Nick Wetzel, Sports Editor
|The Jazz are a lot of experts’ picks to surprise in the West and make the playoffs. Their roster is definitely good enough to make due on that prediction. Led by Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, and “The French Rejection” Rudy Gobert, The Jazz have a good core of young players who are either in their prime or just starting to reach their prime. They brought in George Hill to shore up the point guard problems they had last year and they also acquired Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson in the offseason to give them a few polished veterans off of the bench. Dante Exum is also reportedly healthy which makes the Jazz even more dangerous. They could win 50 games this season and crack the top 6 in the West.
Oklahoma City Thunder
|No matter how you look at it, the offseason was pretty terrible for the Thunder. Then again, any scenario where Kevin Durant is no longer on the team is about as bad as it gets. Not only did they lose Durant, but they also traded away Serge Ibaka. In return, the Thunder received Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis. Considering how the emergence of Steven Adams made Ibaka expendable, the haul the received for him is pretty impressive. The most interesting thing about the Thunder this year will be watching Russell Westbrook attack opposing defenses with a whole new level of anger and fervor. The Thunder won’t be among the best teams in the West like they used to, but they’ll still make the playoffs.
|The Trailblazers surprised a lot of people last season by making the playoffs as the five seed and beating the short-handed Clippers in the first round. They should be a dangerous team again this season after moving Al-Farouq Aminu to power forward and adding Evan Turner. They also have one of the most exciting players in the league in Damian Lillard who, combined with C.J. McCollum, makes for one of the most devastating offensive guard combos in the entire league. The ‘Blazers biggest issue is their abundance of pure centers on the roster. Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis, and Festus Ezeli all aren’t well equipped to play the four and combinations between the four will fail to create spacing for their dynamic guards. Portland won’t surprise anyone this year, but they should still make the playoffs.
|The Timberwolves look like they could be a future dynasty due to the incredible young talent they have on their roster. Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl Anthony-Towns, aged 21, 21, and 20 respectively, look poised to be stars of the next decade. Just looking at the starting lineup, the T-Wolves look like a strong playoff contender. The weaknesses of the team lie in their youth and an unimpressive bench. The fact that they also play in a division where all five teams look like they can make the playoffs doesn’t help either. Minnesota could take one of the last playoff spots, but the real story is when they start hitting their stride in a season or two.
|The Nuggets are another young team that could push their way into the playoffs if they play their cards right. They have a nice compliment of youth and experience with Danilo Gallinari leading the offense with Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic. The strength of their team is their two young centers, Jokic, who is 21, and Jusuf Nurkic, aged 22. Jokic is an excellent offensive weapon who can pass with the best of big men and shoot the 3-ball reliably, and Nurkic is a bruiser. The Nuggets are just like the Timberwolves in that they could fight for one of the last spots in the playoffs, but the future is where they will shine.