Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Breaking down the contenders and the pretenders

    I have always laughed when people stated, this early in the season, that "if the playoffs started today, this team would be in!"  But, we are getting to that time when separation starts and we begin to have a  good idea of how the races will go. 

    Today, I look at the Northwest Division teams.  I will ignore teams that, in my opinion are already hopelessly out of it. 

     Oklahoma City Thunder:  
    What I like:  

    It's easy to just put "Kevin Durrant" here and be done.  Put that is not all there is to this team.  They have a lot that I really like.  I really like Kendrick Perkins and Serge IBLOCKa up front.   They compliment each other well.  Perkins is a lockdown post defender.  Serge is a guy who can guard the fleet footed athletes, and also provide excellent help.  Additionally, big Perk might be the best screen setter in the league.  That skill is undervalued as far as what it does for an offense.  The bench is nice with a guy who can get his own offense (James Harden), a long range bomber (Daequan Cook), a steady backup point guard (Eric Maynor, until he went down for the year), and a couple of decent bench bigs (Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison).  It should be mentioned that Thabo is a top wing defender and Westbrook is a scoring guard to take pressure off Durrant. 

    What I don't like:

     They don't have a great individual rebounder.  Kevin Durrant leads the team, and Serge Ibaka is decent.  As long as you rebound well as a team, you are ok.  But the Thunder have a negative differential right now.  That needs to be improved come playoff time when every possession becomes more critical. 

     Adding a better post scorer to come off the bench would help as well.

     Utah Jazz:

     What I like: 

      This team is like the Denver Broncos in that they defy logic in winning games sometimes.  They are deep, with a nice mix of young and veteran talent.  They are winning games that they should, which is something that Jazz teams in recent years struggled with at times.  This team is a few years away from really contending, but this nice start has been a pleasant surprise to fans. 

     What I don't like:

     While the team is an impressive 6-1 at home, they are 2-3 on the road.  The schedule will get brutal down the stretch and it will be difficult to keep afloat.  This team is just to average in so many ways to really compete.   I predict they will finish right around .500 and maybe sneak into the playoffs.

     Portland TrailBlazers:
     What I like:

     LaMarcus Aldridge is really putting it together and becoming the star that made him worthy of the 2nd pick in 2006.  Gerald Wallace  continues to be the all-around player he has been over his career.  Still boggles my mind that this guy was once a third string player on the Kings.  Wesley Matthews is as blue-collar as they get.   Nicholas Batum and Jamal Crawford provide a nice scoring punch off the bench.

      What I don't like:

      Painfully thin up in the front court.  The center position is manned by the ancient Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby.  Can that duo last an entire year?  Raymond Felton's shooting is atrocious.  And he keeps jacking up shots at an 11+ per game clip.  Hard to see the Blazers as anything more than a one hit wonder come playoff time.  Still, have to give the team credit for holding it together with the loss of Brandon Roy.

      Denver Nuggets:

      What I like:

     I love the depth and balance of the Nuggets.  With five guys averaging in double figures, defenses have to pick their poison.  They also have a nice blend of strengths to keep opponents honest.  I love to see them leading the league in assists, after years of seeing the ball be passed to Carmelo and watching him do his thing.  Denver isn't the biggest team around, but they will be a tough out come playoff time.

      What I don't like:

      Who is the closer?  Who takes the game by the horns when its their for the taking?  I am not sure Ty Lawson or Danilo Gallinari are that type of player yet. 

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