Who is the Portland Trail Blazers’ X-factor this season?

Who’s it gonna be?

The Portland Trail Blazers have looked fantastic to start the 2013-14 NBA season.

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.

But while it’s obvious who the stars are (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard take that category), the question has become, who is the team’s X-factor both now and late into the year?

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.

Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the stars of Rip City -- not the X-factors.

Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the stars of Rip City — not the X-factors.

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?

Wesley Matthews

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.

Mo Williams

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.

Thomas Robinson has been a beast on the boards thus far. (Photo: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian)

Thomas Robinson has been a beast on the boards thus far. (Photo: Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian)

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.

Thomas Robinson

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.


Follow our Editor "Q" on Twitter, and NWSB, 'Like' us on Facebook.
About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
Bryant On Twitter
NWSB Facebook FanPage
Bryant's NWSB Forum Profile
Subscribe To Bryant's Articles Via RSS On NWSB
Like Something I wrote? Hate it? Hit me back today I want to hear from you!

  • calebsmt

    I think Aldridge said it best, when he said they have trust for each other, regarding your question about the x-factor this year. I think it has a lot to do the with the character of each player who is playing significant minutes, this year. I think Aldridge’s competitiveness is coming out consistently so far. I think he has always been that way, but lost some of it when they where losing a lot of games they should have won last year. The whole team was either exhausted or disheartened as they seemed to give up a lot last year. What does anyone else think about other player’s mental contributions to the current streak?

    • Bryant Knox

      Thanks for contributing, pal. Gotta love the attitude of all players right now. LA is aggressive (and believe’s he’s a leader), Lillard is poised and Matthews is angry about the All-Star ballot. Time will be the biggest test for this team, as it’s not going to win 87 percent of its games all season. Times of adversity will come, and we’ll learn a lot about how they come together from a mental perspective.

North West Sports Beat

Sponsored Links


10 Articles To Your Inbox Daily! NWSB Daily Brew! Get It Now! Newsletter
NorthWest Sports Beat