The Golden State Warriors have arguably one of the deepest starting fives in the NBA, but who will be the biggest X-factor for them in 2013-14? The Warriors begin this season with a lot of new faces, and someone will have to fill the role that Jarrett Jack took partial ownership of last season.
The contenders coming in are newcomers Marreese Speights (who plays both power forward and center), Nemanja Nedovic (the explosive European guard) and Toney Douglas. From the returning squad, Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green look to battle it out in an effort to make a significant contribution to the team.
Speights can run the court, rebound effectively and bring a brand of toughness. He is versatile enough where he can pull back and hit the 16-23-foot jumper with consistency or finish at the rim.
Nedovic is coming over from the Serbian national team, and he has received very positive reviews. He can definitely create with the ball in his hands, but he will have to adjust to the speed, size and talent of the NBA game.
Douglas will actually get to fill Jack’s old position, but he probably won’t get the crunch-time minutes that Jack picked up last season. Douglas is solid on defense, but he is still trying to find a home in the league after joining his fifth NBA team in only five seasons.
Bazemore is expanding his offensive game, as he led the summer league squad to a perfect season and the inaugural Las Vegas title. He is very athletic with his wingspan, but he is still refining his shooting stroke and his ball-handling skills.
Finally, Green came to summer league in an unrecognizable state after dropping about 20 pounds with his new diet and conditioning program. He is a leader and brings a very high basketball IQ with his improving skill set.
With all of the players being covered, it will be a tight race between Speights and Green. The rest of the players will contribute significantly, but Green's versatility and Warriors-style experience put him above his competition, including Speights.
Green brings the confidence and swagger to back up his emerging skills on the court. On television, you might miss his impact, but his teammates and opponents are well-aware of his every move.
He dropped the weight over the summer in order to be lighter on his feet and more effective on the court.
He is faster running the lanes on offense, and he is quicker getting to his spot on defense.
His defining moments last year as a rookie were the finish against the Miami Heat and his playoff performances. He gained the needed experience to become even more of a factor on this close-knit Warriors squad.
As you can see from the video, Green knows were to be on the floor to be the most effective. The moment he saw an opening, he raised his hand and raced for the basket to catch the ball and convert.
He continued that trend and made coach Mark Jackson notice his play. With the injury to David Lee in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, Green bought himself some extra minutes in the playoffs.
His goal for this year is to get even more physical when he has the ball on offense. Instead of settling for the open jumper, he wants to drive to the basket and convert or draw a foul.
He showed that on the court in the Warriors' first summer league game, where he earned 14 trips to the charity stripe by passing up shots and going to the hole. He provided flashes of that trait in the playoffs versus the Nuggets.
With his sleeker new chassis, Green will have more flexibility to give Coach Jackson a variety of opportunities to play him. He is a small forward, but he is stuck behind some very high-quality talent in Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes.
He can play the stretch 4 and cause matchup problems with slower and heavier power forwards. With his ability to drive the lane, he can take it to the rack or he can stop in between for a jumper.
The biggest thing that makes Green the best candidate to be the Warriors’ X-factor is his will. He feels comfortable out on the court, and he will not give an inch to anyone, including superstar LeBron James.
Green has a coach’s mind-set and knows how to effectively position himself to get the key rebound, to make a steal or to inhibit a shot. He should receive about 15 minutes per game at the outset, but as the team progresses, I would expect that number to increase to around 20 a game.
I see Green producing closer to his playoff numbers and averaging 5.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 1.1 APG in 16 minutes per game. The more comfortable he gets with the new pieces on the roster, the more he will become the rising star of the interchangeable bench.
He will make sure of it, and others will learn along the way.