NBA X-Factors: The Keys to the 2011 Championship
Everyone knows that X-Factors are an important part of winning basketball in the playoffs, but no one really thinks about who are the most important X-Factors for the contending teams in their pursuit of a championship.
Many times the X-Factor is the best role player or bench player, but sometimes the X-Factor could be one of the team's stars that isn't always at the top of their game.
Here, are the players for each contending team that need to be at the top of the game in order for their team to win the 2011 NBA Championship.
Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith
Runner-Up: Al Horford, F/C
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 14.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 48% FG, 33% 3P
Josh Smith is one of the most exciting players in the NBA to watch because of his athleticism and his ability to get so many steals, blocks, and dunks.
But, Josh has been criticized for not playing up to his ability and not stepping up when he needs to in the playoffs, which is one of the many reasons he is the X-Factor for the Hawks.
Josh Smiths' rebounding and blocks will be important since Horford is an undersized center. Smith will need to steal rebounds away from Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Carlos Boozer, while also getting some weakside blocks to make them hesitant to shoot in the post.
Smith will also need to not shoot a lot of jumpshots, and drive to the basket to get fouls on the other teams big men.
Orlando Magic - Rashard Lewis
Runner-Up: Vince Carter, SG
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 12.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 46% FG, 37% 3P
The 2nd and 3rd Best Players on the Orlando Magic are also arguably two of the most inconsistent members of the team.
Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis are both multi-talented players who can score from anywhere, but they have had trouble in the playoffs in recent years.
The reason that I think Rashard Lewis is the X-Factor is because Vince Carter has Mickael Pietrus, JJ Redick, and Quentin Richardson to cover for him if he has an off game. And considering that Redick is a much better shooter and Pietrus is a much better defender, it might not be a bad thing for the Magic if his minutes go down.
Rashard Lewis only has Brandon Bass, who can't be relied on for a big game, to cover for him. Another strong point for Rashard is his ability to shoot from 3 as a power forward, while also having a strong post game and being a good rebounder.
If the Magic want to have any hopes of defeating the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, or Heat, then Lewis will need to be hitting his jumpshots. That way he can get Bosh, Gasol, Boozer, or Garnett out of the paint to allow Dwight Howard to score points and get offensive rebounds.
Portland Trailblazers - Greg Oden
Runner-Up: LaMarcus Aldridge, PF
2009-2010 Reg. Season Stats: 11.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 60% FG, 76% FT
After being drafted 1st overall in 2007, Greg Oden has only played in about a third of the possible games he could've played in. If Oden is able to stay healthy for a full season and postseason, the Blazers would become contenders again, and would be a threat to the Lakers and Thunder for a long time.
Greg Oden will be most important against Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, since he is one of the only centers in the NBA that can matchup up with them. If Oden can be a double-double guy with a couple blocks a game, then the Blazers could go farther than anyone expects.
Utah Jazz - Al Jefferson
Runner-Up: Raja Bell, SG
2009-2010 Reg. Season Stats: 17.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 49% FG, 68% FT
Raja Bell's defense against Kobe Bryant, Jason Terry, Ray Allen, and Dwyane Wade will be greatly needed in order for the Jazz to shock the world and get Jerry Sloan his first ring.
However, Al Jefferson will be more imporant, because if he doesn't rebound or score, then the Jazz could be out in the 1st round. Jefferson is one of the top low-post scorers in the NBA, and he will need to show that in the playoffs in order to cancel out the effects of Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, and, former Jazz player, Carlos Boozer.
Mehmet Okur isn't a post scorer, and isn't a strong rebounder, which makes Jefferson all the more important to the Jazz's chances against the big men of the West.
Dallas Mavericks - Tyson Chandler/Brendan Haywood
Runner-Up: Caron Butler, SF
Caron Butler's defense and scoring will be imporant against Ron Artest, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce, LeBron James, Luol Deng, and Vince Carter, but stopping the low-post scorers of the other contenders will be more important.
The Mavericks will need to stop Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, and Nene in order to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006. Even though Haywood and Chandler won't score a lot of points, they will provide great post defense and a lot of rebounds, which will be vital against the Lakers.
Oklahoma City Thunder - Big Men
Runner-Up: Jeff Green, SF
While the Thunder will need Green's scoring to advance in the Playoffs, their most important problem will be stopping Pau Gasol, Nene, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, and Dirk Nowitzki. If the Thunder big men allow the other teams big men to score in the low post consistently, and get offensive rebounds, then the Thunder won't be able to reach the NBA Finals, or possibly even the Western Conference Finals.
An example of their lack of rebounding was Pau Gasol's game-winning putback in Game 6 of Round 1 of the 2010 Playoffs which eliminated the Thunder. If Cole Aldrich, Nenad Kristic, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, and DJ White aren't able to grab defensive and offensive rebounds and prevent a ton of low-post scoring, then Thunder's dream will end early.
Chicago Bulls - Luol Deng
Runner-Up: Carlos Boozer, PF
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 18.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 46% FG, 8% 3P
The difference between the Bulls and every other contender, is that the Bulls lack a consistent all-star perimeter go-to scorer at either the SG or SF positions. And now that John Salmons and Ben Gordon are gone, Deng is the only scoring threat on the wings.
While Carlos Boozer will need to play big and win or at least tie the matchup against Chris Bosh, Kevin Garnett, Rashard Lewis, or Pau Gasol in order for the Bulls to win, Luol Deng is more importan. This is because the Bulls have no one else to match up with and score against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
If Deng can score at least 20 PPG and not allow any of those stars to go off, then the Bulls could win their first non-Jordan championship in franchise history.
Boston Celtics - Paul Pierce
Runner-Up: Kevin Garnett, PF
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 18.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.4 APG, 43% FG, 39% 3P
It's not often that the two biggest names on a team are the top X-Factors, but because of their struggles recently and their age going into this season, Pierce and Garnett aren't as reliable as they used to be. After being the Finals MVP in 2008, Pierce was out-played and shut down by his 1-time all-star opponent, Ron Artest.
Since Rajon Rondo is now the best player on the team, and Ray Allen has proven that he is consistently inconsistent with his jumper, Pierce could be the difference for the Celtics come playoff time. If Pierce is able to outplay LeBron James like he did in 2008, and is able to score big on whoever the Magic or Bulls throw at him, then the Celtics will return to the Finals for the 3rd time in 4 years. But, if LeBron dominates him and makes him a non-factor on offense, or if Pietrus/Richardson/Deng/Brewer are able to slow down Pierce, then the Celtics run will be over for good.
And that's not even considering the Finals against the Lakers, if they make it. If Artest shuts down Pierce like he did last year, then the Celtics will lose again, but if he is able to dominate like in 2008, then this Celtics Big 3 will cement themselves in history as multiple time champions.
Miami Heat - Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Runner-Up: Mario Chalmers, PG
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 1.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 38% FG, 66% 3P
The Miami Heat have the same concerns that the Boston Celtics had in 2007, they don't know if their starting Center and Point Guard can perform at the level required to win a championship. While Ilgauskas is a proven, yet old and slow player, Chalmers hasn't been proven at all in the playoffs. But, since Wade and James are good distributors and ball handlers, all Chalmers will have to do is hit open shots and play solid defense. Zydrunas, though, will have to rebound, hit shots, score in the post, and spread the floor for LeBron, Wade, and Bosh.
Though the Heat will have at least 4 centers, Big Z will most likely be the starter unless they surprise everyone and sign Shaquille O'Neal. The Heat don't have a lot of size, which is very important against the L.A. Lakers and Orlando Magic in particular. As the only 7-footer on the Heat, Ilgauskas will have a lot of pressure to get a lot of rebounds, and to play solid defense against Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.
Los Angeles Lakers - Andrew Bynum
Runner-Up: Ron Artest, SF
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: 8.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 53% FG, 67% FT
While Ron Artest will be important to stopping Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Luol Deng, and Vince Carter, it is more of a guaranteed thing that Artest will play great defense on any of the other team's stars. But, it isn't guaranteed that Bynum will be 100% healthy and be able to dominate in the low-post, which is vital to the Lakers 3-Peat chances.
The Lakers greatest advantage over every other team is their great size and length, but without Bynum, they lose that advantage. The Heat can matchup with the Lakers at every position other than center, Perkins is too short to guard Bynum, Noah, Ilguaskas, and Nene aren't great low-post defenders, Haywood and Chandler don't have offensive low-post games, and Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA.
If the Lakers want to 3-Peat, Bynum will need to grab rebounds over and score consistently on the other teams centers, while focusing on stopping Dwight Howard and getting him in foul trouble if they face the Orlando Magic. Bynum is arguably the 2nd best center in the NBA, and he will need to be a double-double guy in the Playoffs to take the pressure off of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.