‘NBA X-Factors’ is a six-part series that highlights each team’s most integral player for the upcoming season. Even though the success of each team goes far beyond an individual player, one guy can often shape how a team functions. Whether it be factors such as team chemistry, nightly expectations, injuries, how the offense flows, the way the defense is anchored or even the franchise’s identity as a whole, often it can be linked to the performance of one player. It may be a new addition to the team via free agency, the draft or a trade. It may be a key player returning from a major injury. It may be a young player whom the team is still counting on for a breakout season or a savvy veteran still trying hard to cast aside the doubters. These focal points can come in any form. I’ll dive into each of the six divisions and break down one player on each team that I feel is most critical to their opportunity for success this upcoming season.
- BRANDON BASS, PF, Boston Celtics
Last season: 31.7 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 14.21 PER
The Celtics certainly have a new look to them this season. The biggest changed occurred at the 2-guard spot with Ray Allen taking his shooting stroke to South Beach and the C’s bringing in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to replace him (though Avery Bradley will eventually be the starter). However, the key guy in the Celtics equation isn’t a new addition of one of Rondo, Pierce or Garnett. It’s Brandon Bass, and particularly his growth in an increased front court role this season. The guy averaged almost 32 minutes per game last season, but beyond Pierce and Garnett, the Celtics had a lot of trouble scoring (26th overall) and rebounding (30th) up front. With the return of Jeff Green from heart surgery, the drafting of two very young forwards (Sullinger and Melo) and the career question mark this is Chris Wilcox, the Celtics depth at forward for at least this upcoming season is unknown. This is where even more weight shifts to the shoulders of Bass, who showed flashes of ability last season.
BROOK LOPEZ, C, Brooklyn Nets
Last season: 27.2 MPG, 19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 21.96 PER (5 games)
As the “backup plan” to Dwight Howard, Brook Lopez cashed in with a HUGE contract this offseason, despite only playing in 5 games last year. With the Nets being truly thin at the center position, Lopez will need to be THE guy, meaning he has to stay on the floor for the whole season. Even though the Nets have some very high profile names on their roster (and of course added Joe Johnson), it’s Lopez that should feel the pressure to be an interior force, particularly defensively, in the middle. The Nets hope that the alarming 3.6 rebounds per game from their 7-footer in 5 games last year will be closer to triple that amount for this season.
RAYMOND FELTON, PG, New York Knicks
Last season: 31.8 MPG, 11.4 PPG, 6.5 APG, 13.46 PER
After the Knickerbockers missed out on Steve Nash this offseason, they brought over Jason Kidd to handle mentorship duties. Kidd will provide endless leadership, but the real impact to the point guard position and to the team, will be the question of whether or not Ray Felton can have a bounce back season. Yes, Melo, Amar’e and Chandler are the stars, but the Knicks need Felton to really RUN this team for the important game stretches. After a terrible year in Portland and once again hearing the punchlines about his weight, he should have plenty of motivation to push this team to a playoff run. The Knicks may know right away how deep the commitment is when Felton and his frame show up for training camp.
EVAN TURNER, SF, Philadelphia 76ers
Last season: 26.4 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 12.69 PER
It’s obvious that the Sixers will live or die based on the degree of dominance displayed by Andrew Bynum. But aren’t we at a point of make-or-break with Evan Turner? A former #2 overall pick and once considered the best player in college basketball in his draft year, Turner’s Pippen-like point forward versatility has not translated to the NBA. With Thaddeus Young, Dorell Wright, Jason Richardson and Nick Young requiring a significant amount of minutes at the SF and SG spots, they will push for Turner’s playing time, especially if he starts slow. He needs to build upon Doug Collins’ increased trust factor in the playoffs where he played 34.5 minutes per game. That 12.69 PER has to come up.
KYLE LOWRY, PG, Toronto Raptors
Last season: 32.1 MPG, 14.3 PPG, 6.6 APG, 18.89 PER
One could easily argue that Jonas Valanciunas will be just as big an X-Factor as Lowry. As of now, he’s the only “true” center on the Raptors roster. But without seeing a single minute of NBA action, it’s hard to set realistic expectations. Lowry however, acquired via trade and coming off a fantastic year in Houston, was given the keys to the entire offense in Toronto, while pushing Jose Calderon to the bench. Whether he averages close to 20 points or 8-9 assists per contest, production out of point guard position is something the Raptors sorely lacked. Combine that with his unquestioned toughness and he has a chance to be THE guy that leads the Raptors back to a playoff birth.