The Busy Northwest
Nuggets, Blazers, Wolves, and Jazz all make moves.
by Cub Buenning
One of the busiest and most active corners of the NBA universe last night was the jumbled mix of teams in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference. Two teams had multiple picks in the first round (Minnesota and Utah), two others made moves with one another (Denver and Portland) and the other had a quiet night with its stacked young roster (Oklahoma City). While I will fight the urge to grade out last night’s activities (I did spend nine years in middle and high schools), I will be no less critical of how the five teams improved their roster.
This team had the most successful night, quite possibly in the entire league. The Jazz were able to get two of my top ten players with Enes Kanter at No. 3 and Alec Burks at 12. Kanter has the ability to really flourish alongside new frontcourt mates, Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors. His skill set reminds me of a young Dirk Nowitzki (not the one that just dominated the playoffs, mind you) and with a younger, developing team; he should be given more responsibility, right away. Burks is an athletic guard that can contribute right now, but has tons of developing left to do. His handle and perimeter shooting need major refinement, but both are skills he can hone at the next level. The University of Colorado product is a fluid, slashing guy that should jump-start a relatively sedentary roster. The Jazz added depth and talent by the time most teams made their first selection.
A team that figured to have a pretty quiet evening, the Nuggets ended up making some of the more boisterous moves. For starters, they made a trade involving Portland that saw the antsy Raymond Felton moved in exchange for Andre Miller and the rights to Texas swingman Jordan Hamilton. That was followed up by the selection of rebounding machine Kenneth Faried of Morehead State. Faried will give immediate contributions in the paint (both rebounding and defense). Patience again was paramount for the young front office of Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke, as they showed the same steely reserve that allowed them to pull off the Carmelo Anthony trade this past spring. This team still lacks a bonafide star, but Hamilton has some major upside and showed serious growth as an all-court scorer in his two seasons at Texas.
The Blazers got younger and now have a more definitive floor-leader in acquiring Ray Felton in exchange for Miller. While several teams use the draft to get developing talent, Portland also selected two proven four-year players in Duke’s Nolan Smith and Ohio State’s Jon Diebler. Smith had a consistent career in Durham and he really developed into a scoring force during the absence of top pick, Kyrie Irving. The DC-area native brings intensity, maturity and an all-court game rarely seen in the draft. Diebler, on the other hand, is in the perfect position to buck the second-round’s usual trend and make this team as a perimeter scorer. With the exodus of Rudy Fernandez to Dallas, there should be plenty of open space along the 3-point line for Diebler to find open shots.
Usually, you would find it hard to criticize a team that ended up drafting my No. 1 prospect in Derrick Williams, but leave it up to David Kahn and crew for still finding some room to make us do a little head-scratching. In addition to Williams, the team got good value in the second round by getting UCLA’s Malcolm Lee, but two other draft-day moves were curious. With the 20th pick in the draft, the Wolves selected Donatas Montejunas in a spot where there were several more worthy possibilities still available. The young European can surely still develop into a valued selection, but on a team that needs immediate help, waiting on another young talent can’t be considered a value move. Two years after drafting every point guard available, the Wolves moved Johnny Flynn but instead of getting immediate return, they were only given a first-round selection in 2013! Did I not just mention the need for immediate help!?!?
By far, the most established roster in this division did the smart thing and kept relatively quiet last night. No need to over-think a great situation by making a move just to do so. In the days leading up to the draft, a possible Eric Maynor trade was thrown around but luckily for Thunder faithful, no moves were made. Sam Presti and his brilliant staff picked up Boston College guard Reggie Jackson to give not only depth but competition to in the backcourt. With two college scorers turned point-guards (Maynor and Russell Westbrook) already in the fold, adding “Mr. October” might just push the talented tandem to even further greatness.
What is to become of this division is yet to be seen. Will OKC emerge as the only real postseason threat next year? Do Portland and Denver take a step back and miss out on the spring time dash to the title? Either way things turn out, it won’t be for a lack of effort. This was a busy group.