The surging Northwest Division and where the Jazz fit in

Denver is the reigning champ, while Minnesota and OKC are way ahead of schedule. Where does Utah fit?

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves, Keyontae George (3) drives against Troy Brown (23)
Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves, Keyontae George (3) drives against Troy Brown (23) / David Berding/GettyImages
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Be honest: you forgot that NBA divisions existed.

In other pro leagues like the NFL and MLB, division standings are integral for playoff seeding; if you don't win your division, your chances of making the playoffs are slim. In the NBA, if your team is low on its division ladder, your chances of making the playoffs are still lower, but your overall record is of higher importance. The Jazz are currently 4th in the Northwest Division, and 10th in the Western Conference. Let's take a look at the Northwest and see where the Jazz fit, and what's on the horizon.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Charlotte Hornets v Oklahoma City Thunder / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages

1. Oklahoma City Thunder | Record: 35-15 (10-3 Northwest)

OKC is way ahead of schedule. In a similar situation to Utah, OKC traded away stars to accumulate draft picks. Their youth is over-performing and the Thunder are set to be high in the NBA standings for years to come. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-Star starter and MVP candidate at 25 years old, Chet Holmgren is the favorite to win ROY over top pick Victor Wembanyama, and other young players like Jalen Williams, Josh Giddey, and Cason Wallace have been impactful.

Anthony Edwards
Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves / David Berding/GettyImages

2. Minnesota Timberwolves | Record: 35-15 (6-2 Northwest)

Entering the season, the Timberwolves were playing like the best team in basketball. With an explosive offense spearheaded by Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, and a suffocating defense anchored by Rudy Gobert, Minnesota was atop the standings for some time. Since then, they have cooled off slightly, allowing the Thunder to take the top spot in the West, but have shown that they are not to be underestimated this year.

Nikola Jokic
Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages

3. Denver Nuggets | Record: 35-16 (4-5 Northwest)

The reigning NBA champs are only 0.5 games behind the Thunder and Timberwolves and have the league's top player, Nikola Jokic, who is the foundation of their offensive system. While the Nuggets haven't looked as unstoppable as they did last year, their playoff experience gives them an advantage if they were to meet any of their division rivals in the playoffs.

Lauri Markkanen, Tobias Harris
Philadelphia 76ers v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

4. Utah Jazz | Record: 25-26 (4-6 Northwest)

With a stockpile of draft picks and some intriguing young talent, Utah is once again outperforming expectations this season. Lauri Markkanen's emergence as one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA has been huge for the Jazz, along with Collin Sexton's insatiable hustle and Walker Kessler's rim protection. With plenty of draft picks in their back pocket and a group of promising rookies, the Jazz should only get better each season. Will Hardy's squad is still a work in progress but could sneak into the playoffs if the stars align.

Chauncey Billups, Anfernee Simons
Milwaukee Bucks v Portland Trail Blazers / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

5. Portland Trail Blazers | Record: 15-35 (1-9 Northwest)

The Trail Blazers are a bit directionless at the moment. After trading Damian Lillard in the offseason, Portland is a team of young players with promising talent. Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons have flashed great potential, and 3rd overall pick Scoot Henderson is finally starting to figure out how to play in the NBA. Despite their talent, the team hasn't been able to put it together yet, and it could be a long time before this team is playoff-caliber.

The top 3 teams in this division are also top 4 in the loaded Western Conference. Each of these teams has championship aspirations (whether that is realistic for MIN and OKC is yet to be seen). Utah is on the outside looking in, for now, and Oklahoma City will likely be one of the league's top teams for the foreseeable future. Any path to a championship might have to go through them.

Denver and Minnesota are also excellent but seem less stable in the long term. Minnesota's payroll is very high with Towns and Gobert set to be paid insanely high salaries in the coming years, and for a small-market team with limited funds, the current core will likely need to be shaken up moving forward. Denver is also highly dependent on the play of their MVP and could be paying high premiums for their role players if they hope to retain them.

Utah should be a crouching tiger in prime position to pounce when the moment is right.

Next. Don't speed up the timeline: How the Jazz should navigate the trade deadline. The Jazz have shown interest in trading for available star players. Patience is key in player development--don't speed up the timeline!. dark