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NBA Northwest Division Futures: OKC’s Big Three Paving the Way

When Kevin Durant departed the Oklahoma City Thunder in favor of the Golden State Warriors just over a year ago, many fans and pundits across the NBA thought the franchise was in store for a major decline. But thanks to a monster offseason, the Thunder are once again in a position to be a major player in the tough Western Conference.

OKC is garnering the respect of oddsmakers across the sports betting industry, as Bovada is dealing the Thunder as -150 chalk to win the Northwest Division in 2017-18. The Minnesota Timberwolves (+250), Denver Nuggets (+550), Portland Trail Blazers (+1400) and Utah Jazz (+2000) all present early plus-money value.

Just before free agency opened, the Thunder landed superstar small forward Paul George in a trade with Indiana that saw them give up only Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo. In late September, general manager Sam Presti acquired the disgruntled Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks, with reserve big man Enes Kanter going to the Big Apple. Shortly after (on Durant’s birthday, no less), the face of the franchise Russell Westbrook signed a massive five-year contract extension with a starting salary of $35 million.

It’s safe to say things have worked out for the Thunder. All that’s left for them to do now is prove it on the court, and considering the 2016-17 MVP Westbrook almost single-handedly got them into the playoffs a year ago while posting one of the most impressive seasons in league history, OKC is going to be a serious threat to Durant’s Warriors with George and Anthony in the fold.

So, can anyone catch the Thunder in the Northwest? The young Timberwolves appear to be the likeliest threat to OKC, and the +250 preseason price is certainly appealing for a club that features the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the newly added Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. Led by respected bench boss Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves are going to be a problem in the West for a long time, and they’re poised to break out in a major way.

That means the Nuggets, Trail Blazers and Jazz will likely take a back seat in a suddenly extremely strong division. Denver is an ascending team with a solid young core, but I don’t think they’ll be able to keep up with the Thunder and Timberwolves.

The Trail Blazers have some nice pieces in Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic and would be a shoo-in to command a playoff spot if they played in the weaker Eastern Conference, but the West is going to be the hardest it’s been in quite some time. Utah’s five-year plan was executed perfectly until Gordon Hayward decided to join his old college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, and the Jazz are set to take a step back from 2016-17’s 51-win performance.

2017-18 NBA Northwest Division Odds
Oklahoma City Thunder-150
Minnesota Timberwolves+250
Denver Nuggets+550
Portland Trail Blazers+1400
Utah Jazz+2000

Odds as of October 4 at Bovada

Archived Articles

The Utah Jazz entered the 2016-17 NBA season as the odds-on favorite to win their first Northwest Division title since 2008, and that hasn't changed at the halfway point of the campaign.

Utah's odds of winning the banner have dropped from +140 at the start of the season to -300. Oklahoma City (+230) is the only other team with a chance to challenge the Jazz, as Denver and Portland are well back at +6600. The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently not available to bet on.

The Jazz, who were sitting atop of the division with a 29-17 record at the time of writing, are starting to look like a force to be reckoned with. Led by a talented core consisting of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, Utah boasts the best defense in the NBA. The Jazz are allowing only 95.3 points per game – the lowest mark in the Association – while letting opponents shoot only 43.3 percent from the floor (second-best in the NBA).

If you think the Thunder can make a charge up the standings, a bet on them at their current price is great value. Russell Westbrook is playing out of his mind on the Kevin Durant Revenge Tour this year, but his supporting cast has struggled to pick up the slack at times. I don't think OKC will edge out the Jazz in the Northwest, but stranger things have happened in the NBA.

Portland is undoubtedly one of the league's most disappointing teams. Fresh off a surprising campaign that saw them win the division and advance to the second round of the playoffs, many people expected the Blazers to keep the momentum going this season. It hasn't gone that way. Damian Lillard and company are sitting in ninth place in the conference, but their 19-27 record leaves a lot to be desired for a team with heightened expectations.

2016-17 NBA Northwest Division Odds
Utah Jazz-300
Oklahoma City Thunder+230
Portland Trail Blazers+6600
Denver Nuggets+6600

Odds as of January 24 at BetOnline

Archived Articles

When Kevin Durant departed Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors this summer, the decision was bound to have a big impact on the Northwest Division. KD and the Thunder owned the Northwest for years, but it’s a wide-open competition now.

OKC entered the campaign as a slight favorite but has been eclipsed by the Utah Jazz at BetOnline. Utah (+140) headlines the list, followed by OKC (+200), Portland (+300), Denver (+1400) and Minnesota (+2000). At the time of writing, the Jazz and Thunder were tied for the Northwest lead with identical 11-8 records.

Led by Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and George Hill, Utah owns the top defense in the NBA. The Jazz are allowing just 93.8 points per game – first in the Association – while allowing opponents to shoot a measly 42.3 percent from the field (first). The Jazz have been on the bubble of transforming from solid young group to playoff contender for the last few seasons, and I believe this is the year they take the leap and win the Northwest.

The Thunder are a one-man wrecking crew thanks to MVP favorite Russell Westbrook, but I’m not sure if the dynamic point guard can take his team back to the playoffs on his own. Westbrook leads the NBA in points per game (30.9), but the lack of secondary scoring on the Thunder has been a glaring weakness.

Portland was a trendy pick to win the division crown when the season began but has been largely inconsistent and is off to a 9-10 start as a result. The Blazers have one of the best backcourts in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but their defense has been atrocious.

Portland is giving up 113.7 points per game (the second-worst mark in the NBA), and opponents are torching the team with a 46 percent field goal percentage (sixth-worst). Until the Blazers can get their defense back on track, steer clear of them in futures markets.

2016-17 NBA Northwest Division Odds
Utah Jazz+140
Oklahoma City Thunder+200
Portland Trail Blazers+300
Denver Nuggets+1400
Minnesota Timberwolves+2000

Odds as of November 30 at BetOnline

Archived Articles

For the first time in recent memory, the NBA’s Northwest Division will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2016-17 season.

Despite losing superstar Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder are +250 favorites to win the division at Bovada. There are a few new faces in OKC this year, highlighted by Victor Oladipo coming over in the Serge Ibaka trade with the Orlando Magic.

The Portland Trail Blazers (+260), Utah Jazz (+260), Minnesota Timberwolves (+333) and Denver Nuggets (+3000) round out the rest of the field.

If you’re a Trail Blazers fan, you’re likely feeling a little irked right now. The Blazers never seem to get the respect they deserve, as many books pegged them as a bottom-feeder last year. Portland defied the odds and cruised to a 44-38 record instead. As a sixth seed, they toppled the L.A. Clippers in the opening round before falling to Golden State in the Western semifinals.

Portland added some depth in the offseason and re-signed their standout backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to long-term contracts. In my mind, the Blazers deserve to be the favorites, but I can understand the logic of going with Utah instead.

The Jazz haven't made the playoffs since 2012, and they've only been a blip on the radar as a contender in recent memory. Utah was originally listed as the Northwest Division favorite at some books in Vegas, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Jazz pulled it off with their current roster.

Minnesota is another intriguing team. The Timberwolves haven’t made a postseason appearance since 2004, although that streak is looking like it’s going to come to an end very soon. The Wolves have an enviable amount of young talent highlighted by Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Kris Dunn that will create matchup nightmares for opposing coaches. They could very well win the division this year.

The Nuggets are the odd ones out, but things aren’t all bad in the Mile High City. Denver isn’t going to scare anyone right now, but general manager Tim Connelly has done a nice job of putting together a young core that can grow together. For the first time in quite some time, things are looking up in Colorado.

2016-17 NBA Northwest Division Odds
Oklahoma City Thunder+250
Portland Trail Blazers+260
Utah Jazz+260
Minnesota Timberwolves+333
Denver Nuggets+3000

Odds as of October 26 at Bovada