Although you might not believe it at first, the NBA season is about for a start. It’s happening again. It seemed like it was never over. It is amazing to think that the Lakers beat the Heat in Bubble Finals almost exactly one year ago. Parts of the previous three seasons will be relived when the regular season 2021-22 begins on Tuesday.
Our previews are now available for all 30 teams. Next week will bring you our playoff predictions and awards. Here’s a list of 10 X-factor stars who can swing their teams in one direction or the other.
Although Russell Westbrook might seem like a too central player for the Lakers, I think he should be considered a secondary player. Los Angeles has already shown it can win a title without a third star with LeBron and Anthony Davis. His usage rate, scoring and assists should drop dramatically this season. This will make Westbrook’s defensive contributions and support shooting crucial to his success.
Frank Vogel gave Westbrook permission to shoot catch-and-shoot threes (this could be a disaster), but he wants him more careful with the ball. Good luck! He should continue to be disciplined and focus on penetration. Westbrook has had a decent shooting season, but he must also be more responsible defensively. This is what he did with Houston in the second half. The Lakers may follow his lead if he does the opposite.
Kristaps Porzingis is still a secondary star to Luka Docic. However, he is one the most versatile players in the league. He is bad when he’s good. It borders on being useless. He is a formidable scoring force, with an almost limitless range for his 3-point shot. Porzingis and Doncic are a great pairing. Porzingis draws defenses out of his lane, while Doncic attacks it. If Porzingis has a great shooting season, their pick-and-pop game might be unstoppable. Porzingis was a great player in the bubble just before his injury. It wasn’t so long ago. Although Doncic is an MVP candidate of the highest caliber, Porzingis is the player Dallas will likely see swing at.
The Grizzlies is a one-star team. That star is Ja Morant. Remember, they were or were supposed to be two-star teams. The second potential star was Jaren Johnson Jr. He was on this kind of trajectory for his first two seasons, before he suffered a major injury that ended his season. Jackson shot 40% from 3 in 2019-20 on more than six attempts per game. These aren’t static pick-and-pop threes like the stretch five variety. Jackson can shoot on the move. He is Karl Anthony Towns like. It’s odd that Jackson was considered a top-tier defender when he came out of Michigan State. Jackson fouls like a madman, and that’s not the best part of his equation. However, the goods are there defensively and Jackson can put it together this season on both ends to make Memphis a two-star team.
The league’s fourth-year big guy might be Boston’s greatest X-factor this year. He’s an offensive and defensive beast, and he’s also a skilled passer and ball handler. Boston will be playing two-big lineups of Robert Williams as well as Al Houston. However, if Williams, who has shown signs of DPOY potential, breaks out, and the Celtics can finish the games against smaller lineups (he can protect away from the basket), then that would be a huge boon for Beantown. Williams is why I think they should finish as the top four seed.
Tyler Herro’s second slump was exaggerated. His numbers increased across the board from his rookie year. He wasn’t a rookie anymore. Rookies aren’t allowed to play with their house money. We make a lot of it when they play well. It doesn’t matter if they don’t play well, because they are still rookies. Herro quickly lost that leeway in his second attempt. Under the heightened expectations of Herro’s and the Heats’s spectacular run to the 2020 Finals, the difficulties were even more severe. Herro is a great player. He doesn’t need to be the focal point guy with Kyle Lowry. He is a great X-factor on the bench and in closing lineups. He should be considered the Sixth Man Of The Year. Miami is extremely dangerous if he reaches that level.
The Hawks did most of their postseason damage without De’Andre Hunter. Hunter missed the conference semifinals as well as the finals due to a torn Meniscus. Many people don’t realize just how great Hunter is. Hunter was originally drafted as a defensive ace with spot-up-shooting abilities. However, he quickly became more than that to support Trae Youth, especially with his ability to create his shot. Hunter’s upward offensive trend (13 points per game last year; 77th percentile, with 119.9 per 100 shots, according to Cleaning the Glass) could make a difference in Atlanta’s regressing after a successful postseason.
Larry Nance Jr could be argued. Here. Nance, a top-shelf defender, is needed to defend the Blazers. They’ve been awful again this preseason. The Blazers will not be a threat to Jusuf Nurkic if he stays healthy and plays at an All-Star level. Although he is unlikely to make the All-Star West team, he can play 20-and-10, high efficiency stuff on a regular basis. Nurkic can sometimes go head-to-head with some of the most skilled big men in the league and looks great. If Portland is to be more than a dangerous team, it needs to have a strong backcourt that creates and makes tough jump shots.
Although Kelly Oubre’s defense may seem better than it is, on a Charlotte team that lacks defense in a major way Oubre stands out as an outstanding difference maker. If Oubre can use his athletic gifts and not have to gamble or get beat up by the dribble, Oubre could be a true difference-maker. Oubre is not just about defense. Oubre can also put the ball in the basket. His offense isn’t as bad as last season in Golden State. He struggled to find his way in the Curry’s maze. But if he can recall his time in Phoenix where he averaged 20 points per game and was a 35 percent 3-point guy, Charlotte will be a viable threat to the play-in seed.