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NBA

Divisional Rankings: Are the Jazz ready to rule the Northwest Division?

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Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Northwest Division boasts four teams coming off playoff appearances, with the competition expected to be just as fierce this time around.

On paper, the Utah Jazz's free agency moves give them the most potential to make "the leap," while the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers made minor moves in comparison, banking on their continuity to give them an advantage in a competitive Western Conference.

With that in mind, who won the offseason and where does each team stand? Take a look…

1. Utah Jazz

Key Additions: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green

Key Losses: Derrick Favors, Kyle Korver, Ricky Rubio, Grayson Allen, Raul Neto

While the teams in Los Angeles made the biggest splashes in the Western Conference during free agency, the Jazz quietly put together a roster that could unseat the Clippers and Lakers as the prohibitive favourites to win the conference.

Adding Mike Conley Jr. gives the Jazz a steady hand at the point guard position, which will ease the offensive responsibility and workload of Donovan Mitchell, with the Jazz now able to diversify their offence even more.

Conley Jr. and Mitchell are both devastatingly productive out of the pick-and-roll, with Conley averaging 8.1 points per game last season (8th in NBA) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, while Mitchell was even better, averaging 10.5 points per game. With the formidable backcourt combining with big man Rudy Gobert, who scored the sixth-most points per game as a roll man (4.5ppg), the Jazz will continue to pick-and-roll teams to death, using their ball movement to open up defences.

Conley Jr. is a career 37.5 percent shooter from the perimeter. Alongside Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles, the Jazz can now roll out closing lineups boasting snipers all over the court, who can create off the dribble, either for themselves or for others.

The departure of fan-favourite Derrick Favors is a blow to their second unit, somewhat softened by the arrival of Ed Davis and Jeff Green, who can supplement those minutes.

Davis' rebounding will become increasingly important for the Jazz, especially when Gobert is off the floor. Last season in Brooklyn, he averaged 8.6 rebounds in just 17.9 minutes per game and was consistently one of the team's best defenders.

The Jazz finished third in the division last season, but after a sweeping summer of change, they're now the team to beat.

2. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions: Jerami Grant, Bol Bol

Key Losses: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon

The Nuggets didn't make a ton of moves this summer, because ... well they didn't really need to.

Head coach Mike Malone will be depending on the team's internal development and continuity led by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic, who are only scratching the surface of their potential after gaining valuable playoff experience last season.

While Harris has battled injuries, he has continued to play at a high level defensively. However, his 3-point percentage has dropped in each of the past three seasons from 42 percent in 2016-17 to 39.6 percent in 2017-18 and 33.9 percent in 2018-19. If he can stay healthy and knock down shots next season, the spacing he provides Muray and Jokic will open up even more of the court for them to operate.

They will also get Michael Porter Jr. back this season, who will fill an immediate need on the wing, and the addition of Jerami Grant gives them a young, athletic finisher around the rim, who will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing off two elite playmakers in Murray and Jokic.

The Nuggets will be better than they were last season, but in a now loaded Western Conference.

3. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions: Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja, Anthony Tolliver, Nassir Little, Pau Gasol

Key Losses: Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard

Re-signed: Rodney Hood

After an appearance in the Conference Finals, the Trail Blazers made the move to bring in Hassan Whiteside to sure up their interior, with injured big man Jusuf Nurkic not expected to return until mid-season.

Whiteside has an opportunity for a fresh start and while he won't be a primary focus on the offensive end, his rebounding (11.3 per game) and shot-blocking (2.7 per game) will give the Blazers a much-needed boost on the defensive end.

Losing Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless puts a dent in the Blazers' wing options - especially defensively - with Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja brought in as replacements. Expect more from Rodney Hood this season, who proved in last season's playoffs he can be a reliable scoring option for them.

We know what to expect from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but will the Blazers have the same level of production from their role players? This offseason they lost a ton of depth in Enes Kanter, Seth Curry, Evan Turner, Jake Layman and Meyers Leonard, and coach Terry Stotts will be hoping youngsters Nassir Little and Anfernee Simons can fill the void.

The Blazers kind of moved sideways this summer, while the rest of the West loaded up. They will likely win a lot of regular-season games, but will that translate to playoff success?

4. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Additions: Treveon Graham, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Tyrone Wallace, Jordan Bell

Key Losses: Taj Gibson, Tyus Jones, Cameron Reynolds, Derrick Rose, Dario Saric, Anthony Tolliver

The Timberwolves emerged as a candidate in the D'Angelo Russell sweepstakes, with the front office looking to pair the All-Star point guard with his good friend Karl-Anthony Towns, with the 23-year-old addressing their biggest needs - shooting and playmaking.

Mathematically, a deal for Russell was a stretch with the Timberwolves being over the salary cap, but their offseason dream could well come to fruition at some point during the season if they can facilitate a trade.

Losing Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones opens up plenty of key minutes at point guard, with rookie Jarrett Culver and Shabazz Napier set to handle some of the playmaking duties.

With Towns and Wiggins locked up long-term, the Wolves are hoping their foundational pieces can take their games to another level, with Wiggins in particular having plenty to prove next season.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Mike Muscala, Darius Bazley

Key Losses: Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Jerami Grant

Re-signed: Nerlens Noel

After three straight first-round exits in the playoffs, the Thunder pulled the plug on last season's iteration of the team, trading Russell Westbrook and Paul George, entering a new era, armed with a treasure trove of first-round draft picks.

While all signs pointed to a rebuild after trading their two best players, the Thunder find themselves with a lineup that could conceivably squeeze into the playoffs with the right amount of breaks going their way.

With reports that Chris Paul will now likely start the season on the roster, the Thunder can roll out an opening night lineup of Paul alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams. That's not exactly a lottery team.

Despite a down year in Houston, Paul still has plenty left in the tank and is the perfect mentor for Gilgeous-Alexander, who could well be the franchise's star of the future (maybe sooner). Adams' role will no doubt expand this season and the big Kiwi could take his game to another level playing with Paul.

General manager Sam Presti has several big decisions to make as the Thunder have their eyes on the future, with a level of draft assets no team has ever seen. A lot can change between now and Dec. 15, when contracts signed in the offseason can be traded, but as currently constructed this team might surprise people.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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