X Marks The Spot
Who’s playing the role of ‘x-factor’ in the West this season?
With the season finally underway, it’s time to evaluate who the key players are for each team.
While almost none of them are their team’s best player, they all are the x-factor that could make or break the team’s season. A player in the starting lineup who can make or break a team’s season based on how he leads or contributes to a team’s goals; whether that’s taking on a new role or staying out of someone’s way (that last one would be you, Gilbert Arenas).
Golden State Warriors: This is Stephen Curry’s team. Monta Ellis has the same problem Gilbert Arenas has with John Wall in Washington. He needs to step aside and let Curry run things because he’s the future. Emotion and ego will be involved and Ellis will need to overcome that while still being an elite scorer. It’ll be very tough.
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol will still do their thing, but will Ron Artest still have the drive and desire now that he’s won a title for the first time? They need his defensive intensity and Queensbridge balling abilities to three-peat with the improved competition from the East.
Phoenix Suns: Hedo Turkoglu’s one season in Toronto was a catastrophic disaster. I think he’ll enjoy the wide-open, free-flowing offense with Steve Nash, but he needs to be a solid number two option for Phoenix to reach the postseason.
Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans is the unquestioned leader of this squad, but he needs a sidekick to become the legit No. 2 option. Will it be Carl Landry? Omri Casspi? Rookie DeMarcus Cousins? The key player is the guy that steps up and takes control of the second option status.
Dallas Mavericks: Unless you consider DeShawn Stevenson a legit shooting guard, this team doesn’t really have anything besides Jason Terry, who Dallas thinks will start this season after spending the last few years on the bench. Jet needs to bring that same effort and intensity to the starting lineup to bring balance to the Mavericks attack.
Houston Rockets: Yao Ming can transform this team from a talented group into a sleeping giant in the West. They have the supporting cast and backcourt talent to be a legit contender but Yao Ming has to be at least 75-80 percent of what he once was. If he can do that, the roster is talented enough to make the West finals.
Memphis Grizzlies: This team reached .500 last season largely on the shoulders of Zach Randolph’s surprise reemergence as a double-double machine. To support Marc Gasol as the inside muscle, Randolph needs to play to his 2009-10 form for Memphis to have any shot at the Playoffs.
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul’s happiness is obviously the team’s main concern, but it’s going to be the newly acquired swingman Trevor Ariza that becomes the team’s second option with the club down on David West. Ariza was brought in to hush Paul trade talks and now Ariza needs to keep people quiet about a CP3 trade.
San Antonio Spurs: The team’s core gets older every year and the Spurs (reportedly) almost decided to deal Tony Parker in the offseason. Now in the final year of his deal, Parker will need to do his best for his team and his bank account. The onus will be on Parker to make things happen.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota clearly didn’t think that Kevin Love and Al Jefferson could co-exist in the middle. Jefferson is gone, so now it’s Love’s team. His leadership and muscle inside will be huge if this team wants to be somewhat respectable.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant may be the best player in the League and is my pick to win MVP, but the development and improvement of PG Russell Westbrook will be essential if OKC wants to make the giant leap into the league’s elite.
Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers dealt with tons of injuries last year and history may very well repeat itself. They did so much better with Marcus Camby in the middle and his sustained success could be the key to another postseason trip. A team like Portland needs his inside presence for the defensive style they play.
Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will both needs to find ways to work together and make up for Boozer’s production. Utah needs an inside presence who can work the pick and roll with Deron Williams. If neither can come through, this team won’t go very far.