Ranking Biggest X-Factors for the 2012-13 NBA Season

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent INovember 27, 2012

Ranking Biggest X-Factors for the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    Sometimes, the players we don't expect to put up big numbers are the ones who end up making the difference. They may not score a lot of points, but they'll play tough defense from start to finish. Instead of demanding the ball throughout the game, they'll only want it when it's time to sink a clutch shot.

    These players end up being the ones the fans talk about right after the game. Sure, the stars played well and may have led the way in terms of offense, but it was the gutsy blue-collar men who made it all possible.

    Forget a Blake Griffin dunk. Give me an electrifying night from Jamal Crawford. Let me have a Jeff Green dunk instead of Paul Pierce sinking a key three-pointer.

    The first month of 2012-13 season thus far has seen many of these types of players, with whom the fans have fallen in love. Their performances in the box scores may vary, but the overall impact they have on games speaks for itself.

     

    All Statistics Accurate as of Tuesday, Nov. 27

No. 7: Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers

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    The mark of any good NBA team is how well their bench performs, and Crawford has written the book on being a clutch bench player. Playing for the Atlanta Hawks in 2010, he averaged 18 points per game and was named Sixth Man of the Year. He appeared in 79 games and started in none of them.

    The former Michigan Wolverine has been just as effective off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. He has averaged 28.9 minutes per game off the bench, posting 18 points and shooting an astounding 41 percent from long range.

    That said, Crawford is certainly not a conventional X-factor. He is a lock to score a good number of points each night, so just what he's going to do in each game is never really a question.

    That's just it, though. If the Clippers' starters are having an off night, Crawford can come off the bench and immediately provide a spark. His team may be slumping now, but he's still going to keep on doing what he does best until they get back on track.

    Once the Clippers start winning again, he's going to look all the better.

No. 6: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

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    Like Crawford, Teague is not a conventional X-factor. He has become a regular contributor on offense as the Hawks' starting point guard, and he is also a lock to play tough defense night after night.

    On the season, he is averaging 13.8 points, 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 42 percent from long range.

    However, Teague's status as an X-factor comes from his ability to shift momentum with just one play. Be it a dunk over Kevin Durant or a three-pointer, he can do it all.

    At 6'2" and 181 pounds, he is living proof that big things do indeed come in small packages.

No. 5: Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Matthews is the rare type of player who is a scorer first but can also play good defense. As a result, you never know what he's going to do in each game. Will he score a lot of points, sink key three-pointers, focus on defense or do all of the above?

    In his third year with Portland, Matthews is having a career season, averaging 17.6 points and 2.1 steals per game. He is also shooting 44 percent from long range.

    Granted, Matthews can be expected to score in double figures most nights. He has only failed to reach that mark once this season and is flourishing with rookie Damian Lillard running the point.

    Despite that, Matthews still tends to take a back seat to either Lillard or forward LaMarcus Aldridge, not to mention Nicolas Batum. People forget about him way too easily, and it's time to notice just how important he is to the team.

No. 4: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    Kawhi Leonard is a lot like Gerald Wallace. He isn't the biggest player (6'7", 220 pounds), but he's going to play hard night after night. Even better, he can help his team in a number of ways.

    Leonard's greatest strength is his athleticism, which allows him to play fine defense both in and out of the paint. He is averaging two steals and 5.4 rebounds per game in nine games this season, not showing any signs of slowing down and playing much larger than his build.

    The former San Diego State Aztec can also hold his own in the scoring department, averaging 10.6 points per game. His three-point shooting has improved to the tune of a respectable 35 percent from long range.

    He is only 21 years old, and his game is still developing on both sides of the floor. Despite that, he still manages to help the Spurs in every game he plays, be it by scoring points or just locking down the opposition on defense.

No. 3: Jeff Green, Boston Celtics

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    Green is only averaging 8.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game this year, a far cry from the 16.3 points he averaged in three-and-a-half seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics. Granted, he isn't on the Celtics to be a scorer, but rather to play defense and provide some toughness in the paint.

    That makes the former Georgetown Hoya all the more important to Boston. He may put up a good number of points every so often, but his first priority is going to come off the bench and just play a gutsy game.

    Every now and again, he may send the fans into a frenzy with some of the fine work in the video to the left. Either way, though his stat sheet may not be overwhelming, Green is one of the most important players on the Celtics.

    The saddest part of it all is that he doesn't get nearly as much credit as he deserves.

No. 2: J.R. Smith, New York Knicks

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    Ever since he joined the Knicks last season, Smith has become a complete player under coach Mike Woodson. Once just a shooter and dunker, he has added some defense to his game and become a fine sixth man and swingman off the bench.

    In 13 games this season, Smith is averaging 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals over the course of 33.8 minutes per game. His three-point shooting has remained deadly at 46 percent.

    Smith may not seem like that much of an X-factor, seeing as how he has put up good scoring numbers in most of the Knicks' games this season.

    That may be true, but consider the fact that the Knicks are without star big man Amar'e Stoudemire, who is recovering from knee surgery. Star Carmelo Anthony needs someone to help shoulder the load, and Smith is doing just that.

    Oh, and let's not forget that he led the team in rebounding against the Pistons on Nov. 25.

No. 1: Gerald Wallace, Brooklyn Nets

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    Known as "Crash," Wallace's reputation has always been as a pesky and athletic forward that will put his body on the line for the sole purpose of playing defense. Offense is second nature to him, and he only has one mission in the game: do anything possible to help the team win.

    An ankle injury forced Wallace to miss seven games this season, and he struggled in the games that he did play. Entering Monday night's game against the New York Knicks, he was averaging just 6.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. The sole positive aspect of his game was his defense, and he was averaging 2.2 steals per contest.

    That all changed against the Knicks. Wallace's lockdown defense held New York's three-point shooting to just 28.6 percent and just under 39 percent from the field. He had two steals and even two blocks, putting up a great defensive effort.

    Wallace also contributed on offense, scoring 16 points and pulling down five rebounds. He even sunk two key three-pointers. By the end of the night, his averages were up to 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, with steals remaining the same.

    Thus, while Wallace did not have the best night out of all his teammates, his defense kept the Knicks at bay. This is normal for him, as he much prefers to play defense than be the alpha dog on offense.

    In terms of X-factors, there really isn't anyone better than him.