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NBA 2016-17 Western Conference Sleepers

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As the NBA opening day approaches it is time to make some predictions. As always, it will be hard for any team in the West to jump into the top 5 occupied by the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Trail Blazers, and Clippers, but there will be some shuffling at the bottom. The signing of veterans George Hill and Joe Johnson should help the young Utah Jazz get to the playoffs. Look for Gordon Hayward to be their consistent playmaker and Rodney Hood to keep progressing as their outside threat. Even though the game has changed to a more perimeter style, teams still need a big man to protect the rim and rebound. Rudy Gobert fits that mold. Utah should get to 44 wins, which is two more than last year.

Another team on the rise that people are buzzing about is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are no longer just a fly over state. With the sudden loss of Flip Saunders before the start of the season last year the young team looked lost on the court. Although Sam Mitchell did his best to fill the gap it was time to get a coach who take them to the next level. The coaching search landed the highly touted Tom Thibodeau, who comes into a great situation. The roster is loaded with young talent including rising stars like Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine. Ricky Rubio will run the offense again this year despite his shooting limitations. He knows how to run an offense and is a pass first point guard, which is becoming a lost art. The drafting of point guard Kris Dunn should push Rubio to become better. If Rubio does not show progress or gets hurt, which he has been known to do, I believe there will be a seamless transition to Dunn. The main problem last year was bench production and they went out and signed some savvy veterans to rectify the situation. Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill will bring defense and rebounding and Brandon Rush will team with Shabazz Muhammad and Tyus Jones to provide some scoring. With only 29 wins last year it is hard to see them get to 0.500, but in my bold prediction I have them at 43 wins and a playoff berth.