The first thing you have to watch out for in the Northwest division is Carmelo Anthony once again leading the division in scoring. I’m really not being a homer or going that far out on a limb because last season Carmelo led the division with an average of 26.5 points per game. Carmelo is undoubtedly going to continue his tear on the offensive end of the floor and could crack the top five in scoring league wide.
Second on the radar is eleven-year veteran Kevin Garnett. Despite playing for a Timberwolves team that only won 33 games last year. Everyone should expect quite possibly the most unique athlete in the league to once again have an enormous year. He is coming off a season where he quietly averaged 21.8 points, 4.1 assists, and 12.7 boards which was tops in the league. If the situation in Minnesota doesn’t improve by Christmas, I wouldn’t be surprised if the usually quiet and professional Kevin Garnett starts voicing his opinion to Kevin McHale for a change in scenery.
Third on the list are the Utah Jazz. I think that the Jazz will make the playoffs this year after a late season push in 2006 was just a little bit too little too late. They suffered a lot of injuries last season and consequently didn’t get to establish the chemistry they wanted to. The difference maker in this approaching season will be the play of Andrei Kirilenko. AK47, as he is known by, will most definitely be improving on his numbers. Last season he proved to be a hard positional match-up for centers because of his quickness and he is too big and long for power forwards. Kirilenko averaged 15.3 points, eight rebounds, and 3.2 blocks a game last season. Andrei is the motor that makes Utah go and with reports of AK devoting this off season to refining his game. I look for the Jazz to be giving teams headaches all season long.
Fourth area to keep an eye on is where the rain clouds are always forming. In 2004-05 the Supersonics won 52 games and then dropped a total of 17 wins last season. Talks of moving the team and stadium disagreements have been a nightmare for Sonics fans, but I think that the Supersonics are going to bounce back in the 2006-07 campaign. Proving to the city that they do have a basketball market and that Ray Allen is worth the price of admission. Especially after Allen’s record breaking accomplishments from downtown last season. Ray rewrote the record books by topping Dennis Scott’s mark of 267 trey balls made, and finished the year with a total of 269 while shooting 41%.
And rounding out the top five things to watch in the Northwest division is how many wins the Portland Trailblazers will have when all is said and done. After last season’s disappointing finish of 21-61, the situation has not gotten much better this off season. Picked to finish dead last in the division, and quite possibly going to give the All-Time losing-est record a run for its money, is definitely going to be an indication of the patience level of Nate McMillan. It is going to be a long, long season in Oregon. Much to the liking of the rest of the division.
Breakout Player and Most Underrated:
The breakout player of the year is going to be J.R. Smith. After escaping the dog house of Byron Scott, Smith is going to be put into a situation in Denver where he is going to get the minutes needed to really come into his own this season. Being placed with the best alley-oop passer in the league in Andre Miller should be a highlight reel all season for the athletically freakish Smith to embrace. The sky is the limit and the situation is right. Still have doubts about this guy’s game? Check out this link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soEX62bK4Tw , and then you will understand why he might be the steal of this off season.
The title of most underrated player in the division goes to Mehmet Okur. The four-year veteran is coming off his best season ever after nearly averaging a double-double for the Jazz. The 6’11” Okur raised his scoring average from 12.9 points in 2004-05 six points to finish last year at a pace of 18 a game. He did similar improving in the rebounding department. He raised his average to 9.1 boards a game and is part of the two headed defensive monster in Utah. Why this guy flies so low on the radar is a mystery to me because he is potent on both ends of the floor every night.
Projected Order of Finish in Division:
1. Denver Nuggets