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The Breakdown

Strengths and Weaknesses: Northwest Division

by Brad Stonebraker
Updated On: September 9, 2021, 12:57 am ET

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Denver Nuggets

Strength: Retained depth

Denver kept basically all of their key guys yet again to try and make a legitimate playoff run. They lost Paul Millsap but gained Jeff Green, who is a much more viable option at this stage of their respective careers. Green provided some nice depth for Brooklyn last season and will likely assume Millsap’s backup role of around 20 minutes per game, but there are probably better guys to grab late in fantasy drafts. The Nuggets’ starters will remain the same as well, and with the exception of Jamal Murray (who still doesn’t have a firm time frame to return after his ACL surgery), you know what you’re going to get out of these guys on draft night: MVP Nikola Jokic should be the No. 1 overall pick, Will Barton is a sneaky all-around guy but is seemingly always hurt, Michael Porter Jr. is a stud and could be a legitimate top-20 guy especially while Murray is sidelined, and Aaron Gordon has more real-life than fantasy appeal.

Weakness: Underperforming in the postseason

Denver has been a top-3 seed in a very good Western Conference for the last three seasons, so it’s not the regular season where they aren’t pulling through. They’ve never won a series in this span in less than six games, and they’ve only made it to the WCF in one of these three years (lost 4-1 to the Lakers in the bubble). They’ve had some miraculous comebacks, but anything short of a Finals appearance is considered a loss in their book. They were without Jamal Murray in last year’s playoffs as well, which sure didn’t help matters, but now that they get a full season to play with this crew that fared pretty well last regular season, they’ll look to finally get out of the West. 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Strength: D’Angelo Russell’s time to shine

With Ricky Rubio being sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers, D’Angelo Russell now takes full control of the point guard position after coming off the bench for some stretches of last year. He should easily be able to eclipse his 28.5 minutes per game last season as he’s officially locked in as a starter, and he’s looking to be a great point guard to grab once all of the elite guys are off the draft board. He’ll hurt your percentages, but he’s going to make a ton of threes and may be able to get his assist numbers up. Russell should run a lot of pick and roll with Karl-Anthony Towns too, which will help, and you can get KAT this year as late as No. 9 overall. For a guy with legitimate No. 1 overall upside, Towns could end up being a league-winner if you get him here.

Weakness: Not making shots

An objectively crucial part of the game of basketball, Minnesota had a very tough time hitting their shots last season, including being ranked 27th in field goal percentage and 25th in three-point percentage. Ricky Rubio’s 38.8% clip definitely did not help this cause and with the aforementioned Russell at the reign and being able to take full control as a ball-handler, maybe he’ll have other targets that shoot better than Rubio who can help up these numbers. Plus, Anthony Edwards has already shown improvement in this area - he ended the season at just 41.7% overall, but let’s remind you of his post-All Star Break averages once again: 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.9 three-pointers on a quickly-improved 45.5% from the floor. He was inside the top-60 in fantasy in this span, and that’s where you’ll have to draft him if you want to secure the second-year stud.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Strength: The signing of Shai

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is on the verge of stardom in the league and compiled a line of 23.7/4.8/5.9 per game in 35 games played last season. He just signed a five-year, $172 million rookie extension with Oklahoma City, and despite an injury-riddled year, he looks ready to go and lead the team this year. Their playoff chances are still very low, but that doesn’t mean Shai needs to miss as many games as he did last year. He’s going to be a popular pick in the third round of drafts and is poised for a bit of a “bounce back” year - he was awesome when he played, but didn’t help teams as he missed just over half of the regular season.

Weakness: Messy rotation

A lot of OKC’s numbers were on the verge of embarrassing in 2020-2021, so we’ll omit the specifics right now. It’s no secret that they were a nightmare and had basically no legitimate fantasy contributors for the latter part of the year. Luguentz Dort had some great games but was held out for no reason all of the time, and none of the other guys helped consistently either. It’s still a rebuilding year for the Thunder, but the rotation is bound to be more solidified than last year. If it proves to be just as messy, there’s a chance Shai will be the only guy on the team worth rostering on your fantasy team. 

Portland Trail Blazers

Strength: Well-rounded squad

Portland is an incredibly talented offensive team (spoiler: defensively, not so much) that often goes overlooked, but they seem to have most of the pieces that it takes to compete. Usual suspects set to return are Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic, and they were also able to add Larry Nance Jr. and Cody Zeller to the mix. Similar to the Nuggets, the starters are pretty predictable these days: Dame is a first-round beast, C.J. McCollum scores a ton and is actually fairly efficient for a guard (counting/defensive stats need some work though), Norman Powell is good for threes and steals despite his percentages dropping since landing in Portland, Robert Covington is much better suited for points leagues, and Jusuf Nurkic has early-round potential if he stays healthy. 

Weakness: Overall defense

Portland was top-5 in scoring and second overall in made threes last season, but some people forget that the part of the game where your team has the ball is just half of the game. On defense last year, they had the second worst defensive rating in the entire league, and were ranked 25th in steals per game and 24th in both opposing fast break and second chance points. It’s been a problem for the team as of recent years, and it’s not like they don’t have good defenders (Covington and Nurkic have good defensive stats on paper at the very least), so this seems to be more of a chemistry/communication issue. It’s sure to be a priority yet again this year, and even by just jumping to the middle of the pack in some of these defensive categories referred to above, they could be on their way to real playoff contention - they’ve made the postseason the last eight seasons, but have only escaped the first round three times and have made it to the WCF once (in 2018-2019, when they got swept by Golden State).

Utah Jazz

Strength: Elite shooting

The Utah Jazz are another prime example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (like the Suns) as they finished the regular season with the league’s best record and outstanding numbers on both ends of the floor. They’re so incredible defensively that their offense is sometimes an afterthought, despite ranking fourth in points per game, fifth in three-point percentage, and first in made threes per game. Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic are all snipers from the outside, and reserve and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson has the greenest of lights from anywhere hardwood. Mitchell and Gobert look like third-rounders right now, Mike Conley is old but could still provide some value in middle-late rounds, and Clarkson’s inefficiency puts him outside of the top-100 but will score and hit a ton of threes.

Weakness: Closing out

There is honestly not a lot to dislike about this Utah team, but they did ultimately fall apart in the second round of the playoffs this past season after going up 2-0 on the Clippers and then losing the next four to have an unexpectedly early postseason exit. It’s unclear where they went wrong, but it didn’t help that Donovan Mitchell’s ankle was not fully healed in that series. He just turned 25 one day ago and is already a superstar and leader of the team, so one lousy playoff series shouldn’t reflect on what he or his team is capable of. They’ll be hungry and ready to make a statement this upcoming season and look like they can beat anyone when they’re clicking.

Brad Stonebraker

Brad has a finance degree and works in Business Management. He has been playing fantasy basketball since 2012 and specifically enjoys sports statistics and crunching numbers. You can find Brad on Twitter @bradbraker97.