Utah Jazz: ranking the team among Northwest Division rivals

Utah Jazz (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert vs Anthony Edwards (Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Oklahoma City Thunder were the obvious selection for last place in these rankings. Without spoiling the article, we’ll say that the first place selection was made without difficulty as well. Otherwise, nothing came easy in assessing the middle of the Northwest Division.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have got the talent to outpace this ranking, especially given the uncertainty surrounding some of the other teams in the division. Jamal Murray may not play this season, and the Pups may have the goods to leapfrog the Denver Nuggets if he can’t. We’ve already mentioned Damian Lillard. The Portland Trailblazers will likely have to launch into a wholesale rebuild should he demand relocation before the season’s end.

Yet, the Timberwolves sit fourth in these rankings. This is a franchise that has grown all-too-accustomed to losing, but there are too many question marks surrounding them to comfortably bank on a higher projection than this one.

Last season, this franchise won 23 games, just one more than the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder. It is worth noting that injuries played a significant role in their demise: Karl-Anthony Towns managed to appear in 50 of 72 possible games, and his close friend D’Angelo Russell managed even less at 42.

That’s concerning enough, as Russell in particular has struggled to stay on the floor ever since he played 81 games for the Brooklyn Nets in 2018-19. What’s doubling concerning for this group is the uncertainty around the viability of a KAT/DLo pairing in the first place.

Last season, a lineup featuring the two stars with Anthony Edwards at the 2 and Josh Okogie and Jaden McDaniels filling out the front court finished in the 92nd percentile in Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) per CleaningtheGlass. That’s encouraging, but that same lineup only finished in the 50th percentile in points per 100 possessions.

That’s not to mention the team’s 28th overall finish in Defensive Rating (114.5). That’s a problem neither Towns or Russell is likely to fix. A heavily rumored trade for Ben Simmons would go a long way towards that end, but even then, incorporating the polarizing star into their offensive system could pose its own problems.

The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t know if they can rely on their two best veterans to play, and they don’t know if they’re capable of playing together even if they can stay on the floor. That’s not a recipe for optimism. This team is very unlikely to threaten the Utah Jazz for Northwestern supremacy.

At least Anthony Edwards is extremely fun.