Stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook might get most of the press around the NBA. And for good reason. They’re the face of the NBA, and will continue to play a role in determining who wins the title.
But they are not the only x-factors for teams around the Association. From Eric Gordon in Houston to a “rookie” in Philadelphia making noise, there are other x-factors to focus on. Heck, there’s a couple youngsters doing well to make up for the loss of Gordon Hayward in Boston.
Here’s a look at the 10 biggest x-factors around the NBA after the first month of the season.
Eric Gordon, guard, Houston Rockets
Gordon has been somewhat of a revelation for the 11-3 Rockets thus far this season. A 10-year pro, he never really performed like a core player for a good team. That’s changed a great deal in his age-28 season. Teaming up with James Harden, he’s averaging a career-best 22.9 points per game and boasts a tremendous .539 effective field goal percentage.
For a Rockets squad that will have to overcome the Splash Brothers in Oakland, Gordon’s emergence as a legit go-to option has been huge this season. He’ll need to keep it up for Houston to have a chance to come out of the west, but it’s been a tremendous first month for the veteran.
Avery Bradley, guard, Detroit Pistons
Bradley’s defensive stopper mentality has paid off big time for what has to be considered one of the most surprising teams in the NBA. Detroit is currently 10-3 on the season and on pace to win 63 games. That’s not sustainable. But it wouldn’t be a shock to see this team finish as a top-four seed back east.
In his first season with the Pistons, Bradley is the primary reason why. He’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 41 percent from distance. That’s really icing on the cake, considering he’s seen more as a dominant defender. Thus far this season, he ranks in the top 20 in defensive wins shares, which has helped Andre Drummond excel in that area as well. This has the Pistons ranked seventh in the NBA in scoring defense.
LaMarcus Aldridge, forward, San Antonio Spurs
With Kawhi Leonard having missed the first month of the season, San Antonio has seen this former All-Star step up big time. Taking over a No. 1 scoring role, Aldridge is averaging 21.8 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting at a 50 percent clip from the field. He’s also averaging the most field goal attempts since he was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.
This has helped San Antonio stay above water with an 8-5 record in Leonard’s absense. It’s also been extremely important from a scoring standpoint, with the Spurs’ second-leading scorer (Rudy Gay) averaging just 13 points per game.
Jaylen Brown, forward, Boston Celtics
Boston needed its youngsters to step up big time after Gordon Hayward went down with a season-ending injury in his debut with the team. That’s exactly what this second-year stud has done for a Celtics team that has won 12 consecutive games.
Brown is averaging 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds while putting up a 38 percent mark from distance on the season. He also ranks eighth among NBA players in defensive rating. Talk about taking that next step as a sophomore. And it has Brown’s Celtics as the class of the Eastern Conference after the first month of the season.
Delon Wright, guard, Toronto Raptors
After losing the likes of DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Cory Joseph during the summer, Toronto needed some in-house players to step up. That’s exactly what this former late first-round pick has done.
Sure the numbers aren’t dazzling, but he’s performed well as the primary backup at both guard positions. Thus far this season, the Utah product is averaging 7.7 points and is shooting at an absurd 66 percent mark from two-point range. That mid-range game has been huge, especially when Wright teams up with fellow mid-range sniper DeMar DeRozan on the court at the same time.
Emmanuel Mudiay, guard, Denver Nuggets
Mudiay’s scoring isn’t necessarily up from what we saw his first two NBA seasons, but his productivity sure has increased. Here’s a youngster that’s shooting 50 points higher than last season. His effective field goal percentage is also 50 points higher. That’s a big deal considering Denver is asking him to come off the bench full-time for the first time in his young career.
For a Nuggets team that entered this week’s action at 8-5 on the season, having someone of Mudiay’s ilk off the bench behind the likes of Gary Harris and Jamal Murray is a really big deal.
Aaron Gordon, forward, Orlando Magic
At just 22 years old, Gordon has gone from athlete to all-around player. The youngster is averaging 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting at a league-high 55 percent from distance.
It’s this type of improvement that has helped Orlando to an 8-6 start to the season. The team has four players now averaging north of 15 points per game. As we watch these young players improve, it’s going to be interesting to see how the dynamic continues to play out in Orlando this season.
Klay Thompson, guard, Golden State Warriors
Lost in the shuffle of former MVP’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in Oakland, Thompson might now be one of the top-five all-around players in the Association. He’s averaging a hair over 21.1 points per game while shooting at a 51 percent mark from the field, including a career-best 47 percent from distance. Heck, Klay .626 effective field goal percentage.
But we already knew Thompson was an elite offensive player. He might have the prettiest shot in the history of the game. It’s what he’s done on the other end of the court that has Golden State nearly unstoppable. He ranks among the top-five guards in defensive wins shares, defensive plus-minus and overall plus-minus thus far this season. That’s just some absurd stuff right there.
Jayson Tatum, forward, Boston Celtics
Much like fellow youngster Jaylen Brown, this rookie top-five pick has stepped into a much bigger role with Hayward sidelined than most anticipated. And the teenager is passing this test with flying colors. Through the first month of the season, Tatum is averaging 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds while putting up a .565 effective field goal percentage. That’s just brilliant stuff right there.
Defensively, the Duke product is also performing at an alarmingly high clip. He’s averaging nearly a block per game and ranks seventh among NBA players in defensive wins shares. A Rookie of the Year candidate, Tatum is one of the primary reasons Boston is in the midst of a 12-game win streak.
Ben Simmons, guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Most of the focus in Philadelphia over the past couple seasons has been on recently-extended young center Joel Embiid. And for good reason. He’s been a dominating figure when healthy. But the Sixers’ success on the court has changed dramatically during Simmons first season as an active player.
After sitting out his rookie campaign, the former No. 1 overall pick already looks like an All-Star. He’s averaging 17.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Simmons is also shooting at a tremendous 49 percent clip while primarily playing point guard. And it has the Sixers vastly improved this season.