Sometimes they’re the stars, and sometimes they’re the role players. But every team has x-factor players they need to play well, or else the chances of winning decrease significantly.
Check out x-factor players for every playoff contender below, starting at the top.
Atlanta Hawks — Kyle Korver
The sharpshooter doesn’t garner huge stats but opens up the floor considerably for his teammates even when he’s not scoring much–the kind of impact that x factors make.
Korver is a reliable catch-and-shoot threat who also doesn’t forget to play some defense. His impact on offense isn’t always recorded statistically, but Atlanta’s offense benefits from opponents jumping every time Korver touches the ball.
In traditional terms, Korver is shooting just a shade under 50 percent from long range this season, shooting six attempts a game. The Hawks typically score 106.3 points per 100 possessions; that number climbs to 110.7 with Korver on the floor.
Golden State Warriors — Draymond Green
Listed as a forward, Green can guard the majority of the players in the league, enabling Steve Kerr to utilize him in small-ball lineups.
Green is strong enough to handle bigger players on defense, and quick enough and a good enough shooter to present a matchup problem on the other end. Kerr has been using Green as an extremely short center lately, to great success.
Green’s 11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game in about 32 minutes are nice stats that indicate how important the 25-year-old is to the Warriors.
Memphis Grizzlies — Zach Randolph
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley earned more attention this season, but Randolph was also among those who deserved an All-Star berth.
His impact on the Grizzlies old-school offense is evident when watching the team. Memphis is 4-6 without Randolph this season and 39-11 with him.
Randolph makes the Grizzlies offense better, as the team scores 107.3 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor compared to 103.7 points without him. He also improves an already stingy defense, helping hold opponents to 99.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s playing compared to 100.4 when he’s not.
Portland Trail Blazers — Nic Batum and Arron Afflalo
The Wesley Matthews injury hurts Portland, ripping away the team’s best three-point shooter and one of its best defenders.
Batum and Afflalo will both get more minutes, especially Afflalo (who was playing only 27.8 minutes a game with Portland), and need to help replace Matthews’ high level of production. Neither Batum (29 percent) nor Afflalo (34 percent) are shooting well from long range this season, and both need to shoot better.
The backup wings will be important for the Blazers now that Afflalo moves into the starting lineup, but Terry Stotts won’t play them much once the playoffs start.
Houston Rockets — Dwight Howard
James Harden is the unquestioned offensive leader for the Rockets but the team needs Howard for his defensive presence once the playoffs roll around.
Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, and Josh Smith are all good players but none can measure up to Howard’s huge frame and shot blocking ability deterring driving guards and big men posting up.
Howard also produces on the offensive end, with Houston outscoring opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions when he’s been on the floor this season. To have a better chance of finally advancing past the first round, Harden and Howard must both produce for the Rockets this postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers — DeAndre Jordan
The man who will almost certainly at this point have earned a max contract in the offseason will help determine L.A.’s fate this playoffs. Is Chris Paul and company destined for another early playoff exit or are they finally ready to get over the hump?
Jordan has been an absolute unstoppable force since Blake Griffin went down with injury, averaging 16 points and 17.2 rebounds in February, including five games with 20 or more rebounds.
Provided Jordan can differentiate the shot clock from the game clock, he should be ready to give Los Angeles all he’s got this time around.
Dallas Mavericks — Chandler Parsons
There’s lots of x-factors for this team, but the new starting small forward is the biggest. Many of the Mavericks’ loss have something in common–Parsons didn’t play, Parsons played but didn’t shoot well, or Parsons played but didn’t get the ball enough. The Mavs are 11-3 when Parsons scores 20 or more points.
It’s too simplistic to say the Mavs chances of a deep playoff run rest on Parsons shoulders when a number of other players need to step up, primarily Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Rajon Rondo. But when Parsons is playing well and engaged in the offense, he provides another attacker in the free-flowing offense, able to handle the ball, shoot from long range, drive, and post up.
If Rondo plays as badly in the playoffs as he has been, and Ellis can’t re-establish his groove, expect to see Rick Carlisle utilize Parsons as a point-forward at some points.
Chicago Bulls — Jimmy Butler
Following an impressive first half of the season, Butler regressed a bit before getting injured. Chicago needs him healthy and scoring like he was before.
Butler, in just his fourth season in the league, has turned into one of the best shooting guards in the league, capabable of shutting down the opponent’s best player but also pouring in 20 or so of his own points.
Playing 38.9 minutes a game, one of the highest totals in the league, Butler helped fill in for Derrick Rose as well, dishing out 3.3 assists a game as well as notching 5.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Toronto Raptors — DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry
First DeRozan went down for a stretch, then Lowry did. Toronto’s starting backcourt hasn’t been able to mesh for a while, and it must if it’s to advance past the first round.
Lowry will take the tough shots at the end of games, but DeRozan has to score consistently in a playoff series if there’s going to be a win, especially because some other Raptors contributors could disappear like last season.
Fortunately for the team, the bitter defeat last season and the experience that came along with it should provide enough to spur Toronto into the second round.
Cleveland Cavaliers — LeBron James
Even if most of his teammates are having off-games, and LeBron is having a great one, the Cavs should be in prime position to win.
Sure, James returned from “injury” just as the midseason trade acquisitions started fitting in, but LeBron has been the unquestioned leader of the team during its recent winning stretch.
The Cavs should easily handle whichever team they face in the first round. After that, expect LeBron to assert himself and take over the second round for another win before Cleveland falls in the conference finals or championship.
San Antonio Spurs — Tony Parker
The sneaky point guard is the key to the Spurs trying to nab another championship, or at least make a deep playoff run.
Parker is having a terrible season since returning from injury and has admitted he’s trying to figure it out.
Lots of Spurs players have regressed since last season, but Parker is the most important one, especially because his backups–while good–can’t replace what he can bring to the table.