Ranking Every NBA Team's X-Factor in 2012-13
With the exception of a few elite teams like the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers, every NBA team needs a player to elevate his game and push the squad to the next level. Even those elite contenders still wouldn't mind having a player like that.
These are the x-factors, the guys who have the most volatility when it comes to impacting the team. By definition, the x-factor isn't the one who emerges from nowhere and becomes a key contributor, but rather the one with the biggest impact on the team's success.
If that player breaks out, the team is going to make a leap into the next tier of NBA squads.
As a note, though, rookies will not be eligible for these rankings, which rank all 30 x-factors from worst to best in terms of overall performance. First-year players are too unpredictable to be true x-factors, as we have no way of truly gauging their professional chops quite yet.
30. Memphis Grizzlies: Josh Selby
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 2.3 points, 0.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.3 steals
Josh Selby has an insane amount of potential. That much was apparent after his sensational showing at Summer League.
However, his time at Kansas and brief stints with the Memphis Grizzlies have taught us not to expect too much from the 21-year-old guard.
The Grizzlies are going to be competitive as long as Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay remain healthy at the same time, but Selby could be the extra scoring punch that pushes them to the next level if he breaks out during his sophomore campaign.
29. Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 4.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 steals
The new slim-and-trim Enes Kanter could help make a strong Utah Jazz frontcourt even stronger if he takes over during his second season in the NBA. Of course, he'll have to receive significant minutes for that to happen.
Kanter still has quite a bit of talent to make good on. That much should be clear just by the fact that he was drafted third overall in the 2011 NBA draft.
The Jazz have a few young players waiting to take a step forward, but less is expected from Kanter than from Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. If he becomes a per-minute monster, the Jazz are suddenly even more dangerous.
28. Washington Wizards: Jan Vesely
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 4.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.7 steals
Even though the 2012-13 campaign will be Jan Vesely's second foray into the NBA, it might as well be his de facto rookie season. After all, a hip injury delayed his debut and then hindered him throughout his actual first year.
Vesely is an insane athlete with almost unfair size, and he should be on the receiving end of more than a few alley-oop lobs that leave the hands of John Wall.
An all-around contribution from Vesely is just what the Washington Wizards are looking for as they attempt to make a push for a playoff spot.
27. Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.4 steals (for Philadelphia 76ers)
The Orlando Magic don't have enough factors for there to be an x-factor, but Nikola Vucevic is their representative for posterity's sake.
Someone on Orlando is going to have to score, and the seven-footer from USC with a year of experience under his belt has the potential to accept and pass the challenge.
Vucevic has high upside, but it may be too soon for him to fulfill the promise he's filled with.
26. Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 6.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.6 steals
Picking out the top x-factor for the Toronto Raptors is a difficult undertaking. The squad simply has a lot of players who could break out and provide a ton of positive contributions to the collective effort.
However, a breakout from Davis would be most beneficial because of his work on the boards and the defensive end of the court.
Toronto has plenty of scoring options, but it could still use some help in the less glamorous parts of the game.
25. Brooklyn Nets: Andray Blatche
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.8 steals (for Washington Wizards)
Can you imagine how good the Brooklyn Nets would be if Andray Blatche could screw his head on straight and become an offensive centerpiece once more?
Blatche is still only 26 years old and is just two years removed from averaging 16.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for a rather inept Washington Wizards squad.
After immaturity and ineffectiveness hindered him during the more recent months, there's still a chance that Blatche cold develop into a stud. The Nets sure hope he can.
24. Miami Heat: Norris Cole
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 1.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.7 steals
The same game that doomed Norris Cole to the realm of the overrated throughout his rookie season also guaranteed him a spot in these rankings.
In the second game of his rookie season, the Cleveland State standout dominated the second half against the Boston Celtics and finished with a line of 20 points, four rebounds and four assists on 8-of-16 shooting from the field.
The Miami Heat wouldn't mind getting more of that from the flattop-sporting guard.
23. Charlotte Bobcats: Bismack Biyombo
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 5.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.8 blocks, 0.3 steals
While Bismack Biyombo was one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA during his rookie season, he was pretty inept from an offensive standpoint.
Then again, Biyombo hasn't been playing basketball for his entire life, and his learning curve is quite steep.
With a year of professional experience under his belt, the Congolese center is sure to understand defensive positioning and the entire offensive game more than ever before.
If he breaks out and becomes a competent offensive option for the Charlotte Bobcats, they might actually win a few games.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder: Eric Maynor
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 4.2 points, 1.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.6 steals
The Oklahoma City Thunder only had Eric Maynor at their disposal for nine games during the 2011-12 campaign. Now, following a successful ACL surgery this past January, the former VCU Ram is raring to go.
If Maynor can give the team one more potent offensive weapon and play lockdown defense on the perimeter in Russell Westbrook's stead, the Thunder will become even more deadly.
He could very well be that second-unit player who makes all the difference.
21. Los Angeles Lakers: Jodie Meeks
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.6 steals
Jodie Meeks is going to love playing on a team that's an even stronger contender than the Philadelphia 76ers were last season. Although he might have a diminished role, he'll certainly be a part of success.
The sharp-shooting three-point specialist will need to be a crucial player off the pine for the Los Angeles Lakers, joining Antawn Jamison in trying to turn around one of the league's worst second units.
If Meeks can score in volume during his spurts of action, the Lakers won't miss many beats when the superstars catch their breath.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 8.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.6 steals
Tristan Thompson's picture-taking skills don't actually help him out in the x-factor competition, but they certainly don't hurt him either.
With better conditioning and an improved shot that will actually allow him to score from outside the paint, Thompson has a chance to become more than a solid rebounder for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving needs all the help he can get if the Cavs are going to have any shot at stealing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and an unexpectedly large offensive contribution from the former Texas Longhorn could be the necessary push.
19. Sacramento Kings: Aaron Brooks
2010-11 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 1.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks (for Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns)
Aaron Brooks is set up perfectly to be an x-factor.
He's still only 27 years old, and he's coming off a season abroad, one in which he played admirably in China.
No one knows what to expect from this former Most Improved Player, but he could prove to be a scoring sparkplug off the bench.
18. Milwaukee Bucks: Ekpe Udoh
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 5.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.7 blocks, 0.7 steals (for Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks)
Ekpe Udoh has been a per-minute monster and a great defensive presence in limited action throughout his career.
Now the Milwaukee Bucks need to see what he can do with a little more playing time to deal with. If he can maintain the same pace, he'll be a valuable force on an offensive-heavy squad featuring the dynamic duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings in the backcourt.
However, he could also flame out and prove that Ellis was the only notable player received in the Andrew Bogut trade with the Golden State Warriors.
17. Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.7 steals
The Detroit Pistons' success during the 2012-13 season will largely depend on how well their young point guard plays. He'll turn 21 in December, so there's clearly plenty of time for Brandon Knight to improve after a lackluster rookie season.
Knight has a great deal of talent, but his shot selection must improve dramatically for him to look like a legitimate starter in The Association.
If shots start falling, and Knight takes a leap forward, the Pistons could surprise some people.
16. Los Angeles Clippers: Lamar Odom
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.4 steals
Lamar Odom isn't in the same unfortunate situation—for the team and him alike—he was with as a part of the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011-12 season. By all indications, he's actually going to be happy to be with the Los Angeles Clippers.
I mean, just look at that smile.
Odom is still only 32 years old and should have a lot of quality basketball left in the tank. Inspired and versatile play from him is exactly what the Clippers need to improve in 2012-13.
15. Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 6.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.8 steals (for Atlanta Hawks)
With Derrick Rose out for the foreseeable future, the Chicago Bulls' x-factor has to be one of the point guards that is expected to fill his role.
I've already eliminated Marquis Teague from consideration because he's a rookie, so it's down to Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich.
Robinson is a fairly known quantity, a backup point guard who can provide sparks of offense and energy off the pine. However, Hinrich could still end up playing like a starter and providing a nice stop-gap for Tom Thibodeau.
14. Portland Trail Blazers: J.J. Hickson
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.6 steals (for Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers)
J.J. Hickson's numbers for the 2011-12 season essentially make my case for me.
In 35 games with the Sacramento Kings, the big man averaged 4.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 blocks and 0.5 steals per game.
In 19 contests with the Portland Trail Blazers, he put up 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 blocks and 0.6 steals per game.
Was Hickson's late-season success in Rip City a mirage, or is he finally living up to his potential? The answer will help determine how Portland's season unfolds.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Brandon Roy
2010-11 Per-Game Stats: 12.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.8 steals (for Portland Trail Blazers)
Nobody knows exactly what to expect from Brandon Roy in his return from the NBA afterlife. He could be a reserve player, or he could look like his old Portland Trail Blazers self and become a star once more.
Similarly, I have no idea if this ranking of Roy is too high or too low.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are strong candidates for the unofficial Most Improved Team award, but an effective Roy would do wonders for the Wolves' MIT bid.
12. San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.4 steals
Tiago Splitter is one of those patented guys who puts up wonderful per-minute numbers, but has yet to see extended minutes for a lengthy period of time.
Last season, the big man averaged 23.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per-48 minutes with a sensational 20.51 PER. However, he only saw 19 minutes per game in Gregg Popovich's deep system.
Splitter should carve out a bigger role during the 2012-13 campaign, and then we'll see if he can sustain the success when he's on the court more.
11. Philadelphia 76ers: Nick Young
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.7 steals (for Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers)
The Philadelphia 76ers have plenty of athletic wing players, but they need a shooter who can score from the perimeter on a consistent basis. That's where Nick Young comes in.
Young can get tunnel vision and focus exclusively on his shot, but he can also light up the scoreboard even while forgetting to pass.
The Sixers will have plenty of dunking and interior offense, especially after the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, but a perimeter threat is necessary for them to compete with the elites in the Eastern Conference.
10. Phoenix Suns: Michael Beasley
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.4 steals (for Minnesota Timberwolves)
Can you imagine what would happen if Michael Beasley actually played well enough to justify being picked No. 2 in the 2008 NBA draft? Well, the Mayans would probably be right.
Beasley was in need of a fresh start after being relegated to the Minnesota Timberwolves' bench, and he's got one with the Phoenix Suns.
By acquiring the former Kansas State standout, the Suns got a player with the potential to be a true No. 1 option, if he can put it all together. That would take the pressure off Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic and push the Suns into the playoff race.
9. New York Knicks: J.R. Smith
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.5 steals
J.R. Smith is about as big an x-factor as it's possible to be now that he's going to be depended on by the New York Knicks. While Iman Shumpert rehabs, Smith is the man in charge at shooting guard.
That will be terrifying, but whether it's terrifying for the Knicks or their opponents will change on a nightly basis.
Smith has dizzying highs and lows when he's on the court. One second he'll be using his insane athleticism to perform feats most men can't even dream of, but the next second he'll be shooting bricks left and right without a conscience.
Scary as this may be, the Knicks will be depending on Smith.
8. Boston Celtics: Courtney Lee
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.2 steals (for Houston Rockets)
Courtney Lee might not have the same name recognition that Ray Allen enjoyed during his tenure with the Boston Celtics, but he could actually be better during his first foray in green, finally free of Kevin Martin's shadow.
Shooting guard is the most volatile position on the C's roster until Avery Bradley returns from injury, and the ability of Lee to hit three-pointers and play quality perimeter defense will determine the success of the team until the other young guard returns from injury.
Jason Terry will also be helping, but we know what we're going to get from the man who previously tattooed the Larry O'Brien Trophy on his right bicep.
7. Houston Rockets: Omer Asik
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.5 steals (for Chicago Bulls)
The Houston Rockets decided to pay Omer Asik a lot of money before the 2012-13 season—a bit too much if you ask either me or a number of other NBA analysts—and now he's going to have to live up to the number on his paycheck.
We know that Asik is a terrific defender, capable of creating a massive impact on that end of the ball. However, his offensive abilities when given a chance to play a prominent role are still unknown, although I suspect they'll be limited.
The Rockets need to find more scoring or else they'll be way too dependent on their backcourt. Could it come from the former Chicago Bull?
6. Dallas Mavericks: O.J. Mayo
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.1 steals
Which O.J. Mayo are we going to see during the 2012-13 season?
Is it going to be the Mayo who excelled during the beginning of his career and convinced everyone that he was the next shooting-guard stud in the league, or will the passing-averse backup player who frustrated fans resurface?
If it's the former, the Mavericks will be able to compete with the middle tier of the Western Conference playoff teams. However, the latter means that they're going to be outside of the top eight, looking in.
5. Denver Nuggets: JaVale McGee
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 2.2 blocks, 0.6 steals (for Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets)
JaVale McGee could end up providing either comic relief or quality basketball for the Denver Nuggets. Obviously, they'd much prefer the latter.
That's exactly what they should get from a motivated Pierre, fresh off an offseason filled with tutorials from Hakeem Olajuwon. The sky is the limit for the seven-footer with off-the-charts athleticism and natural talent.
If McGee suddenly blossoms into one of the league's best big men, the Nuggets could certainly threaten the kings of the Western Conference.
4. New Orleans Hornets: Ryan Anderson
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.8 steals (for Orlando Magic)
We're about to find out whether Ryan Anderson's three-point prowess was a byproduct of Dwight Howard's dominance in the paint.
There's a strong possibility that Anderson was only so effective during the 2011-12 campaign because of the defensive attention that his frontcourt mate drew.
If that's the case, the New Orleans Hornets are in trouble. Unless I'm missing something, Anthony Davis is not going to draw similar attention from day one.
However, if Anderson is for real and continues to be a strong offensive presence, he and The Brow will complement each other perfectly and accelerate the growth of this young team.
3. Indiana Pacers: Paul George
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.6 steals
Paul George is just about the definition of an x-factor. Even he believes it, according to an interview conducted by Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:
I feel like there's a lot riding on me. I like the pressure. I like to be in the situation I'm in. I worked hard the whole summer to get better at my game. I'm the 'X' factor.
Well, he's said it. Now it's time to live up to it.
George is a popular breakout pick right now, and I've seen nothing that indicates that's an incorrect position to hold.
2. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals
When Stephen Curry is healthy and on the court, he's one of the most dynamic point guards in the game. He knocks down plenty of shots from the perimeter, excels from the three-point line and displays creativity both in his shot-making and passing.
However, "when" hasn't been too often during Curry's young career. Persistent ankle injuries have reduced the amount of time that he's been able to make an impact. Here's how bad it's gotten:
I was playing in a soccer game, and a friend needed to borrow a dark shirt to distinguish himself from the other team. I'd brought an extra, which just happened to be a blue t-shirt jersey with Curry's name and the No. 30 prominently displayed.
As soon as I handed it to him, he said, "Well, it looks like I need to go put my ankle brace on before anything happens."
If Curry remains healthy, the Golden State Warriors might be good enough to clinch the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. That's a big "if," though.
1. Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks, 1.4 steals
Now that Joe Johnson is no longer with the Atlanta Hawks, the success of the 2012-13 campaign depends on the ups and downs of Josh Smith. Trust me when I say that Hawks fans are both scared and excited at the same time.
Smith has brief spurts where he looks like an All-NBA player, but then he starts jacking up long two-pointers and playing like a two-guard without a shot. It's hard to find a more mercurial player in the league.
If Smoove gets rolling and accepts his role as the go-to guy, this Hawks squad could be one of the most underrated teams in the league. That's what tends to happen when your x-factor is also your No. 1 guy.