We hit the All-Star break this week, with most teams in the Association having only two games on their schedule. We are taking this opportunity to check in across the NBA, looking at each team, division by division. Who has emerged this season? Who are potential players as we approach the trading deadline? We move to the Western Conference and continue with the Northwest Division.
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Oklahoma City Thunder- How many teams in the league can trade a talent like James Harden and not miss a beat? The Thunder avoided a salary cap nightmare, while adding young talent and picks from Houston in the deal sending the bearded one to Texas. Kevin Martin has fit in well, taking Harden's minutes and stretching the floor with his elite abilities on the perimeter. Serge Ibaka is having a breakout season, averaging 14 points, eight rebounds and nearly three blocks per contest. The Thunder have a nice rotation, have some young talent with a huge upside (Perry Jones) and more draft picks than they know what to do with. Oklahoma City remains the favorite in the West, as the Clippers are probably a season away. The Thunder have slowly, but positively progressed each season and led by the best, young one-two punch in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, may be poised to take the NBA crown.
Denver Nuggets- The deepest team in the Association, the Nuggets are also the most balanced. Denver has half a dozen players averaging double figures in points per game, with three more averaging more than eight. Depth, coupled with the altitude in the Mile High City is a nice combination and also affords redundancy in case of injury. Earlier this season, point guard Ty Lawson went down, Andre Miller stepped in and the Nuggets didn't miss a beat. Andre Iguodola has been a nice addition and is a perfect fit in the Nuggets scheme. Center JaVale McGee has been coming off the bench all season, but if his 16 rebounds on Sunday night is any indication, expect him to assume the starting role in the season's second half. Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried have been a nice mesh at forward, Gallinari with finesse on the perimeter, while Faried is as blue-collar as they come.
Utah Jazz- All things leading up to the trade deadline go through Salt Lake City. Bigs Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are free agents at the end of the season and Utah probably will not attempt to re-sign both. Expect the Jazz to try and move one and possibly both in coming weeks. Both are playing well and should bring a nice combination of young talent and/or draft picks. If they are available in your league, two players you need to act on... now. Forward Derrick Favors and center Enes Kanter are well positioned to get a serious uptick in minutes and fantasy relevancy. Based on 36 minutes per game, both players are putting up very respectible numbers. Utah has tried Favors at the three, without much success, while Kanter flashed signs of things to come with a huge game last week.
Portland TrailBlazers- The Blazers have found their point guard for the present and future in Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard. Wes Matthews has had trouble staying healthy all season long, but long terrm offers a nice partner in the backcourt with Lillard. Portland has arguably the best forward tandem in the West (outside Oklahoma City) in LaMarcus Aldridge and breakout star Nicolas Batum. Portland is hoping that seven foot rookie Meyers Leonard is the future in the middle, but for now, the most productive partner up front with Aldridge has been J.J. Hickson. The Blazers have a serious lack of depth, an area certainly in need of focus in the offseason. Top overall pick faliure, Greg Oden, is drawing lots of interest around the league in his comeback attempt. Unfortunately for Portland, (or fortunately) he no longer has any ties to the franchise.
Minnesota Timberwolves- Another team that wants to be active approaching the trade deadline. Number one on the T-Wolves trade block is combo forward Derrick Williams. Drafted second overall in the first round, Minnesota has been able to showcase Williams' talents while Kevin Love recovers from injury, with the results mixed at best. Timberwolves management says everyone is available, save Love and point guard Ricky Rubio. Center Nikola Pekovic is proving last season's breakout was no fluke and has been the most consistent player during the season's first half. Pau Gasol was mentioned prominently in a potential trade involving Pekovic and Williams,but Gasol's injury dampened that rumor.
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Tom Blaz is a writer for Fantasy Alarm and co-owner of The Recruiting Eagle a website focusing on Auburn University Athletics.
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