We’re not talking about the singing show “The X Factor” (unfortunately, no Simon Cowell cameo). I know you read the title so there is very little introduction needed. With talk of the NBA possibly returning without fans and a plan to medically monitor players, we are going over the top 5 NBA playoff X factors for the potential continuation of the 2019-20 season. Realistically, these should apply to the 2020-21 season as well, barring any major injuries or blockbuster trades.
5. Marcus Smart
Smart is the epitome of the phrase, “numbers don’t tell the whole story.” The stat sheet simply does not do the man justice and account for all that he brings to the Celtics. From guarding guys six inches taller than him in the post, diving for every 50-50 loose ball and inspiring the younger guys on the bench, Smart has become the heart and soul of the Celtics. His embracing of this vital leadership role helps legitimize the Celtics on both ends of the floor and helps nullify their lack of depth at the power forward and center positions.
4. Kendrick Nunn
The Miami Heat are a fan favorite this season and for good reason. Between the team’s funny interviews on slam, the emergence of their young players and sheer grit the team shows on a nightly basis, Pat Riley and the Heat have shown a rebuild can be done effectively without tanking.
One of the emerging young players that isn’t talked about nearly enough is Kendrick Nunn. This undrafted rookie has flown under the radar between all the Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and Tyler Herro hype but has shown an uncanny scoring ability that the Heat have come to depend on. Nunn’s ability to create his own shot off the dribble takes a lot of the onus off Jimmy Butler and opens up the game for shooters like Herro and Dunkin Robinson.
Nunn won December and January’s rookie of the month honors which put him on notice to the league, causing teams to gameplan for him specifically. Nunns’ season average 15.6 ppg on 45% field goal, which included a forty point outburst against the rockets shows that while he can score in volume and that plays efficiently within the team construct of the Heat. I believe that his ability to add another dimension to the fast-paced Heat offense makes them a sleeper threat in the now drastically improved Eastern Conference.
With his newfound confidence after becoming the highest-scoring undrafted player through his first five games, Nunn has taken it upon himself to be a great secondary option and a closer at the end of games. The last player to score over 100 points through their first five games was Kevin Durant, and being in such elite company should motivate him to be a game-changer in a continuation of this year’s playoffs and in the years moving forward.
3. P.J. Tucker
Mike D’Antoni’s diabolical seven seconds or less on steroids three-point explosion of a scheme on the Houston Rockets places a huge responsibility on one P.J. Tucker. The 6-foot-5 corner three specialist has taken on the role of defensive anchor with the departure of starting center Clint Capella earlier in the season. This was done to further ensure court spacing to generate more open shots from three and clear paths to the basket.
While the numbers support such a style of play, can you really win a championship when other teams like the Lakers, Sixers, Bucks and Nuggets all have seven-footers that will grab every rebound? To Tucker’s credit, he has been playing phenomenal defense under this duress, as reiterated by superstar Kevin Durant himself, but is this sustainable? Will the rockets playoff success come down to how big can P.J. Tucker play?
2. Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe is consistently a bubble all-star. He’s extremely strong for a point guard and has the ball-handling skills to get to the basket with ease. Additionally, he has the athleticism and lateral quickness to lock down offensive threats in both man and zone coverage. While shooting 48% from the field is not bad by any means, it is his three-point shooting that makes Bledsoe a true X- factor.
His 35% 3-point shooting is streaky at best and poses an issue for the Bucks whose team is built around providing space for Giannis Antetokounmpo to operate on the interior. His paint presence is supposed to fuel the three-point game and vice versa. This is compromised when the starting point guard struggles to create his own outside shot. Along with continued stellar play from Giannis and the improvement of his jump shot, Bledsoe’s presence as a threat to score from the perimeter is paramount for the Bucks to maximize their first championship window since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for them in 1971.
Honorable Mention 1: The jumpshots of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons
As we just discussed, like Bledsoe, Giannis has to be able to create his own shot off the dribble for the Bucks to play to their potential. As defenses tighten up on the interior and prevent opportunities in transition, it is pivotal for Giannis to keep defenses honest with a consistent outside jump shot. As for Ben Simmons, insert the same logic but substitute the Bucks interior threat with Joel Embiid.
Honorable Mention 2: Pascal Siakam
Were the Raptors simply the Kawhi Leonard show that got lucky facing a broken and battered Golden State Warriors team in the finals? Or are they the deep, well-coached team that ESPN raves about through to the regular season that cruises into high playoff seeds? The history of choking in the playoffs resonates around the franchise as not long ago they were dubbed as “LeBronto” before LeBron took his talents to Los Angeles. Pascal Siakam is a product of Raptors player development and holds the key to future basketball aspirations in The Six. Siakam has proved to be a consistent scorer in the last couple of years and is looking to make the jump to being a perennial all-star. With his lanky frame and great natural acceleration, he is a consistent jump shot away from the Raptors looking like the destination for another big-name free agent signing and another deep playoff run. While the raptors are not a favorite in the East anymore, it is hard to completely overlook them with Siakam, VanVleet and their other young talent on the roster (also Drake could buy them a few calls too).
1. Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Junior (MPJ) has all the tools to be an NBA superstar. He is 6’10’’ with a seven-foot wingspan and the athleticism to play above the rim. Combine this with impeccable on-court awareness, veteran basketball IQ, a polished jump shot with range and handles to create opportunities and you have a player ready to be a franchise centerpiece. If it weren’t for converting back injuries that plagued his collegiate career he would have been a lottery pick. But he is now getting healthy on a Denver Nuggets who seems to be one piece away from being a championship threat. On Jan. 2, 2020, MPJ scored a career high 25 points vs. the Indiana Pacers, a solid defensive team. He did it on 11-12 shooting, exhibiting both his interior and perimeter skillset. His efficiency on the offensive side from the wing position compliments point guard Jamaal Murry and Center Nikola Jokic, effectively creating a big three to go along with the great team depth and fast pace of play in the mile-high city.
Karthik Iyer is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.