Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 10 X Factor Players

Many great teams have that one guy you cannot overlook but somehow seems to sneak up on you anyways. These players are crucial when it comes to winning championships and playoff series because they can often swing one game in their team's favor. They usually have one or two special abilities which can cause matchup nightmares or cover up matchup nightmares with the other team. Over the past three years, we have seen players like Trevor Ariza, Tony Allen and Goran Dragic absolutely alter series in just minutes of their total playing time. The best 10 of these players are the following:

Terry comes in at number 10 because he has been slowly moving from X factor to consistent player you know how to plan for every game. He can score from anywhere on the court and is great at creating shots as well, a lethal combination. A former Sixth Man of the Year Award recipient, Terry is aging but can still be relied on to score and dish the ball.

Barnes was a great pickup for the Lakers because he can do everything Trevor Ariza does but does it more consistently and efficiently (namely 3 point shooting) and he rebounds real well, something Ariza is only slightly above average at. He came at $5 million less than Ariza this season and fits in perfectly with the Lakers' triangle offense.

Battier is quietly an efficient offensive player and defensive specialist. While he is still not the player most expected coming out of college, he is very useful when you want to insert someone to take away another team's star player's isolation play without taking anything off the table offensively.

For all the reasons discussed in Matt Barnes's section above, Barnes was the better and less expensive pickup for the Lakers. Why, then, does Ariza make it ahead of him in this article? If you don't know, apparently you missed Ariza going 3 point nuts during the playoffs last season, a major reason why the Lakers survived the Suns and a partial reason why they beat the Celtics. While not a worthwhile risk for the Lakers because they have a championship caliber team without him, he was a worthwhile financial and chemistry risk for the Hornets because they probably cannot make or win the finals without a player like him going scorching hot in the playoffs.

In my opinion, the Celtics are actually a BETTER offensive team with Baby in than KG in. While both are not great post players, save for KG dunking alley oops, Baby has become a slightly better midrange shooter with probably about a foot or two more range than Garnett and he is also better at getting to the line and getting offensive rebounds.

The 2008-2009 playoffs exemplified how effective he can be in offensive sets, scoring 15.8 points per game on 49.1% shooting (more impressive than that because most of these shots were midrange shots that spread the floor) with 2.3 offensive rebounds a game and 71 % ft. He has since improved greatly his midrange shooting and free throw shooting (79.5% this season) while remaining a threat on the offensive boards.

He remains an X factor more than just a factor because other teams can cause serious matchup problems on the defensive end with him, something that is obviously not a problem with Garnett.

The Celtics, however, can do the same with him, going small with Baby at the center, Pierce at the power forward, and Ray, Nate and Rondo in a 3 guard set, which is how the pulled out the game against the league-leading Spurs just days ago.

Odom is as famous for being inconsistent as he is for being a near 7 footer with guard skills. He has shored up some of his inconsistent play the last year, while he still has the ability to explode with triple double potential in any game. He is also such an x factor because he can cover up just about any defensive matchup problem the Lakers have because he can cover all positions on the floor.

Dragic would not be this high if he was not backing up Steve Nash, but he is. Unless your name is Tom Thibodeau or Doc Rivers, you cannot afford to play your point guard all 48 minutes, and just when you think you have some relief with Steve Nash going to the bench in comes Goran Dragic.

Dragic is a lot like Nash, he is efficient from anywhere on the court (his efficiency numbers, though down this season, should rebound), a great passer, a nifty dribbler who can keep his dribble under just about any circumstance and a TERRIBLE defender. Still, you are better off with him playing than not, and him coming into the game is like inserting Steve Nash lite.

Korver shot a RIDICILOUS 53.6% on 3 pointers last season, a league record. He is also one of 29 players to shoot over 40% on 3 pointers during their careers, though I expect he will drop out of that list because he takes more shots than most of these players rather than being a spot-up specialist and he has been more around 38% shooting the past few years than above 40%.

He brings nothing else to the table except very long 2s off of screens, but when you are so good in one area you are still going to be valuable.

Redick seemed to think he could waltz onto the court after his amazing college career and just take over with no effort. He found out quickly he was wrong and has put in lots of effort since then.

Obviously, he is a great outside shooter, but I did not know he turned into such a great defender until I saw him shut down Ray Allen the last 2 seasons the Magic and the Celtics met in the playoffs.

I can still see him morphing into an NBA All Star.

(By the way, me and my friend Justin used to have arguments about who would be the better NBA player: Adam Morrison or J.J. Redick? I went with Morrison...great call!)

I forget who, but an analyst on ESPN predicted Ibaka would be the Defensive Player of the Year before the season. I had never heard of Ibaka before reading that, but have been truly impressed any time I look at a box score or catch a Thunders' game.

Ibaka is one of those special players that can fill a box score with steals and blocks AND do things that do not show up on the box score like alter shots, scare defenders from dribbling near him and absolutely take a team out of their traditional offensive game plan.

He is only in his second year, so he has gotten 26.1 minutes per game so far, but expect this to rise slowly to about 28/29 minutes by the time the regular season is over, and expect him to get 34/35 minutes a game in the playoffs. He will be crucial to any success the Thunder have in the playoffs.