The 2021-22 NBA regular season is scheduled to begin on October 19 and in the weeks leading up to Opening Night, we are previewing each NBA division.
Here, you can find projected win totals, best player and best rookie predictions, under-the-radar stories to watch, and a bold prediction across the five teams.
After looking at the Southwest Division, we shift our focus to the Northwest Division.
NBA season preview 2021-22: Central Division
Total projected earnings
After finishing with the league’s best record in the 2020-21 season, the Utah Jazz are projected to again finish atop the Northwest Division. Utah is essentially getting things back from last season, but it has made some nice additions in free agents Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside, trade acquisition Eric Paschall and rookie Jared Butler.
After Utah, the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers are slated to finish second and third, respectively, while the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder are the two lowest projected teams in the division.
Plus / minus total earnings courtesy of Action Network.
|Portland Trail Blazers||44.5|
|Oklahoma city thunder||22.5|
Best Player: Nikola Jokic
Damian Lillard might have something to say about it, but after the 2021-22 season, this isn’t even a big discussion. Jokic may have been eliminated in the Conference Semifinals of the 2021 playoffs, which was largely a result of the absence of the injured Jamal Murray, but the Serb is coming off his best season individually.
Playing all 72 games in the regular season after a relatively short offseason after the Nuggets’ conference final in 2020, Jokic posted career highs of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. His numbers and game placed him in the top tier of league players, first in ESPN PER , earn shares and plus-minus box according to Basketball Reference, and a closure second to Joel Embiid in the NBA.com Player Impact Estimate.
What Jokic accomplished with the Nuggets last postseason, taking them past the Portland Trail Blazers in six games, is nothing short of masterful. Until he met eventual conference champion Phoenix Suns, Denver seemed poised for a Cinderella run led by Jokic.
At just 26 years old, Jokic is coming off a substantial four-month hiatus. If he can lead the Nuggets to a respectable regular season, the franchise could become contenders for the Dark Horse title once they welcome Murray at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Best Rookie: Josh Giddey
There are no surprises here either. Giddey, the top 2021 draft pick in this division, is the best rookie among the five teams.
Chosen sixth overall by the Thunder, the Australian is the first NBA Academy graduate to be chosen in the NBA Draft and is coming off a season in the NBL, where he was named Rookie of the Year with averages of 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and a league-leading 7.6 assists in 28 games.
In Oklahoma City, Giddey will sit alongside other exciting young talents such as Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokusevski. It may not position him well to present the best case for the 2021-22 Rookie of the Year honors, but given his play-making skills, physique and height, he will be an invaluable young prospect in rebuilding the franchise.
Story Under The Radar: Portland Trail Blazers Click Below Chauncey Billups
Given their shocking elimination in the first round of the 2021 playoffs at the hands of the scant Denver Nuggets, it should come as no surprise that not many are taking the Portland Trail Blazers as a team that could make a deep run in the postseason, despite the fact that they have recovered most of their rotation from last season.
It is true that this continuity is part of skepticism; Offense was never his problem, as he ranked second in the league last season, but his defense needs some real work and unless that improves, it’s hard to consider Portland a legitimate playoff team.
How will an entirely new coaching staff led by rookie head coach Chauncey Billups influence the franchise’s expectations for this season and the team’s play on the court? Can you install a system that works better for the defense team? Will that reduce your offense?
With all the reports and noise of a potential trade request from Lillard early in the 2021 offseason, the consensus seems to be that this season is the latest effort in the association, but what if things start to fall into place? What if the Trail Blazers emerge as a superior team in the West with home-court advantage in the 2022 playoffs?
Bold Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves Make the Play-In
Since the 2004-05 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have finished above 12th in the West just four times, including their most recent playoff appearance in 2018.
Instability and dysfunction can take most of the credit for these results, or the lack of them. And while the recent elimination of Gerssan Rosas by the franchise seems to be following the trend, I think it is a small obstacle in the way.
Under the new Indian-American Acting President of Basketball Operations, Sachin Gupta, who is well-liked among his staff and has a prior relationship with head coach Chris Finch, the franchise should start to emerge from the basement of the Western Conference. On the court, the team has three young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns, who would be more mentally tuned this season, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell, who will help raise the roof of the team.
So who will they replace from the top 10 teams from last season? If all goes well, it could be a direct trade with the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.