The Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and, of course, the Los Angeles Lakers, should be assuredly good. This is not football or baseball; you can count on NBA quality to hold its form for a while.
All hope for surprise is not lost, though. These X-factors have the ability to shake up an otherwise predictable league. If the following guys exceed expectations, their teams should follow suit, opening up some interesting scenarios down the line in the playoffs.
Notice what Andrew Bogut is wearing in the above photo? Yes, that's a suit.
If you're picking the Golden State Warriors to make the playoffs next season, it's all based on the idea that such photo ops will be few and far between. Simply put, a Bogut-less Warriors team stands no chance.
The Dubs were bad at defense last year and every year before that dating back to the Cretaceous period. Andrew Bogut's "X-factor" value lies in the elite defender's ability to compensate for David Lee's lapses en route to reversing a defining flaw for this franchise.
Right now, the injury-prone big man has yet to return from an ankle problem, according to the Contra Costa Times.
What happened to this long-range sniper? Once billed as "the next Dirk Nowitzki," Danilo Gallinari has taken his game in a much different direction.
He's a slasher, but it's come at the expense of his shooting. His X-factor potential hinges on whether he marries those two abilities.
In his first two seasons, "The Rooster" hit 39 percent of his threes. Last year, he converted on only 33 percent of such attempts while enjoying his most statistically productive season. If Gallo's shot comes back to form, we could see an All-Star and better crunch-time option for the Denver Nuggets.
Many players improve at defense later in their careers. For the Brooklyn Nets, Brook Lopez needs to hurry up that process.
The 24-year-old center has been a plodding, horrid defender for much of his early career. The Nets have also been a mediocre defensive unit over that time.
But here both are, wedded to each other for a while. Brooklyn gave Lopez a max contract after failing to get Dwight Howard. Now the Nets are dependent on the offensively-able big finally rotating properly against opponents. If he does, then Brooklyn is a playoff lock.
The San Antonio Spurs' present and future is in your hands, Kawhi Leonard.
If the Spurs have a star in their midst, their title path and eventual rebuilding project just got a lot easier. If Leonard's 38 percent three-point mark was a fluke, there could be trouble in the Southwest.
The Spurs are just clinging on to their core as it slips into the metaphorical cornfield. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan have to be on or near their last legs.
Leonard impressed as a rookie and will be called upon to pick up even more slack as a second-year player. If he continues his offensive production and improves on guarding opposing point guards (San Antonio likes throwing a wing on a point), the Spurs are titles contenders once again.
Can a star be an "X-factor"? I say yes! And it's because Rajon Rondo is so close to being better than "good." As they do with defense, many NBA players get better at shooting from distance as their careers progress.
Rondo showed flashes of this in the playoffs, culminating in his 44-point Eastern conference finals Game 2 performance. If Rondo gains a second dimension and becomes a scorer, the Boston Celtics offense will finally make strides toward catching up with that stingy defense.
Rondo's improvement can be the difference between "low playoff seed" and "title contender."