistics: 4.6 point per game, .372 efg%, 95 offensive rating

In his first year Alec Burks looked to be the real deal. However, in his second year he has taken a step backwards. His Points assist rebound steals and shooting are all down from last year. This might have to do with his reduced minutes since the Jazz upgraded in the back court with Foye and Mo Williams in the off season. Now that Mo Williams is out for a prolonged period of time he should get more minutes, if he is not able to improve upon is play it could seal the doom of a young NBA career.


Last Week’s Prediction Record: 8-5
Season Prediction Record: 19-9

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