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With the NBA season only a couple weeks away from returning, it’s time to sit down and identify some of the top contender’s biggest X-Factors. Rather than identifying the stars necessary for their teams’ success, let’s note some of the more overlooked players from the NBA’s best.
Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers
Danny Green’s impact would not be as magnified if it weren’t for Avery Bradley’s withdrawal from Orlando. Now, Danny Green’s offensive skill set and his defensive prowess will be imperative for the Lakers to succeed.
Offensively, Danny Green serves as the typical Lebron James teammate: a “3 and D” guy who can catch fire from time to time. This season, Green has averaged 8.2 points per game while maintaining 37.8% from beyond the arc. But his importance isn’t on his offense, it’s what he brings defensively. Danny Green provides that skillset to a “T”.
When going against Kawhi Leonard defensively, Green held him to 37.5% shooting. His defense held James Harden to a 28.6% shooting percentage. The Lakers are hoping to channel that Green for a deep postseason run.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
To say Jayson Tatum as an X-Factor would normally be a forgone conclusion but it requires further examination. Tatum took the next step this season, as he has upped every statistical category other than field goal percentage, while simultaneously upping his team’s play.
Going into the All-Star Break, Tatum was averaging 22.4 points per game and comfortably growing with Kemba Walker at point guard. After his first All-Star appearance, Celtics fans believed they were witnessing the rise of their next superstar. Tatum blossomed and averaged 29.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds while notching 46.8% from deep after the break.
Jayson Tatum’s offense makes the Celtics a deadly foe to face in an already condensed NBA season. Pairing him with Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward guarantees the opposing squad a solid 80 points of production to try and stop.
The Celtics are banking on more big-time performances from Tatum come postseason. With the Celtics holding the third-youngest team, they’re hoping he can continue his tear against the NBA’s best.
Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers
IF Lou Williams decides to join the bubble, the Clippers are ensured a Western Conference Finals match against their hometown rivals. Without him, the Clippers will fail to compete with the NBA’s best.
Williams has been the Clippers’ most consistent and most available shot maker this season. With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George utilizing fans’ favorite loophole of “Load Management”, Williams has been tasked with keeping the Clippers offensively solid. He’s played in 60 games this season (3rd amongst teammates) while scoring 18.7 points per game.
Williams’ presence forces opposing teams to adjust and frequently they fail to hold him to a rough night. Williams is the heart and soul of the Clippers bench and adds a dimension of scoring all on his own.
For the Clippers to survive a stacked Western Conference and have a shot at winning a title, they’ll need Lou Williams’s offensive abilities.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton’s remarkable season has been overshadowed by his MVP teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s nearly notched the 50-40-90 mark (50% pure shooting, 40% 3 point shooting and 90% from the free-throw line), only trailing by 0.01% in pure shooting (49.9%).
The biggest point of emphasis is Middleton’s three-point shot. He ranks 13th in the league for three-point field goal percentage but averages the most three-point shots per game with 2.4. His ability to stretch the floor creates so much space for Antetokounmpo to drive and do his magic.
Middleton is the Bucks’ second-best player and proved it when he led the Bucks on a 4-0 stretch without Antetokounmpo. When pairing them both together, they lead the Bucks to an NBA best 53-12 record.
His presence alone helps take some of the weight of Bucks nation off of Antetokounmpo’s shoulders. For the Bucks to hold their own, they’ll need Middleton to pick up the pre-COVID season magic and be the best Robin to Antetokounmpo’s Batman.