‘NBA X-Factors’ is a six-part series that highlights each team’s most integral player for the upcoming season. Even though the success of each team goes far beyond an individual player, one guy can often shape how a team functions. Whether it be factors such as team chemistry, nightly expectations, injuries, how the offense flows, the way the defense is anchored or even the franchise’s identity as a whole, often it can be linked to the performance of one player. It may be a new addition to the team via free agency, the draft or a trade. It may be a key player returning from a major injury. It may be a young player whom the team is still counting on for a breakout season or a savvy veteran still trying hard to cast aside the doubters. These focal points can come in any form. I’ll dive into each of the six divisions and break down one player on each team that I feel is most critical to their opportunity for success this upcoming season.
JAVALE MCGEE, C, Denver Nuggets
Last season: 25.2 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 19.90 PER
McGee is on just about everyone’s radar to gain most improved player recognition this season. A big reason is because of his well-publicized workout sessions with the great Hakeem Olajuwon in the offseason, leading us to believe that he’s going to have endless post moves this season. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing these “tweaks” in game action to see if there’s a noticeable difference. Whether McGee’s offensive game is truly more polished or not, it’s his defense that the Nuggets will be depending on. We know this team will be able to score the ball (1st overall in points and assists last season), but they’ll need McGee to continue with his dominant shot blocking in the middle. You’d like to think McGee will take the young Kenneth Faried under his wing defensively and improve the Nuggets interior. McGee’s development may just be that crucial factor in the Nuggets contending the the LA’s and OK’s in the West or being just another middle-tier playoff team.
BRANDON ROY, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: Did not play.
Since he had the Wolves winning ball games last year, the X-Factor here could easily be Ricky Rubio, but let’s look past a certain degree of obvious here. Rubio won’t be ready to start the season, so only his absence will be a factor right away. The return of Brandon Roy on the other hand, will be huge for this team. The knee questions will be abundant in the beginning stages of the season and with the Wolves being extremely thin at shooting guard (Alexey Shved (rookie) and Malcolm Lee currently listed on the depth chart), they’ll need big minutes from Roy. Can he handle it? We’ll see. But Minnesota’s playoff shot depends on it. If Roy can return to even 80% of his peak form, he’ll be an excellent second option to Kevin Love. A season away, a fresh start, a new team… will the ‘Return of Brandon Roy’ be enough to propel the Timberwolves into postseason? Certainly an intriguing storyline.
KENDRICK PERKINS, C, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season: 26.8 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 8.69 PER
Everyone’s an X-Factor on this Thunder team. I need not label Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka as merely important, but rather they are collectively expected to produce. Perkins is that wild card. Even though he’s now a league veteran, he needs to become more than just the guy who leads in the league in Technical Fouls-to-Smiles ratio. The team needs defense and rebounding out of their 5-spot, certainly not scoring, with all the other All-NBA talent on the team. But doesn’t it seem like a starting NBA center that averages 27 minutes per game should have a higher PER than 8.69? If Perkins is so strong and solid defensively, why does he only average 6.6 rebounds per game? Part of the reason is foul trouble, he has to stay on the floor. Obviously the Thunder won’t have trouble competing in the West, but when it comes time to face the Dwight Howard’s in meaningful games, will Perkins be the X-Factor?
DAMIAN LILLARD, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Last season (at Weber St, 32 games): 34.5 MPG, 24.5 PPG, 4.0 APG
Boy has this team flipped it’s roster upside down over the past season. It seems there will be plenty of opportunity for some new faces, as well as rookies… including the co-MVP of the Vegas Summer League, Damian Lillard. After a stellar NBA summer and incredible college career at Weber St., Lillard should be featured immediately in the Blazers starting lineup. On top of that, after LaMarcus Aldridge and likely Nicolas Batum, Lillard could figure to be the third scoring option on this team, considering he averaged 24.5 ppg in college last year. Combine that with a lot of Rookie of the Year talk, and that’s a ton of pressure. Fortunately, expectations for the Blazers are not very high in this “transition” season.
MARVIN WILLIAMS, SF, Utah Jazz
Last season: 26.3 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 15.87 PER
This is beginning to feel like Groundhog’s Day. We’ve been waiting for the Marvin Williams “breakout season” for about 5 years now… let’s just face reality, it’s not happening. As I look up and down the Jazz roster, they are the weakest at the small forward position, where Marvin currently occupies the starting spot. Right now, the Jazz are a borderline playoff team with most of their offense coming from the Jefferson/Millsap combination. If Marvin doesn’t adjust well to his new team and he’s deemed “limited” offensively, we could see a Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter spike in minutes or take over the starting spot. Who knows, maybe Marvin will adapt better to a new situation and a switching of conferences? For the Jazz to have an overachieving (think mid-low playoff seed) campaign, Marvin Williams will have to be worth every penny of the $8,287,500 he’s owed in 2013.