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
Damian Lillard vs Utah Jazz (Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports) /

One trade has the potential to throw the Trail Blazers, the entire Northwest Division, and frankly, the entire NBA into flux. Damian Lillard just hasn’t requested it (yet).

In the meantime, this Portland Trail Blazers team has an opportunity to improve upon last season’s 42-30 performance. Swapping Derrick Jones Jr. for Larry Nance Jr. certainly qualifies as an upgrade. Portland will now have optionality, being able to run their own variation of the Golden State Warriors’ iconic Death Lineup with Lillard, McCollum and Norm Powell in a three-guard formation with Robert Covington and Larry Nance Jr. manning the front court.

On paper, that could be a devastating lineup. Nance Jr and Covington are both malleable, switch-friendly forwards that can serviceably space the floor. Couple that five-out spacing with the breakneck pace this unit will be able to maintain, and they could overwhelm opponents for stretches of games.

Meanwhile, the Blazers still roster Jusuf Nurkic as a traditional center. They’ll be hoping he can return to his 2018-19 form after two injury-riddled seasons: that year, he posted a solid 2.8 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) as a bruising inside scorer who can control the glass and defend the rim.

Still, anyone questioning whether this Blazers team has enough to contend for the NBA championship (or even challenge the Utah Jazz in the Northwest Division) is asking the right questions. If they can’t, the solid-yet-unremarkable offseason additions of Nance Jr., Cody Zeller and Ben McLemore may not be enough to convince Dame to stay put.

If they aren’t, the Portland Trail Blazers are likely to slip behind the Timberwolves in the Northwest Division this season. No matter who they receive in exchange for their superstar, such a seismic change seldom bodes well for a team’s short-term win total.