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NBA Draft Kit: Position Battles (Northwest Division)

Ken "K-Train" Crites

An early RotoWire contributor from back in the 90's, K-Train returns with the grace of Gheorghe Muresan and the wisdom of Joe Gibbs. Tweet him @KenCrites or e-mail him at Ken won the FSWA 2014 Humor Article Of The Year award. He's also the 2015-16 champion of the prestigious RW NBA Keeper League. Ken still owns a RotoNews shirt.

Maybe this is OKC's year. Sure, folks keep bashing them for the Harden trade, but consider the rest of the Northwest Division. Everyone else is in transition. Utah is starting two new bigs. Denver is cleaning house. Minnesota's new GM is making big changes. And Portland has the talent but needs to find their identity.

While transition may be bad for NBA win-loss records, it's good for fantasy rosters. Diamonds will emerge from the rough. Put on your pith helmet, it's time to start digging. As Brittany says, it's time to “work b*tch". (Why is she still famous?)

Denver Nuggets

Chuckle with me as we envision a team built around JaVale McGee. That's what happens when you remove/lose your coach-of-the-year coach and your executive-of-the-year GM. Then you lose your franchise star via free agency to Golden State.

Heck, there were even rumors of Rocky leaving. Is that a tear I see on Rocky's giant felt head? These moves are more troubling than Russell Westbrook:

So you're left with former Wizard enigma JaVale McGee, he of the worst triple-double ever (hang in until the end):


I don't care how cool the retro Nuggets uni's are, this is a problem.

OK, it isn't quite build-around-JaVale bad yet, but this could be a rough year. They still have Ty Lawson, who returns after some off-season domestic violence issues. And they still have the naked manimal at power forward. Wilson Chandler will start at small forward until Danilo Gallinari is healthy (a February return is my guess). The two-guard spot is a mess.

Shooting Guard: Randy Foye, Evan Fournier, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson

Has an NBA head coach ever, EVER yelled, “Double-team Foye!" No, that has never happened, yet the sign-and-trade consolation prize for losing Iguodola enters camp as the favorite for the starting two-guard spot. He shoots well from threeland (41 percent last year) and is mediocre at everything else. The Nuggets would be better off letting the 20-year-old Evan Fournier start. Basketball Reference shows better per-36-minute projections for Fournier: 16.8 pts, 4.0 reb, 1.5 steals, 49.6 FG percent and the same 41 percent 3-point shooting. Half the NBA teams would start those numbers. Expect Fournier to own the job by February. A Robinson and Lawson combo would be fun to watch, but defense would be a serious problem for the 5-11 Lawson and 5-9 Robinson. Andre Miller is 37 years old and hit 17 three's last year - make your own conclusion. Trivia question: last century, which team drafted Andre Miller with the 8th overall pick?

Minnesota Timberwolves

The evil Kahn has finally been removed from power. As bad a GM as David Kahn was, I do applaud him for going on Bill Simmon's podcast to take his lumps. Kahn was bad, really bad. I'll let Bill explain. New GM Flip Saunders clearly agrees with coach Rick Adelman's desire to spread the floor with perimeter shooters. Believe it or not, the starting five is fairly set with Rubio at the point, newly-signed Kevin Martin at shooting guard, defensive specialist Cory Brewer at small forward, star Kevin Love at power forward and re-signed Nikola Pekovic at center. But with Chase Budinger out indefinitely with a knee issue, who will provide scoring off the bench?

Sixth Man Scorer: Alexey Shved, J.J. Barea, Derrick Williams, Shabazz Muhammad

The first temptation is to ask, “Well, who can hit the three?" Shved hit 1.1 per game and Barea, surprisingly, hit 1.3. Williams is perilously close to wearing the “bust" label (remember, he was the No. 2 pick in 2011). Why Kahn picked him as part of his “I can't trust Love" approach is beyond me. Muhammed has already shown he's too immature for the T-Wolves to trust early in his NBA career. Expect Shved and Barea to be under-valued in your upcoming draft, grab ‘em and enjoy the benefits of cheap three-pointers. Plus yelling “SHVED!" at SportsCenter is always fun.

Portland Train Blazers

They made a lot of moves this offseason, yet the starters only changed at center, where Robin Lopez takes over. His defense should allow star LaMarcus Aldridge to focus more on filling up the box score with offensive stats. Portland claims to have added depth, but who will be the first spark off the bench, points-wise?

Sixth Man Spark: Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson

What happened to the Dorell Wright that scored 16.4 points per game for the Warriors back in 2010-11? I don't know, but it's a shame. At 27, he's too young to blame age. He only started eight games last year on a very mediocre Sixers team that was desperate for scoring. Ugh. He now joins a Portland team that badly needed depth. My heart says he is their Vinnie Johnson, but my wallet says bet on 30-year-old vet Mo Williams. The career 39 percent three-point shooter should better spread the floor for Aldridge and sophomore Damian Lillard. I see Williams playing more 2-guard while rookie McCollum learns from Lillard at the point. Wesley Mathews has had a few nagging injuries the past two years and might be vulnerable. No one knows what can be expected from Robinson, now on his third team in one year. The sophomore just wants to be loved. His skills will probably start with rebounding and defense – he'll get minimal minutes backing-up Aldridge. A revitalized Williams, enjoying the reduced pressure at 2-guard, is probably the undervalued gem here.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Folks complain about ownership not getting Durant more help, but would you trade your team's roster for the Thunder's? Unless you are wearing a white suit and live in Miami, the answer is “Yes". Even more so than Portland and Minnesota, the starting five is set. It's set in concrete, frankly, despite the ugly offense of Kendrick Perkins (4.2 points and 1.4 turnovers per game last year). But who replaces the outside of shooting of the now-in-Minnesota Kevin Martin?

Upcoming Young Guard: Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb

Jackson is probably a better fill-in for Russell Westbrook than a helpful scorer of the bench. Opposing defenders don't respect his outside shot, adding to clogged lanes for the team's stars. He'll get minutes, especially early in the season with Westbrook (arthroscopic surgery) sidelined for the first 4-to-6 weeks. Lamb is the interesting curiosity. He's only 21 years old and had a decent, if unspectacular Orlando Summer League (12.5 points, 4.5 boards, 3.0 assists and 1.5 three's per game). He's a great stash in keeper leagues but might be a year away from reminding anyone of James Harden.

Utah Jazz

Everyone and their mom are saying Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are “sleepers" heading into the 2013-14 season. Doesn't that no longer make them sleepers? Nevermind, they both will get a big boost in minutes with Paul Milsap and the defensively inept Al Jefferson gone. RotoWire beat writer Michael Corvo says they are in “full-on rebuilding mode". While they bide time for the 2014 draft, who will be the leading scorer this year?

Lead Scorer: Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward

The early season box scores are going to be VERY interesting this year for Utah. None of these guys has ever “carried the load" for an NBA team. The historical hype has always been for Favors, the No. 3 pick from 2010. Folks see his big, athletic 6-10 frame and instantly see greatness. But remember, as Billy Beane said, we're not searching for blue jean models here. Favors' declining field goal percentage has to be a concern. I prefer the ugly games of Kanter and Hayward. Kanter was a No. 3 choice himself in 2011 and is still only 21. Hayward can finally return to his natural small forward position. At 6-8, he can stop chasing quicker two-guards and play more point-forward on offense. Hayward is also used to playing 30-minutes per game, unlike Favors and Kanter. Let others grab Favors early and focus on Kanter and Hayward.

Crites' Closing
The Thunder should dominate this year in the Northwest. Portland or Minnesota should please their fan base with a meaningless playoff spot but lose out on the 2014 lottery madness. Denver and Utah will be praying for lucky ping-pong balls. Remember Fournier, Hayward, Shved and Mo Williams for your own 2013 fantasy draft.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Andre Miller was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1999 and forced to play in those ugly white-black-and-baby-blue uniforms with a bloated Shawn Kemp. I lived in Cleveland at the time, but did not mother any of Mr. Kemp's children.