Utah Jazz: Who will take the loaded Northwest Division?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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MIAMI, FL – APRIL 09: Russell Westbrook #0 moves the ball up the court with Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by B51/Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL – APRIL 09: Russell Westbrook #0 moves the ball up the court with Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on April 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by B51/Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Oklahoma City Thunder

The final two spots is where things really get tricky. Yes, I know the Jazz just beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, as the Utah faithful are quick to point out, but we’re talking regular season finishes here. And a lot has changed since last year’s playoffs and regular season that could affect how these teams perform over the course of 82 games.

The Thunder had a weird year last season. Though they were pinned by many to be an absolute force with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony joining their ranks, they simply never really got going. They were about as inconsistent as they came and their chemistry issues led them to wildly under-perform.

Sure, nabbing the fourth seed in the West wasn’t too shabby, but they easily had the talent to be the three seed, and with how congested the West was, OKC was just as close to dropping to seventh as they were to rising to third. However, one of the so-called advantages they’ll have in 2018-19 is the fact that many presume that those chemistry problems will be ironed out, particularly now with Carmelo Anthony out of the mix.

It’s true that Anthony never really fit in OKC. And I do think there is some addition by subtraction in play here, but I don’t believe that alone is enough to propel the Thunder to the new heights some are projecting. As good as Russell Westbrook is, he still has his flaws as a teammate and overall player that could cause cohesion issues to arise in OKC once again.

Combine that with the questionable fit of new arrival Dennis Schroder and the overall mediocre coaching job by Billy Donovan last season (I think he’s a good coach, but when that kind of talent under-performs in that way, it’s an issue that can’t be overlooked), and it’s easy to see why the Thunder may not have completely smooth sailing.

On the flip side of things, if their chemistry is even slightly improved, and to be frank it should be much better, then this team should be more of a force all season long. I think such will be the case. Not only that, but if the return of Andre Roberson allows the Thunder defense to be as staunch as it was when he was healthy, then they’re going to be strong on both ends of the floor, especially without having to compensate for Melo’s complete lack of defense.

Despite the few critiques I had of the Thunder, I honestly think they’re going to be among the West’s elite this year, competing with the likes of the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz for the second and third spots in the West. They may also very well go on to win the division. Such a feat wouldn’t surprise me at all based on their overwhelming talent and the positives they’re carrying over from last year.

But for now, I’m putting my money on the Thunder falling just short and nabbing second place in the race for the Northwest Division title.