10 NBA X-factors: Russell Westbrook swings Lakers for better or worse; Klay Thompson does same for Warriors

You may not imagine it, however the NBA season is about to begin. Once more. Did it ever finish? To assume that nearly precisely one calendar 12 months in the past the Lakers have been beating the Heat within the Bubble Finals is a visit. When the 2021-22 common season begins on Tuesday, elements of three seasons could have taken place over the past 12 months and alter. 

Our previews for all 30 teams are in. Our awards and playoff predictions are coming subsequent week. Under is a have a look at 10 X-factor gamers that stand to swing their groups a method or one other. 

You would possibly argue Russell Westbrook is just too central a participant for the Lakers to be an X-factor, however I might argue the farther he’s from a central participant the higher for Los Angeles, which has already confirmed it may well win a title with LeBron James and Anthony Davis working sans a 3rd star. Westbrook’s scoring, assists and positively his utilization charge ought to all drop precipitously this season, making his defensive contributions and supporting taking pictures the important thing to his affect. 

Frank Vogel has given Westbrook the inexperienced gentle for catch-and-shoot 3s (this might go terribly), however desires him to be extra considered pulling up off the dribble (good luck). If Westbrook, very like he did over the second half of the 2019-20 season with Houston, stays disciplined on offense, specializing in penetration, and has only a comparatively first rate taking pictures season whereas committing defensively (which he ought to be capable to do with far much less offensive duty), he must be a plus for the Lakers. If he goes the opposite method, the Lakers would possibly effectively observe him proper down the drain.

Below regular situations, Klay Thompson is something however an X-factor. He is a central cog in a three-time championship wheel. However this season stands to be something however regular for Thompson and the Warriors, who formally imagine they’ve what it takes to contend once more after two seasons within the tank if Thompson can return to his outdated kind. That is a giant if. By the point he takes the ground, doubtlessly not till after Christmas, it can have been round 30 months since he final performed in an NBA recreation. He is coming off a torn ACL and Achilles tendon. I ponder extra about his protection — so necessary subsequent to Stephen Curry — than I do his offense; he will be a lights-out shooter for the remainder of his life. If Thompson is his outdated self, by the point the playoffs roll round and he is again in full swing, the Warriors are proper to imagine they’ll make actual noise. But when Thompson simply is not the identical, they could possibly be preventing to remain out of the play-in match until Jordan Poole is admittedly the subsequent coming of … Klay Thompson. Do not guess on that. 

I have not given up on Kristaps Porzingis as a secondary star subsequent to Luka Doncic, however he is likely one of the highest-variance gamers within the league. When he is unhealthy, he’s unhealthy. Bordering on ineffective. However when he’s good, he stays a deadly scoring pressure with nearly limitless vary on his 3-point shot. There is a cause the Porzingis-Doncic pairing was, and to me nonetheless stays, so engaging: Porzingis pulls defenses out of the lane and Doncic assaults it. Their pick-and-pop recreation could possibly be unstoppable if Porzingis has a giant taking pictures season. I’ve not forgotten how nice Porzingis performed within the bubble earlier than his harm. That wasn’t that way back. Whereas Doncic is a top-tier MVP candidate, Porzingis — assuming he would not get traded — is the participant on which Dallas’ season will doubtless swing. 

The Grizzlies are a one-star workforce, and that star is Ja Morant. However bear in mind, they’re, or have been, speculated to be a two-star workforce, and that second potential star was speculated to be Jaren Jackson Jr. Offensively, he was on that sort of trajectory via his first two seasons earlier than he misplaced mainly all of final season to harm. In 2019-20, Jackson shot 40 % from 3 on over six makes an attempt per recreation. And these aren’t stationary pick-and-pop 3s of the conventional stretch 5 selection; he can legit shoot on the transfer. He is Karl-Anthony Towns-like. What’s unusual is when Jackson got here out of Michigan State, he was considered a top-tier defender. That portion of his equation hasn’t performed out as effectively; he fouls like a maniac, for starters. However the items are there defensively, and if Jackson places it collectively this season on each ends, a two-star workforce in Memphis turns into a a lot completely different animal. 

Boston’s fourth-year massive man is likely to be the league’s largest X-factor this season. He has the makings of a defensive monster and he is no slouch offensively; he is an enormous rolling menace alongside all these ball handlers and a lots succesful passer. Boston will play two-big lineups with Robert Williams and Al Horford, but when Williams, who reveals indicators of DPOY potential however lacks persistently good habits, breaks out and the Celtics can end video games as a standard five-man unit even towards smaller lineups (he can guard away from the basket), that is a significant boon in Beantown. To me, lots of people are sleeping on the Celtics, and Williams is a giant cause why I like them to complete as a top-four seed. 

Tyler Herro’s sophomore hunch was overblown. His numbers went up throughout the board from his rookie season. The distinction was, he wasn’t a rookie anymore. Rookies play with home cash. Once they play effectively, we make an enormous deal out of it. Once they do not, it hardly registers on anybody’s radar as a result of, hey, they’re only a rookie. That leeway shortly disappeared for Herro in his second go-round. Struggles have been magnified below heightened expectations after his, and the Warmth’s, magnificent run to the 2020 Finals. If you happen to step again and have a look at Herro’s two-year pattern, he is actually good. With Kyle Lowry on board, he would not must be a focal-point man. He is an ideal X-factor off the bench and in closing lineups. Sixth Man of the Yr must be a objective. If he will get close to that degree, Miami is tremendous harmful. 

The Hawks did the vast majority of their postseason harm final season with out De’Andre Hunter, who missed each the convention semifinals and convention finals with a torn meniscus. Lots of people do not realize how good Hunter has already develop into. Drafted as a defensive ace with hopefully spot-up-shooting capabilities, Hunter has shortly turned himself into much more than that in assist of Trae Young, notably along with his quickly growing skill to create his personal shot. If Hunter continues his upward offensive pattern (15 factors per recreation final season; 77th percentile with 119.9 factors per 100 photographs, per Cleansing the Glass), he could possibly be the distinction in Atlanta regressing barely after an ahead-of-schedule postseason run, or validating final season’s success by transferring into the highest tier of Japanese Convention contenders. 

If you happen to’ve watched the Bulls this preseason, you realize this offense has must-see-TV potential. The query is whether or not the protection can at the very least maintain its personal. That is the place Patrick Willams is available in. Williams, who’s already a strong offensive function participant who could make 3s and do a bit off the dribble (he is a extremely good/ onerous cutter, too), stands to be Chicago’s greatest particular person defender who will take the hardest perimeter assignments every evening. He is not going to carry up Chicago’s protection on his personal, but when he is actually good, you’ll be able to discuss your self into the Bulls filling within the gaps round him with switchable items in Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and hopefully an at the very least defensively impartial DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, the latter of whom has proven trustworthy defensive chops in stretches, notably this summer season with Staff USA. 

You may argue Larry Nance Jr. right here. The Blazers want protection (they’ve seemed dreadful once more this preseason), and Nance is a top-shelf defender. However the Blazers are merely not a menace until Jusuf Nurkic stays wholesome and performs at someplace close to an All-Star degree; he has nearly no likelihood of truly making the All-Star workforce within the West, however I am speaking about 20-and-10, high-efficiency stuff on a constant foundation. There are occasions when Nurkic goes face to face with the very best massive males within the recreation and appears each bit the half. That is what Portland wants if it’ll flip into one thing greater than only a harmful workforce that’s in the end too reliant on a small backcourt creating and making extremely robust leap photographs. 

The concept of Kelly Oubre’s protection is healthier than the fact of it, however on a Charlotte workforce missing protection in a significant method, Oubre stands out as a possible distinction maker if he can make the most of his athletic presents with out having to gamble a lot and/or get beat off the dribble first. It is not all about protection for Oubre. He can put the ball within the basket. His offense definitely cannot be as unhealthy for the Hornets because it was final season in Golden State, the place he struggled to suit contained in the maze of Curry’s motion, but when he can conjure his time in Phoenix, the place he approached 20 factors a recreation and was a 35-percent 3-point man, and make a optimistic defensive affect, Charlotte turns into a extra viable menace to inch above of the play-in seeds. 

https://www.cbssports.com/nba/information/10-nba-x-factors-russell-westbrook-swings-lakers-for-better-or-worse-klay-thompson-does-same-for-warriors/ | 10 NBA X-factors: Russell Westbrook swings Lakers for higher or worse; Klay Thompson does similar for Warriors


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