Monday, October 29, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Northwest Division)

One more of these things to go ... now, let's all say it together: Statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. Good! And this time with better enunciation ...

Denver Nuggets
2006-07: 45-37
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in first round
Coach: George Karl
Starting lineup
PG Allen Iverson (24.8/3.0/7.2)
SG Yakhouba Diawara (4.4/1.7/0.9)
SF Carmelo Anthony (28.9/6.0/3.8)
PF Nene (12.2/7.0/1.2)
C Marcus Camby (11.2/11.7/3.2)
PF Kenyon Martin (9.5/10.0/0.5)
F Eduardo Najera (6.6/4.1/0.9)
PG Chucky Atkins (13.2/1.9/4.6)
PG Anthony Carter (3.0/1.5/5.5)
F Linas Kleiza (7.6/3.4/0.6)
G/F Bobby Jones (2.5/1.3/0.4)
C Steven Hunter (6.4/4.8/0.4)
PG Mike Wilks (3.6/1.1/1.7)

The Nuggets team two of the league's most prolific scorers in Carmelo Anthony (pictured, right) and Allen Iverson (pictured, left) with a deep bench. They have a chance to be a title contender if they stay healthy, which they haven't been able to do recently. One of their starters has suffered an early season-ending injury in each of the past three years. Two years ago it was Nene, the Brazilian who could be the X-factor for this team. He is a gifted athlete with ballhandling skills that a power forward in the team's up-tempo offense needs, but he must improve his jumper in order to become the versatile offensive threat the team needs in its power rotation. Center Marcus Camby was the league's fifth leading rebounder last year and is a major defensive asset, while backup power forward Kenyon Martin, returning from knee surgery, excels at defense as well. Whether Martin regains the explosiveness and leaping ability he had before he got hurt remains to be seen. Shooting guard Yakhouba Diawara, the fifth starter, is an athlete who can run the floor and provides perimeter defense, and though he won't contribute offensively, scoring isn't needed when you play alongside Anthony and Iverson. J.R. Smith is a penetrating wing who can score off the bench, but lacks and mid-range game and is a liability on defense. Chucky Atkins, Mike Wilks and Anthony Carter are around to play point guard if Karl decides to go small and shift Iverson to shooting guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves
2006-07: 32-50
Coach: Randy Wittman
Starting lineup
PG Randy Foye (10.1/2.7/2.8)
SG Rashad McCants (5.0/1.3/1.0)
SF Gerald Green (10.4/2.6/1.0)
PF Al Jefferson (16.0/11.0/1.3)
C Theo Ratliff (2.5/3.5/0.0)
SG Corey Brewer (rookie, 7th pick)
F Antoine Walker (8.5/4.3/1.7)
F Ryan Gomes (12.1/5.6/1.6)
C Mark Madsen (1.1/1.6/0.2)
PF Craig Smith (7.4/5.1/0.6)
G Marko Jaric (5.3/2.6/2.1)

It's the first Timberwolves season without Kevin Garnett since 1994-95 as the rebuilding process begins in Minnesota. They'll build around power forward Al Jefferson (pictured), already a great rebounder who is developing the kind of offensive post moves that could make him a superstar some day. The team's other anchor is point guard Randy Foye, the seventh pick in the 2006 draft, a scorer who must improve his playmaking ability. Every other position is largely up for grabs, especially shooting guard, where the best guess is undersized but versatile scorer Rashad McCants will get the starting nod. The other wing position is Gerald Green's, an athletic offensive threat who must bulk up and improve his defense to hold on to the job. Center is the purvey of veteran shotblocker Theo Ratliff, who won't contribute any more than putbacks offensively. The bench features Antoine Walker, an aging long-range gunner who can handle the ball but won't drive the basket and may well wind up with another team soon. Corey Brewer, the team's top rookie, is the team's other option at shooting guard and provides athleticism on offense and defense but undeveloped shooting and ballhandling skills. Ryan Gomes doesn't excel at any skill but is a versatile all-around forward who could become the team's sixth man. Craig Smith is an undersized power forward whose physical gifts might be a nice fit in an up-tempo attack. Marko Jaric and Mark Madsen are veterans at point guard and center, respectively, who'll provide leadership and guidance.

Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Nate McMillan
Starting lineup
PG Steve Blake (6.4/2.0/5.0)
SG Brandon Roy (16.8/4.4/4.0)
SF Martell Webster (7.0/2.9/0.6)
PF LaMarcus Aldridge (9.0/5.0/0.4)
C Joel Przybilla (2.0/3.9/0.3)
SF Travis Outlaw (9.6/3.2/0.8)
PG Jarrett Jack (12.0/2.6/5.3)
PF Channing Frye (9.5/5.5/0.9)
G/F James Jones (6.4/2.3/0.6)
F/C Raef Lafrentz (3.7/2.6/0.3)
PG Sergio Rodriguez (3.7/1.4/3.3)
G/F Darius Miles (14.0/4.6/1.8)

The team was a trendy pick for the playoffs this year before first overall pick Greg Oden (pictured) underwent microfracture surgery on his knee that will force him to miss the season. They're probably lottery-bound again but there's plenty of young talent that will team with Oden on playoff teams in the future. Reigning MVP Brandon Roy is an all-around talent who will improve as he develops his outside shot. LaMarcus Aldridge still needs to work on his strength and post game, but he is nonetheless an athletic force inside. Martell Webster is an outside shooter at small forward who can become a star, too, if he is willing to drive to the basket more often. Jeol Przybilla is a defensive stopgap at center and won't figure in the offense. Coach Nate McMillian hasn't named a starting point guard, but Steve Blake is a logical choice given his defense and court vision. Jarrett Jack, who is a slightly better offensive player but turns the ball over too much, is the other option at point. Travis Outlaw, an agile if slender player whose energy is key on both ends of the floor, will likely be the team's sixth man. Backup power forward Channing Frye is a mobile shot blocker who has a reliable mid-range shot but doesn't grab enough rebounds. Former Sun James Jones is a long-range shooter who will provide quickness as a backup wing. Raef Lafrentz can shoot from the outside, too, and can provide a matchup problem at either post position despite being a defensive liability.

Seattle Supersonics
2006-07: 31-51
Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
Starting lineup
PG Luke Ridnour (11.0/2.3/5.2)
SG Damien Wilkins (8.8/2.8/1.9)
SF Kevin Durant (rookie, 2nd pick)
PF Chris Wilcox (13.5/7.7/1.0)
C Robert Swift (last played in 2005-06: 6.4/5.6/0.2)
F Jeff Green (rookie, 5th pick)
PG Earl Watson (9.4/2.4/5.7)
G/F Wally Szczerbiak (15.0/3.1/1.7)
C Kurt Thomas (4.6/5.7/0.4)
PF Nick Collison (9.6/8.1/1.0)

The team is headed in a new direction, and that has nothing to do with its impending move to Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant (pictured), the second overall pick, is the centerpiece of a youth movement designed to eventually lift the franchise back amongst the elite. He's a gifted and versatile scorer who needs only to refine the skills he already has and perhaps add more post-ups to his game. It'll be up to him how far the Sonics go this year, which probably isn't very far since there isn't any other marquee talent around him. Damien Wilkins can score and provide some toughness and defense, but he's not outstanding in any particular facet of the game. Luke Ridnour is a fearsome shooter and a skilled passer, but doesn't possess the strength necessary to be one of the league's better point guards. Chris Wilcox is quite the opposite, a tough man inside who must polish his offensive skills. If he does, though, he could be a beast and a valuable asset for the team's future. Robert Swift, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his knee, is an X factor at center who's a talented shot blocker but must prove he can be a consistent scorer. Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick, is a versatile player who backs up Durant at small forward and will likely see plenty of time at power forward as well. His lack of ballhandling skills keep him from starting or seeing minutes at shooting guard. Earl Watson is a defensive stopper at point guard who takes care of the ball and can hit a mid-range shot but isn't a playmaker or outside shooter. Backup center Kurt Thomas brings a valuable veteran presence inside along with rebounding, solid defense and capable offense. Wally Szczerbiak is another veteran who provides size and shooting as a backup wing, but he doesn't defend well. Nick Collison, a skilled low-post scorer and passer, provides depth and is the choice for offense off the bench as a power forward.

Utah Jazz
2006-07: 51-31
Beat Houston 4-3 in first round
Beat Golden State 4-1 in conference semifinals
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in conference finals
Coach: Jerry Sloan
Starting lineup
PG Deron Williams (16.2/3.3/9.3)
SG Ronnie Brewer (4.6/1.3/0.4)
SF Andrei Kirilenko (8.3/4.7/2.9)
PF Carlos Boozer (20.9/11.7/3.0)
C Mehmet Okur (17.6/7.2/2.0)
G/F Matt Harpring (11.6/4.6/1.3)
F Paul Millsap (6.8/5.2/0.8)
C Jarron Collins (2.5/2.1/0.7)
G/F Gordan Giricek (7.8/2.1/1.0)
PG Jason Hart (6.9/2.7/2.9)
PG Ronnie Price (4.6/1.3/0.4)

The Jazz were surprise Western Conference finalists last year, as Deron Williams (pictured, in front) and Carlos Boozer (pictured, rear) took command the way no one since John Stockton and Karl Malone has done in Utah. Williams, in particular, has a bright future as one of the best point guards in the league entering his third year. He has excellent command of the offense as an all-around offensive threat. His only weaknesses are a lack of quickness and average defensive play, the latter of which he's likely to improve. Boozer can matchup with any of the top power forwards in the game and is a dominant offensive force against anyone who isn't. His increased defensive intensity in the playoffs last year helped lift his game. Small forward Andrei Kirilenko, trade demands notwithstanding, fits in well as a complimentary offensive player who can defer to others when his inconsistent jump shot is not falling, plus he is an outstanding defender. Mehmet Okur is the perfect high post complement to Boozer on offense as quite possibly the best outside shooting big man in the league, but struggles defensively. What hurts the Jazz the most will likely be the absence of shooting guard Derek Fisher, who was a great leader and served as the backup point guard as well. Ronnie Brewer, who could handle a fair share of ballhandling duties as well. is the starting shooting guard for now, but his shooting will have to be consistent to stick in that job. Sixth man Matt Harpring may wind up seeing minutes as a two guard. He can defend that position and shoot from anywhere. Paul Millsap, a strong if undersized power forward, should see increased minutes this year after proving his mettle as a surprising rookie last year. Jarron Collins is a veteran offensive weapon who can be used to back up Okur and Boozer. Gordan Giricek often finds his way into coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse, but he's a dead-eye shooter and provides size at the wing positions. The onus is on Jason Hart, a steadying influence, and Ronnie Price, the better athlete, to prove themselves as backup point guards and alleviate the pressure on Williams and Brewer.

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