Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Eastern Conference X-Factors

As we begin to move closer to the start of NBA training camps, I wanted to take a look at who I would consider to be the X-factor on each team in the Eastern Conference. I consider an X-factor to be a player on a team who will largely help a team towards success or failure - that player may be a rookie, young veteran, someone coming off injury, someone newly acquired, etc.

Atlanta Hawks: Marvin Williams
Williams is coming off a year where he missed 18 games because of injury. If he can provide versatility and consistency in what will be his third year, the Hawks will be able to suprise many teams in the East.

Boston Celtics: Rajon Rondo
Rondo will be counted on to handle and distribute the ball on a team with three Hall of Fame players. It will be important for Rondo to develop all season so he is ready for playoff basketball at the end of the year.

Charlotte Bobcats: Adam Morrison
Charlotte comes into this season with a strong start five, but a very limited bench. If Morrison can develop into a consistent scorer off-the-bench the Bobcats could compete for a playoff spot this season.

Chicago Bulls: Tyrus Thomas
On a team with consistent veterans like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith, Tyrus Thomas is the real wildcard on the Bulls. Last season, he played well during stretches, but this year he will need to bring consistency in points, rebounds, and blocked shots.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Hughes
In the last 40 games before the Cavaliers met the Spurs in the NBA Finals, Cleveland went 29-11. In each one of those games, the starting point guard was Larry Hughes. If Hughes can continue to provide stability and strong defense at the point guard position for Cleveland, then the franchise should again compete for the Eastern Conference title.

Detroit Pistons: Jason Maxiell
In playoff games against Chicago and Cleveland last season, Detroit saw what they hope to get each night from Maxiell this season. With Chris Webber most likely not returning, the Pistons will look for Maxiell and a group of other players to fil his minutes. Scoring and rebounding from Maxiell in the post will be key for Detroit's success this season.

Indiana Pacers: Jamaal Tinsley
Tinsley will get his last chance this season to prove he can be the Pacers lead guard. Although he had a strong scoring season last year, the team needs more from Tinsley on the defensive end. Tinsley also finished the year sixth among point guards in turnovers per game. Both of these concerns need to be addressed this season, or the Pacers will most likely be looking to select a point guard in next season's draft.

Miami Heat: Dorrell Wright
On an aging roster, Wright is one of the only younger players who should be ready this season to produce. Wright should add versatility and athleticism to a team badly in need of both. If Wright fails to produce, then the Heat will have to look for more from Anfernee Hardaway (36), Alonzo Mourning (37), Antoine Walker (31), and Jason Williams (31).

Milwaukee Bucks: Charlie Villanueva
In his third season, Villanueva has shown great potential, but is coming back from a season-ending shoulder injury. If Villanueva can provide consistent points and rebounding statistics - perhaps 15 points and 8 rebounds per game - the Bucks will have a proven scorer in the post. If he cannot, then they will struggle to get any consistency from their big men all season.

New Jersey Nets: Jamaal Magloire
Magloire was the Nets most significant addition this year to a 41-win season last year. The Nets need some production from their big men next to Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson, and Magloire may be just that guy.

New York Knicks: Quentin Richardson
Ricahrdson has only played 91 games over the last two seasons because of injuries. Richardson has the ability to provide three point shooting from the perimter that the Knicks will certainly need. The Knicks know waht they will get from all of their starters, plus Nate Robinson and Renaldo Balkman, but Richardson could be the real wildcard here.

Orlando Magic: Trevor Ariza
The Magic would ideally like to play their top five players each night: Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Trevor Ariza, Rashard Lewis, and Dwight Howard. To be able to do this, Ariza needs to start off the season strong and provide the defensive effort they need. If Ariza fails, then the Magic will have to go with a taller lineup and start Adonal Foyle.

Philadelphia 76ers: Thaddeus Young
This year's first round pick, Young is an important piece in Philadelphia's rebuilding process. Young is an excellent athlete and an emerging shooter who has potential to be a great complement to Andre Iguodala. If Young can succeed this season, then Philadelphia will have a bright future.

Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani
Bargnani had a nice rookie season improving his points per game each month. Playing in a much improved division, the Raptors did not made many upgrades on their roster. Therefore, the development of Bargnani will be essential towards the Raptors' return to the playoffs.

Washington Wizards: Oleksiy Pecherov
Pecherov is a young, Ukrainian forward who can play multiple positions and shoot the ball well. The Wizards have an experienced starting lineup, but could use some scoring punch off the bench. Pecherov has the ability to provide what the Wizards need in order to return to the playoffs.

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