The most interesting players in the NBA’s Northwest Division

With the 2019-20 NBA season less than a month away, we’re exploring the most interesting players for each team in the Northwest Division.

We’re now less than a month away from the start of the 2019-20 NBA season. Coming off one of the most interesting offseasons in recent memory, it feels like an appropriate time to dig into the situations surrounding some of the most interesting players in the league.

With that in mind, over the next few days, we’re going division by division and spotlighting the most interesting player on each team. Note that some teams will have more than one player if the situations are similar enough, but they’ll all get their appropriate shine.

We’ve covered the Atlantic, Central, Southeast and Pacific divisions, and below we continue on with the Northwest.

Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets

Sure, Jerami Grant is interesting because he’s the kind of player-archetype the Nuggets have not had on hand during the Nikola Jokic era. And Michael Porter Jr. is interesting because nobody has really seen him play in almost two full years, and the whispers coming out of Denver are kind of all over the place. But mostly, these guys are interesting because this is the final year of Paul Millsap’s contract.

Denver’s incumbent starter next to Nikola Jokic in the frontcourt is headed into the final season of the three-year, $90 million deal he signed in the summer of 2017. He’s also turning 35 years old midway through this season. He appears to still have quite a bit left in the tank, but there has also been a noticeable slippage in his quickness; his ability to withstand the rigors of a full NBA season (after playing at least 89 percent of his team’s games through the first 10 seasons of his career, he has played just 72 percent of the time over the past three years, topping out at 85 percent of the Nuggets’ games last season); and his workload when on the floor.

With the Nuggets having long-term money committed to Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton, this coming offseason is likely going to be their last opportunity to add an impact player to that core via free agency. After next summer, they’ll have to work the trade market and the draft in order to add talent.

It’s unlikely that player will be Millsap, given his advancing age. Grant’s $9.3 million player option for the 2020-21 season seems likely to be declined (unless he disappoints this year, in which case that money would be viewed as a negative for the team), and it will be important for the Nuggets to get him time alongside the other starters so they can see whether he is the type of long-term answer they’re looking for. Porter’s skill-set from his high school days makes him seem like the kind of player who could push this offense into “unstoppable” territory, but we have to see how he can actually move around after back and knee injuries, and whether he is up to the task of playing NBA-caliber defense.

What the Nuggets get out of Grant and Porter this season will determine whether they need to splurge for someone to fill that spot next to Jokic in the frontcourt or whether they can afford to spread the money around a bit, adding even more help on the wings and potentially a replacement for Miles Plumlee as Jokic’s backup.

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Is it ever gonna happen for this guy or is this just gonna be the worst max contract in modern NBA history? (Probably the latter.)

Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder

The least discussed of Oklahoma City’s three major offseason acquisitions is potentially the most intriguing trade chip in the league this season. Headed into the final year of his deal and making a very affordable $22.6 million, Danilo Gallinari is still squarely in his prime (he just turned 31 years old) and is also coming off arguably the best season of his career: 19.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on .463/.433/.904 shooting.

He was the Clippers’ most consistent contributor throughout last season, buoying both the Tobias Harris-led version of the team and the post-deadline version that seamlessly incorporated several new pieces and still managed to sprint to the playoffs and steal a couple games off the Golden State Warriors. Gallinari can play either forward position, fits next to almost any potential frontcourt partners, shoots it well from the outside, has a knack for getting to the free-throw line, and is an underrated passer and defender.

The Thunder maintain that they do not want to enter any sort of tank job, and so it looks like they’ll be hanging onto both Gallinari and Chris Paul for a while. Paul has gotten more attention as a potential trade piece because he’s, well, Chris Paul. But his contract (and reputation) makes him considerably more difficult to trade than Gallo, who can be acquired without nearly as much salary required in the deal and can potentially be sold on his new destination as a long-term fit in a way a player of Paul’s stature may not be.

With the title race as wide open as it’s been in at least half a decade, Gallinari is the kind of player who can take a contender up a notch. If the Thunder look like they’re out of the mix at any point, they can expect plenty of suitors to come calling.

Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers

After the Blazers’ offseason moving and shaking, Zach Collins appears set to move into the starting lineup for the first time. He’s probably a center in the ideal version of his future, but with Hassan Whiteside in town and combo forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless now elsewhere, he’s probably going to spend a fair amount of time playing alongside another big man.

Collins has the skill-set to do it. His jumper could stand to be a bit stretchier (he’s connected on just 32.1 percent of 234 career 3-point attempts) but he’s shown a decent knack for making plays in space. That type of ability is key to working with both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in pick-and-roll and flare-screen situations, as Jusuf Nurkic has shown over the past season and a half. He showed great improvement in his finishing around the rim and the back half of the paint last season, but working more often against starting units and next to a non-shooter like Whiteside could complicate that. The Blazers may have a bit less space with which to operate in half-court situations now that they’re swinging to a two-big lineup, so Collins’ work in confined spaces will be a major area of interest as well.

Anfernee Simons has been the subject of great fascination throughout the summer. The Blazers are projecting a ton of confidence in his ability to be a contributor both this season and in the future. He has the type of size to play next to Lillard, McCollum, or both, and he showed in his 37-point, nine-assist, six-rebound explosion in last year’s regular season finale that he has the ability to fill up a box score. It’s unlikely he’ll play the full 48 minutes in any game this season, but if he can give Portland a solid 15-20 minutes a night off the bench, he’ll help stabilize a second unit that lost many of its core pieces from the past few seasons. It’s possible he does more than that eventually, but this would be a good start.

Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz

It’s become a bit cliche to say the Jazz had the league’s most underrated offseason, but cliches are cliches because they’re true. This one is as well. The Jazz had the league’s most underrated offseason.

Mike Conley is essentially a perfect fit for what this team needed. He is a fantastic defender. He is equally capable and dangerous working on and off the ball, and has a terrific feel for when to get his teammates involved and when to look for his own offense. He has plenty of experience in big games, especially in the playoffs; and he should be able to convey plenty of what he’s learned over the years to Donovan Mitchell.

Utah has had to lean too often on Mitchell as the sole perimeter creator during his career so far. That won’t be the case anymore. (Conley had this same exact problem for years in Memphis, by the way, but the team’s attempts at finding him a dynamic partner all failed.) Adding Conley will allow Mitchell to occasionally work against the opponent’s weaker stopper, and to more often attack from the weak side against on-the-move defenders who are not able to spend the requisite time gearing up for his speed and strength.

Next: Meet the 2019 NBA 25-under-25

Bojan Bogdanovic, for his part, showed last season that he is fully capable of working as a No. 1 scoring option for extended stretches of time. He’s a consistently above-average outside shooter at this point, and that skill should play up on a time with two plus creators working to get him the ball and Rudy Gobert providing a vertical-spacing element.

His size allows him to slide between both forward spots, enabling the Jazz to play small a bit more often and loosen things up for their stars. He seems like an ideal fit to lead second units when Mitchell and Gobert hit the bench, and having him out there should allow the Jazz to quell any drop-off when they leave the game. Bogdanovic will also presumably be assigned some of the tougher defensive matchups the Jazz will face, but he’s shown in the past that he has the physicality to hang with anybody. If he can get Utah’s system and positioning down, he’ll do just fine.

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