With the NBA playoffs days away, it is time to analyze which teams have a shot at making a deep run, and what they have to do to pull it off.
In this article, I will name one X-factor for each NBA playoff team in the Western Conference, starting with seeds 6-10. An X-Factor is not always the team’s best player but someone whose unpredictable performance can make or break their team’s season
Denver Nuggets: Will Barton
It is an accomplishment in itself that Denver remains out of the play-in games despite not having their second and third-best player. Not having Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will catch up to the Nuggets as it did a year ago unless other scoring options step up alongside Nikola Jokic.
The player in the best position to do just that is Will Barton. He is one of the few players outside of Jokic that can generate their own shot and not rely on the center of passing them into a basket. Jokic is an MVP for a reason, but one player can only take you so far in the NBA playoffs.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards
The Minnesota Timberwolves are back in the playoffs for only the second time since 2004, and this time around, their roster has the talent to win a series. In order to knock down a top team in the conference, however, second-year guard Anthony Edwards will have to exhibit a level of maturity beyond his years.
“Ant-Man” is averaging 21.1 points per game, second-most on the team to Karl Anthony-Towns. With D’Angelo Russell playing more of a true point guard role, Edwards will be responsible for scoring baskets in tough situations and clutch moments. Hopefully, the lights will not be too bright for the 20-year-old.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard
It may seem odd to make the team’s X-Factor their best player, let alone someone who has not played a single game all year. But in this situation, it happens to be the case.
Despite being the 8th seed, I believe the Clippers can win the West.
With Paul George already back, a magnificent supporting cast, and one of the best head coaches in basketball, Los Angeles will be a tough out for any year. If Kawhi returns, they should have the second-best odds to go to the Finals, only behind Phoenix.
New Orleans Pelicans: C.J. McCollum
Who would have guessed that in year three of trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers, the Pelicans would be back in the playoffs, and Los Angeles would not. That is exactly the situation, as New Orleans built a competitive roster with new head coach Willie Green, all without Zion Williamson.
The addition of C.J. McCollum was the perfect move at the time, providing Brandon Ingram with another scorer who can take pressure off him. If McCollum can elevate his 20 points per game this season to 25 in the playoffs, there is no reason why New Orleans cannot compete with anyone in the conference.
San Antonio Spurs: Keldon Johnson
The winners of eight out of their last ten, the young San Antonio Spurs secured the final play-in spot, effectively eliminating the Los Angeles Lakers in the process. Guard Dejounte Murray is the recipient of most headlines from the small market, but teammate and former Olympian Keldon Johnson has been spectacular as of late.
Johnson has scored at least 20 points in seven straight games and is averaging seventeen on the season. He is capable of creating space on the floor and is an above-average defender as well.
If the Spurs want to make a run past the play-in games, Keldon Johnson must play like an all-star.
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