Connect with us


Biggest X-Factors To Watch in the NBA

Jabari Davis takes a look at some of the NBA players who will be “x-factors” this upcoming season.

Jabari Davis



Please enable Javascript to watch this video

There will be plenty of great storylines to keep an eye on this upcoming NBA season, but today we’ll take a look at some of the players who could potentially be their team’s X-Factor in the 2016-17 campaign. While there are a ton of young talents like Devin Booker (Suns), D’Angelo Russell (Lakers) and Ben Simmons (Sixers) who will be eventually be asked to lead their respective teams in their ongoing rebuild efforts, today’s list features players who are either expected to take that next step forward, entering a new locker room or simply being asked to shoulder a larger portion of the basketball burden for teams with title or playoff aspirations.

Here are the players who could ultimately serve as lightning rods for their each of their respective teams:

#7 – Dennis Schröder – Atlanta Hawks

Schröder is set to take over the starting duties in Atlanta now that Jeff Teague is a member of the Indiana Pacers. He started just six times last season and only 16 times in his career. Head coach Mike Budenholzer must be very comfortable with the idea of placing the added responsibilities on Schröder, but the 22-year-old German-born player has yet to average more than the 20.4 minutes per contest he played in 2015-16 for the Hawks.

His per-100-possession stats (above) look pretty good, but Schröder will have to step up as Atlanta’s floor general as he attempts to also work center Dwight Howard into the action. Regardless of whether you feel Howard is worthy of such considerations at this stage in his career, the 30-year-old big man was clearly brought in to be a key figure and Schröder could go a long way toward controlling the team by keeping Howard and returning big man Paul Millsap as happy as possible. The two of them should balance each other out relatively well, but it will be left to the coaching staff and Schröder (by on-court extension) to make those parts fit as nicely as possible.

#6 – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

To paraphrase the character Bodie Broadus from HBO’s The Wire, “The Greek Freak… he’s a problem.” Although we can’t necessarily fault you if you’ve failed to keep a close eye on the state of Milwaukee Bucks basketball over the last couple seasons, that won’t stop us from telling you you’re missing out on one of the league’s more intriguing and unique young talents in Antetokounmpo. Below are his stats per-100-possessions:

Antetokounmpo still isn’t where he needs to be when shooting from distance, but he was the 20th-ranked player in the NBA in terms of overall efficiency in 2015-16, according to  As you can see from the video above, Antetokounmpo is an absolute nightmare in transition or the open court, and he appears to be growing more comfortable facing up and attacking in the halfcourt set. His shift to a point forward role after the All-Star game earlier this spring seems to have helped with said comfort; the 21-year-old averaged nearly 19 points, 8.8 rebounds and seven assists while blocking 1.9 shots and swiping 1.4 steals per contest over a 29-game stretch to end the year. Head coach Jason Kidd has already declared him the team’s point guard heading into next season.

The timing of the decision is somewhat of a surprise since the team also has Michael Carter-Williams and the recently acquired Matthew Dellavedova, but the move makes sense if you’re Kidd and trying to maximize every position on the court. The Eastern Conference has improved and the path to the postseason certainly won’t be as clear as it was a couple seasons ago, but a strong year from Antetokounmpo could put them back into the discussion.

#5 – Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves

It may surprise some to see Wiggins on this list with Karl-Anthony Towns already being the team’s best player – and one of the league’s more versatile, young big men in general – but newly hired head coach Tom Thibodeau will absolutely need Wiggins to take the next step on both ends of the court and continue to develop into the transformative talent many anticipated him being at this level. At 6’8 and about as rangy as they come, Wiggins has the prototypical swingman’s build for today’s game. You’d like to see him continue to extend his range and get that three-point percentage (30.4 percent for his career) to at least somewhere in the mid-30s, but the real challenge for Thibodeau will be extracting the best defensive player possible out of Wiggins.

Showing flashes of defensive prowess at times, Wiggins has yet to find a way to maintain a balance of intensity and focus on that end as of yet. Those are areas you wouldn’t expect to be issues on a Thibodeau-coached team, so the hope would be that guys like Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio (if he’s around) will embrace the challenge of being asked to compete on the defensive end on a nightly basis. The Wolves are expected to be an improved lot, but for them to truly compete for a playoff spot in this Western Conference mix, they’ll obviously need a each of those players to collectively progress. However, they’ll specifically need Wiggins to cause match-up issues for opposing teams all while being a problem solver on the perimeter in a conference full of wings scorers.

For anyone concerned about Wiggins’ durability since Thibodeau often asks a lot of his players, the 21-year-old has already averaged 35.7 minutes per contest and has played in 163 of a possible 164 games.

#4 – Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic

After a few years of aiming for (and missing) the postseason in the East, it appears the Magic have finally added the right blend of talent to make that a realistic possibility. Along with the shift toward newly hired head coach Frank Vogel’s preferred style of play, the frontcourt positions were each bolstered by the additions of Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo (to backup Nikola Vucevic).

Gordon was already reportedly slated for the small forward position in the starting lineup, but he spent the summer continuing to work on his shooting and playmaking and sounds as confident as ever about the idea of attacking and slashing from the wing. 

The one area where Gordon can be instantly more impactful is on the defensive end. At 6’9 and in the best shape of his career, Gordon possesses the athleticism and natural defensive instincts to defend as many as four positions at a highly effective level. His per-100-possession stats (seen above) project to be impressive. He should earn additional playing time under Vogel, and there’s a feeling that he could really excel playing alongside Ibaka. If Gordon can fully tap into his ability to be a flat-out disruptive force on the defensive end, then it should provide him enough opportunities to make an impact in the open court and semi-transition, especially as he continues to adjust to life at the three and attacking primarily from the wing in the halfcourt set.

For Orlando to stand a chance at improving enough in year one of Vogel’s tenure to truly get into an improved East’s playoff race, Gordon will need to play a huge part of that progression in a jack-of-all-trades role not unlike the one Shawn Marion played for the Phoenix Suns about a decade ago.

#3 – Rodney Hood – Utah Jazz

After a strong finish to 2014-15 followed by just narrowly missing the 2015-16 postseason, the Utah Jazz now find themselves not only poised to break through and return to playing beyond the regular season for the first time since 2012, but maybe even in position to challenge for a top-six spot that would allow them to avoid the top two seeds in the opening round. While we won’t get ahead of ourselves by predicting any playoff openers from Salt Lake just yet, one player who could really be a determining factor for their overall success could be Hood. Gordon Hayward remains the team’s “go-to” guy on most nights, while Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are the anchors below the basket, but the up-and-coming shooting guard could be the guy who puts them over the top if he’s able to somehow duplicate last season’s rate of progress.

Playing alongside dozens of the league’s best players and sharpening his craft as a member of USA’s Select Team certainly shouldn’t hurt, as younger guys have consistently shown progress and growth after participating in the workouts and training camps. Here are his per-100-possession numbers throughout his career:

Even with the addition of veteran Joe Johnson over the offseason, there should be enough minutes between the shooting guard and small forward positions so all the swingmen are kept heavily in the mix. He nearly doubled his output in certain areas (and increased or improved in just about every aspect) from year one to his sophomore campaign.

Upgrading the point guard position with a defensive presence like George Hill and a healthy Dante Exum looking to return to the fold was key for Utah. But to truly compete this postseason, it will come from continuing to strengthen from within. Hood presents their most promising prospect of a player who can ascend to an even higher level of play in a relatively short period of time.

#2 – Derrick Rose – New York Knicks

Rose was mocked for his assertion that the Knicks could be one of the league’s upcoming “super teams,” and while health will obviously play a considerable role in such a proclamation coming to fruition, we can’t necessarily fault the seven-year veteran for expressing confidence in his new surroundings. When you consider that the 2015-16 season was about as strong and consistent a year as we’ve seen from Rose in at least four seasons, and it’s easy to see why he’s feeling optimistic again. His 66 games played were by far the most he’s been healthy for in a single season since his MVP campaign back in 2010-11.

Rose may no longer be the blazing fast and freakishly athletic guard that would routinely get to the rim and finish in fantastic fashion, but he is starting to look more comfortable taking his man off the dribble and at least finishing in or around traffic. If the Knicks are able to limit the burden he places on his body by divvying up playmaking duties while limiting his on-court time to right around the 31.8 minutes per contest he played for the Bulls in his final year in Chicago, then Rose could really see a resurgence and even an improvement in his game from an efficiency standpoint.

Having a capable backup in Brandon Jennings will help, but being paired in the backcourt with Lee – a guy who can defend the opposing team’s top guards and shot 37.8 percent from deep last year – while suddenly having offensive firepower like Carmelo Anthony and even Kristaps Porzingis at his disposal should make life easier for Rose as a scorer himself. Rose is in a contract year, on a big stage and looks as good physically as he has in years. If ever there were a perfect confluence of circumstances for a player to come out and prove he is still a star (and worthy of star money next summer), this could be it.

# 1 – Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

While some may have placed shooting guard Victor Oladipo on this list, the shift in the franchise’s priority list and the huge burden on Westbrook were too much to pass over. The reality is that we are about to see a ton of Westbrook this season, and he’ll be asked to carry the Thunder.

We’re 18 months removed from that 2014-15 season that featured about a 50-game sample size of what Westbrook-centered basketball can look like, and OKC fans should take solace in the fact that the 27-year-old has continued to show progress over that stretch. He’ll likely wind up in the top five of both the PER and Usage Rate categories when all is said and done, but Westbrook also has a nice selection of weapons to help with some of the responsibilities. The pairing with Oladipo should be exciting since they’re probably the most athletic backcourt in the NBA, while Steven Adams and Enes Kanter each progressed to a level that head coach Billy Donovan was able to rely on lineups with both big men playing (and they were effective even against small-ball units).

The addition of power forward Domantas Sabonis makes the roster even more intriguing, since the No. 11 overall pick seems like a good fit for OKC if he can transition well to this level. We can probably hold off on the legitimate MVP contender talk until we see that OKC is at least able to compete for a top-five seed in a crowded Western Conference, but that doesn’t mean Westbrook will not have done absolutely everything in his power along the way. The league’s single-season record for triple-doubles was the great Oscar Robertson’s 1961-62 year that featured 41 of them.

Westbrook may not eclipse such a seemingly ridiculous total, but is it beyond the realm of possibility that he could accomplish the feat as many as 30 times in 2016-17? Keep in mind, he had 18 of them while quasi-sharing the load with Durant last year. The ultimate question will be, can he take that next step of dominating the league while winning a majority of OKC’s games? He’s undoubtedly going to try, and that’s why we love him.

Honorable Mention X-Factor Players:

Al Horford, Clint Capela, Myles Turner


Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto



The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

Continue Reading


NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte



The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

Continue Reading


Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies



Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Continue Reading

Trending Now