October 15, 2016 by Ell and Mike Sports
Ell’s NBA Divisional Rankings
Western Conference – Northwest Division
Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Deng, Karl Anthony-Towns
PG Tyus Jones, SG/SF Brandon Rush, SF/SG Shabazz Muhammad, PF Nemanja Bjelica, C Cole Aldrich
PG Kris Dunn, PF/C Adreian Payne
The T’Wolves continue to be a young team on the rise, as their core group is talented and the chemistry is growing. Ricky Rubio is continuing to get better and wants to be the guy to take this team to the playoffs, but now he has 1st round pick Kris Dunn on his back. Kris Dunn is a lot better perimeter defender than Rubio and he also has a nice scoring touch; they could play next to each other at times. Zach LaVine continues to grow on the offensive end from a raw, athletic dunker to more of a jump shooter, but he must also grow on the defensive end. Andrew Wiggins is the glue to the lineup, as a solid perimeter defender, who can go off on the offensive end a times, but offensive consistency will be the key to this season and a consistent outside shot. Gorgui Deng surprised many people taking over the starting PF job last season, but he’s always been a solid interior defender who can even score in spurts now. Karl Anthony-Towns showed last season that he was an absolute star and one of the top big men in the league, under the watch of player/coach Kevin Garnett; he should continue to get even better. Tyus Jones proved to be a solid leader and passer off the bench, as he was at Duke; he should be even more comfortable this season. Brandon Rush was brought in to provide a veteran presence and a solid overall game; he showed last season with the Warriors that he can still put up stats in limited minutes. Shabazz Muhammad continues to grow as one of the top sixth man in the league, with the versatility to play on both ends of the floor and multiple positions with his size and athleticism. Nemanja Bjelica is back from injury and ready to finish where he left off, as a solid stretch 4 off the bench. Cole Aldrich was brought in after showing last season with the Clippers that he can score in limited minutes and provide solid rebounding. Adreian Payne continues to be a contributor off the bench and decent rebounder, but he still needs to grow as a player, but he can give this team an offensive boost inside if Bjelica is struggling and/or Aldrich. The T’Wolves should be ready to crash the playoff party this year led by Wiggins, LaVine, and Towns this team has a solid collection of young talent and should be a problem for years to come.
Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee
PG Shabazz Napier, SG/SF Allen Crabbe, SF Mo Harkless, C/PF Meyers Leonard, PF/C Ed Davis
C Festus Ezeli, PF/C Noah Vonleh
The Blazers really surprised people last season with Damian Lillard leading this team into the playoffs despite major losses on the roster. Damian Lillard continues to be one of the top young PG’s in the league and seems to only be getting better and more consistent, as a top 5 PG in the league. C.J. McCollum finally showed the potential that the team picked him for as he makes a nice combo guard duo with Lillard; they really play well off each other, mostly offensively. Evan Turner was brought in via free agency on a big deal after showing that he can be an offensive spark and playmaker whether starting or off the bench and that helps with the depth of wings currently on the roster; he can also play SG and PG. Al-Farouq Aminu proved last year to be a valuable inside-outside defender who can also score in spurts, this season he will slide down to the PF position making the team more athletic. Mason Plumlee showed that he can still score in the paint like his Duke days and he is athletic enough to bang in the paint; they would like to see him continue to grow, especially as a shot blocker and offensive consistency. Shabazz Napier was brought in via free agency as a low risk, high reward move to be the backup PG, as he is a dangerous shooter who must continue to develop his passing and playmaking skills, but he has potential. Allen Crabbe really developed into a dangerous shooter off the bench last season and it took a lot of money to keep him around; he is still young enough to develop into a young reliable scoring starter, but for now he will continue to space the floor and lead the 2nd unit. Mo Harkless is fighting Turner for minutes and the starter’s role at SF after a big season at the end of the last year really showcasing his versatility and all-around skillset. Meyers Leonard developed a role as a stretch big man with a consistent 3-pt shot and that is a role the Blazers don’t mind with other big men who can protect. Ed Davis continues to provide quality minutes off the bench doing the dirty work of rebounding, put backs, and interior defense/toughness. Festus Ezeli was brought in to provide similar dirty work as Davis and give them a legit shot blocker and defensive interior presence; he played a similar role for the Warriors. Noah Vonleh is a big man with a lot of potential, as a stretch 4, he just needs to put it all together, his wingspan and athleticism are off the charts, but the Blazers believe in him. The Blazers have a nice young core and playoff experience to build off from last year; they have added some compatible pieces that should help them go to the next level.
Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Ersan Ilyasolva, Steven Adams
*PG Cameron Payne, SG Anthony Morrow, SF Kyle Singler, PF/C Domantas Sabonis, C/PF Enes Kanter
PG Ronnie Price, PF Joffrey Lauvergne, PF Nick Collison/PF Mitch McGary
The Thunder will definitely take a step back from losing a superstar in Kevin Durant, but the team boasts a nice core that will still be competitive. Russell Westbrook continues to be one of the top PG’s in the league with his ability to post triple double like numbers and offensively take over a game; they will need him even more this season. Victor Oladipo was brought in via trade for Serge Ibaka, he will be a much needed perimeter defender and solid pair with Westbrook, he knows how to play on and off the ball and should help keep the offense flowing. Andre Roberson proved last season to be a valuable perimeter defender usually taking on the other team’s best offensive threat, but he needs to continue to develop offensively. Ersan Ilyasolva is a versatile forward with good outside range and takes Ibaka role as the stretch 4. Stephen Adams is a defensive player who is a solid rim protector and shot blocker, he has also developed into a double-double machine and should continue to grow. Cameron Payne proved in the Summer League that he has a nice scoring touch, but he needs to show more of that during the regular season while continuing to develop as a passer; he was injured during the Summer League, but may be ready for the start of the season. Anthony Morrow continues to be a solid 3pt shooter off the bench. Kyle Singler is a versatile forward who can do a little bit of everything and has good passing skills, but he needs to stay healthy. 1st round pic Domantas Sabonis, acquired via trade, is a tough inside player who doesn’t mind doing the dirty work; he will be expected to take over the starting PF job at some point this season. Enes Kanter continues to be a solid offensive big man who can provide instant offense and rebounding, but he has been best used coming off the bench and the Thunder will keep him in that role. Ronnie Price was brought in as veteran insurance with Payne out and he proved last season with the Suns that he can still be a spot starter and play quality minutes. Joffrey Lauvergne was a low risk, high reward signing as a versatile offensive forward with an all-around skillset; the Nuggets didn’t have many minutes for him. Nick Collison is a player/coach at this point and his under study Mitch McGary is a younger version of him as an energetic player with an offensive skillset. The Thunder will have a tough uphill battle in the Western Conference, but with superstar Russell Westbrook and a good cast of talented role player the Thunder will still make it to the playoffs; health and chemistry will be the keys to the season.
George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
PG/SG Dante Exum, SG Alec Burks, SF Joe Johnson, PF Trey Lyles, C Jeff Withey
PG Shelvin Mack, SF/SG Joe Ingles
The Utah Jazz are another young upcoming team who may be ready to take the next step to a playoff team, but they need to put it all together. George Hill was brought in via trade for the #12 pick for a team that needs more vets to lead the way to winning basketball and that is what Hill can do. Hill is a leader who can provide stability at a problem position and perimeter D with scoring in spurts. Rodney Hood is a young two-way player with good size who brings good athleticism and versatility to the position, but he needs to stay healthy. Gordon Hayward showed last season he was ready to step up and take over the offensive load for this team and he has a good outside shot. Derrick Favors is one of the top defensive big men in the league and he continues to get better, as a double-double machine, but he needs to stay healthy. Rudy Gobert proved last season to be the 2nd part of the twin tower duo with Favors, as a solid defensive presence and interior disruption; he is very young and should only get better. Dante Exum is a versatile combo guard who the Jazz are hoping can reach his potential, as the playmaking PG for the future, but he needs to stay healthy and put it all together. Alec Burks is an athletic SG who needs to prove that he can be a tough sixth man, until he reaches his potential as a starter, but he needs to be more consistent. Veteran wingman Joe Johnson is a versatile playmaking player who can fill up the stat line; he was brought in as a glue guy to keep this team together and to keep the offense flowing. Trey Lyles is an athletic big man who continues to get better and earn more minutes; his growth will be interesting to watch, especially if Favors gets hurt. Jeff Withey proved that he can be a solid contributor off the bench in limited minutes. Shelvin Mack showed good growth as a starter last season and could still see big minutes, especially if Exum struggles. Joe Ingles is a versatile athlete who can play both wing positions, providing good energy whether starting or off the bench. The Jazz are a good young team with a solid starting 5 and developing bench, Favors and Gobert should continue to provide solid interior defense keeping this team in games.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic
Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, Jusuf Nurkic
Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez
The Nuggets are still in rebuilding mode, but now they appear to going in the right direction with Gallinari, Chandler, and Arthur returning from injuries to help their young talent grow. Emmanuel Mudiay should be a lot more comfortable this season and needs to develop some kind of consistency; if he develops a jumper, he could really go to another level. Gary Harris proved that he can be the 3 and D player they imagined when they drafted him, while working his way to the starting lineup; he should only get better. Danilo Gallinari returns to the team from injury after being the focal point of the offense early last season and he the Nuggets need him to regain that role, but he does have more help. Kenneth Faried fell out of favor last season with coaching, but they need his toughness and rebounding inside, as he can be a bully in the paint. Jusuf Nurkic is the guy cutting into Faried’s minutes and he has a nice finesse offensive touch and can put up double-doubles starting or off the bench; the team likes to see the Nurkic-Jokic combo on the floor. Nikola Jokic proved to be an offensive force in the paint and double-double machine, who shows toughness on the boards; the team would like to see him continue to grow. Jameer Nelson continues to be a steady vet off the bench bringing scoring, veteran leadership, and passing to the 2nd unit. Will Barton proved last season to be a potential sixth man who can bring instant offense to the 2nd unit which is much needed on this team; he is still young and has starter potential. Wilson Chandler returns from injury and the team hopes he can bring back his solid all-around game, toughness, and athleticism; Chandler was one of the better glue guys in the league before all of the injuries. Darrell Arthur continues to bring athleticism and an offensive inside presence, but he needs to stay healthy. 1st round pick Jamal Murray has shown flashes, as a ball handler and offensive force, but consistency and putting it all together will be the key to seeing him get significant playing time. Juan Hernangomez is an athletic big man with potential to be a bully inside, with the plethora of big men ahead of him he will be brought along slowly. The Nuggets are a very young team who need to grow as a unit, find the right pieces, and develop chemistry Mudiay and the combo of Jokic and Nurkic gives them a building block with hopes that Murray and Gallinari can stick.