Who’s it gonna be?
Through 11 games, the team from the Pacific Northwest has the third-best record in the entire Association. It is 9-2 to start the year, and it is showing that it has more talent across the board than it did just a season ago.
Let’s start with a different question: What make’s an X-Factor? For starters, you have to compare the quality of his performances to the quality of the team. An X-factor by definition will make his team better, and quite frankly, if he performs inadequately, his squad’s shot of winning will drop substantially.
Another characteristic worth considering is what we expect out of each player. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are expected to be great, which makes poor showings less of factor, and more of a general disappointment.
For years now, Nicolas Batum has been considered the team’s X-factor. He’s the second-highest player on the roster, and while Scottie Pippen comparisons may have been a bit fanciful, the thought was that he had it in him to become a consistent scorer, as well as a regular stat-sheet stuffer.
At this point, let’s assume Tayshaun Prince is a more realistic goal for swingman. He’s a fantasic “do it all” type of player, but those guys are typically considered more “glue guys” than true X-factors.
So while we’ve got the top three players on the roster officially eliminated from contention, the question becomes, who are the candidates to become this team’s ultimate X-factor?
The easy first option is Wesley Matthew. The Blazers have lived by the three all season long, and nobody epitomizes that fact more than the guy shooting 55.6 percent from behind the arc.
Not only is Matthews as deadly as it comes from long range, but he’s a classic example of what a “3 and D” guy can do for your team. He has quick hands and a low stance on defense, he disrupts passing lanes and when it’s all said and done, he drills a fast-break shot from downtown.
If Matthews slips at any point this season, Portland will need to find points elsewhere. The guard has never shot below 38.2 percent from the three-point line in his career, and while you shouldn’t expect that to change this season, it would be unrealistic to assume he can keep his numbers as high as they are right now.
Aldridge said Wesley Matthews is playing best basketball of his career:”He’s playing angry. I like it. He’s mad about the (All-Star) ballot”
— Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman) November 19, 2013
Sticking with guards who can light it up, enter Mo Williams.
To begin the year, Williams was missing shots as a so-called spark off the bench. He needed time to get adjusted to the offense (and his teammates), but now he’s found a rhythm that has helped this team find success.
The problem with deeming Williams an X-factor is that we’ve already seen him struggle, yet the team still found ways to win. There’s no denying that the bench is better when this guy is hitting his shots, but it’s also clear that Lillard can handle the load.
Consider Williams a luxury when he’s feeling it, but don’t be shocked if he gets trigger happy at the wrong time now and again.
When the Blazers picked up Thomas Robinson from the Houston Rockets, fans knew across Rip City that it was a gamble worth taking. The former No. 5 pick had been tossed around the league in juts his first season, but Portland snatched him up for practically nothing — something that has become a common theme in GM Neil Olshey’s time with the team.
What Robinson brings to this roster is energy. Every team needs a guy who grabs rebounds and chases loose balls, and while Robinson struggles at times trying to do too much on offense, he’s the perfect player to spark a quick run with an athletic put-back slam.
Robin Lopez also fits in this category for the same reason, but at this point, what you see is what you get with the seven-footer.
So Who’s It Gonna Be?
Here’s a name for you straight out of left field. A name that fans were talking about before the year even began, yet he hasn’t seen a single minute on the court this season.
Here’s a name that fans are excited about, and that name is CJ McCollum.
The Trail Blazers drafted McCollum with the No. 10 pick this past summer, but the guard broke his foot during training camp and has missed the entire early part of the season. His injury makes him a concern, but his potential is what makes him the ultimate X-factor.
So far on the year, we’ve seen that Williams, Matthews and Lillard can lead this team to victory. However, if you recall last season, the starters were completely burnt out by the end of the year, and having one backup in Eric Maynor simply didn’t cut it.
McCollum is the kind of player who is going to play well both on and off the ball. He dominated the points and rebounding columns at Lehigh, and with solid scorers around him, the hope is that he can boost his assist numbers at the professional level.
Nobody quite knows what to expect out of the kid when he makes his return, but if all goes according to plan, he’ll help the Blazers earn credit for having one of the deepest backcourts (and benches) in the entire NBA.