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NBA Northwest Division Preview

For the second division preview, we'll take a look at the 2015-2016 Northwest picture.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Nuggets

2014-2015: 30-52, 12th in West

2014-2015 Coach: Brian Shaw

Major Losses: Arron Afflalo (free agency, now with Knicks), Ty Lawson (offseason trade, now with Rockets),

Key Additions: Emmanuel Mudiay (2015 first-round draft pick)

The Nuggets are still lacking in areas to be sure, but hopefully their defense will be stronger heading into the 2015-2016 season. Looking at the backcourt, a lot of pressure will fall on recently drafted Emmanuel Mudiay. At just 19 years old, he's not yet entirely proven, but Denver doesn't have much choice but to count on him as their starting point guard.

Mudiay didn't have the best performance in summer league; he averaged 12 points and 5.8 assists per game, but he shot just 38.5 percent from the field, 14.3 percent from behind the three-point line and 50 percent from the charity stripe. Nuggets fans will hope he plays more consistently in the regular season.

The rookie does have a ton of speed and good size that should immediately prove beneficial for Denver, and Jameer Nelson will most likely come off the bench to provide depth and spell Mudiay as he adjusts to the lengthy NBA season.

Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried should be defensive assets for Denver, although Farried has shown instability on that side historically. He has the physical build to threaten opposing teams' offenses, and having Gallinari on the floor at the same time will hopefully help him develop defensively.

Gallinari averaged 3.2 defensive rebounds per game during the 2014-2015 season, and he was described as "one of the peskiest" small forwards in the league by SB Nation's Mike Olson. Between Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, who will come off the bench, the 3 position will be well covered for Denver.

The weakest area, on the other hand, will be shooting guard. The Nuggets are relying on Randy Foye as a starting SG, which says something in and of itself. Foye gets an "A" for effort, but the guard has never established himself as an envied starter. Last season, Foye averaged 8.7 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Expectations: I have a hard time predicting for Denver, because in my mind there are still so many question marks. If Mudiay pans out, the Nuggets will benefit greatly on the scoring end of the floor, but either way they're weak at SG. There's also some uncertainty with Farried and his ability to be the defensive player Denver needs him to be. I don't expect the Nuggets' record to be much better than last year.

Minnesota Timberwolves

2014-2015: 16-66, 15th in West

2014-2015 Coach: Flip Saunders

Major Losses: Corey Brewer (mid-season trade, now with Rockets)

Key Additions: Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1 overall draft pick)

Last year did not go as Wolves fans anticipated, and this is something we all know far too well. I won't spend too much on Minnesota's preview, because it's all you read every day, but let's go over the main things we're looking at heading into this season.

Adding Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones to the roster will certainly make an immediate impact, especially on defense. Towns' ability to play well on both sides of the court is something the Timberwolves have been missing over the past couple years. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Jones receives in his rookie season. The hometown hero will most likely be playing behind point guard Ricky Rubio, but if Jones transitions well into the league and Rubio doesn't step up his shooting game, who knows what will happen.

The Wolves have an incredibly young team with players like Towns and Andrew Wiggins who will only get better over the next season or two, and they also have a solid base of veterans in Kevin Garnett and newly acquired guard Andre Miller. The two will most likely not be called on for much offense but will play a role in locker room leadership and development of the younger guys.

Expectations: I get nervous making predictions for my own team; I think that's the cautious Minnesota fan inside of me. Barring any significant injuries, though, I think Minnesota has the tools necessary to put together an extremely successful team over the next couple of years. For the 2015-2016 season, I think 40 wins is attainable.

Oklahoma City Thunder

2014-2015: 45-37, 9th in West

2014-2015 Coach: Scott Brooks

Major Losses: Kendrick Perkins (free agency, now with Pelicans)

Key Additions: Cameron Payne (2015 first-round draft pick), Enes Kanter (mid-season trade, from Jazz)

Last season certainly didn't pan out the way Durant and Co. hoped--mainly because Kevin Durant missed so much basketball.

The roster hasn't changed much, and assuming everyone comes back healthy, you're looking at having Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at the helm. That's a very talented core. OKC will also have plenty of rotation value with guys like Dion Waiters, Nick Collison and Enes Kanter, who should be a sixth man with plenty of influence.

The Thunder did well to keep Kanter on the roster, matching the offer the Portland offered him after only having him on the roster since February. Kanter cost OKC a pretty penny, but it will be worth it. The center may only be 23 years old, but the Turkish native is worth it for a small-market team. Kanter 15.5 points and 8.9 rebounds during the 2014-2015 season, and he's the type of confident player that adds stability to any roster.

Waiters, Anthony Morrow and Andre Roberson offer a lot of depth at guard, and it will be interesting to see who starts at the shooting guard position. Waiters will probably be the favorite there, but Morrow could offer some serious competition. Morrow's strongest attribute is his long-range shot; last season, he averaged 42.9 percent from behind the arc and notched nearly two three-pointers (1.9) per game. He's not the most consistent shooter overall, which may keep him coming off the bench.

Oklahoma City did struggle a bit on defense last season, allowing the seventh-most points in the NBA. New head coach Billy Donovan will have to tighten things up on that end of the floor, even with a healthy roster, in order to capitalize in the competitive Western Conference.

Expectations: I'm predicting the Thunder to rebound in 2015-2016 and finish higher than they did last season. I absolutely expect them to make the 2016 NBA Playoffs, barring any significant injuries.

Portland Trail Blazers

2014-2015: 51-31, 4th in West

2014-2015 Coach: Terry Stotts

Major Losses: LaMarcus Aldridge (free agency, now with Spurs)

Key Additions: Mike Miller (offseason trade, from Cavaliers), Ed Davis (free agency, from Lakers), Gerald Henderson (offseason trade, from Bobcats)

Portland's season went pretty well during 2014-2015, and losing big man LaMarcus Aldridge will be a difficult void to fill moving into 2015-2016. Aldridge wasn't your typical center, as he demonstrated a broad range of talent and offered the Blazers a versatile offensive weapon.

The Blazers are attempting to replace Aldridge with Ed Davis, entering his sixth NBA season. Davis has spent time with three different teams, most recently the Lakers, and is averaging 8.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Lake Show Life writer Scott Asai said the following about Davis:

"[He's] a workhorse. His production in limited minutes last season with the Lakers was impressive. Rebounding and contesting shots are two of his strong suits, but his biggest impact(s) on the court (are) his ability to finish around the rim and (his) energy."

Davis is not as versatile as Aldridge, but he's certainly effective at the rim and will have a big impact for the Blazers if they play to his strengths.

Without Aldridge--and also Robin Lopez--Portland will be playing with a pretty young frontcourt that includes Davis, Noah Vonleh (19 years old) and third-year center Mason Plumlee. Davis will most likely earn the majority of the minutes at power forward with Plumlee at center, but the two could be rotated out with each other for added depth as well.

Portland should have a solid backcourt, with Damian Lillard returning at the point and Charlotte's Gerald Henderson coming in at shooting guard. The 27-year-old spent six seasons with the Bobcats before being traded for the first time. Henderson averaged 12.1 points and 2.6 assists last season.

Expectations: It's hard to believe that Portland will be entirely the same without Aldridge in the lineup, and I won't be surprised if their record struggles because of it. If the Blazers finish above .500 this season, it should be considered a victory in itself.

Utah Jazz

2014-2015: 38-44, 11th in West

2014-2015 Coach: Quin Snyder

Major Losses: Enes Kanter (mid-season trade, now with Thunder)

Key Additions:

Utah is one of those teams that doesn't have the biggest-name players but is quietly poising to be a threat in the Western Conference. The biggest thing I see from last season is the way the Jazz improved in the second half. Despite starting the 2014-2015 season 19-34, they returned following the All Star break and went 19-10 to wrap up the year. If they pick up where they left off, teams will start to take Utah seriously.

Other than trading Enes Kanter mid-season, the Jazz roster looks pretty much the same. Rudy Gorbert and Gordon Hayward created a dangerous defense, and fans will hope the duo continues the trend for 2015-2016. Hayward clearly stands out as the squad's strongest player on both ends of the floor. Last season, the averaged 19.3 points per game, followed by Derrick Favors with 16.

Point guard Trey Burke played consistently his first two seasons, averaging 12.8 points per game each year, and Utah can count on him to perform at the same level if not better. Fellow guard Alec Burks missed a large chunk of games due to injury last year; having him back will be a huge asset.

Expectations: Utah moved through the offseason with very few moves, and that was no mistake. If the lineup stays healthy, I could see the Jazz increasing their win total this season and even sneaking into the playoffs with the No. 8 slot.