Chicago's Butler among NBA's X-factors

Sam Smith of offers his take on 10 players who could make an unexpected difference, the so-called X-factors. If they have a significant impact, it could change the balance of power and perhaps the playoffs.

We know the players who have to be good for teams to have success. LeBron James, obviously. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, James Harden.

But what about the players you don’t expect or know how good they will be? The so-called X-factors. Though in the English language the X is often silent, which has been the history of a lot of these players. But if they could have a significant impact, it could change the balance of power and perhaps the playoffs. Here’s a look at 10 players who could make an unexpected difference.

Michael Beasley: Many once had to argue with some Bulls fans and even some around the team — even if they won’t admit it now — that Derrick Rose would be a better NBA player. But in college, Beasley did look a lot like Kevin Durant. Miami’s got him back for a minimum and he can score. He’s averaging 11 points in 14 minutes. He was bought out by the Suns after his latest marijuana situation. He’s just about thrown away his career with off the floor antics, though more stupid than evil. But with Dwyane Wade in some decline, his scoring addition could be bigger than anything Greg Oden could provide toward a three-peat.

Chris Kaman: The Lakers aren’t winning anything. But Kaman can be a real center. And playing with Pau Gasol on the last year of his deal, they suddenly could present something impressive inside in the West. Kobe Bryant will be back eventually, and all of a sudden you may not want to face the Lakers in the first round. Kaman is healthy again, and the last time he was he averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in Los Angeles.

DeAndre Jordan: He’s Doc Rivers’ project as new Clippers coach, and the guy Doc sees, without broadcasting it, as the key to winning a title. The underachieving seven footer could be a defensive force. In preseason he’s leading the Clippers in scoring and even making free throws. With Chris Paul and all their fire power, having Jordan excel could make them a force on both ends.

Reggie Jackson: The Thunder’s formerly backup point now takes on a pivotal role with not only Russell Westbrook hurt but Kevin Martin also gone after James Harden. The once powerful Thunder now need scoring help. Jackson began to break through in the playoffs after Westbrook went out. But he’s been a poor three point shooter who needs to be a threat to protect Durant. If he can be it again makes the Thunder contenders.

Jerryd Bayless: Though the Grizzlies added Mike Miller, his body doesn’t hold up very long. The Grizzlies remain not an inside/outside team but an inside only team. Mike Conley and Tayshaun Prince give Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph little space. Bayless is vital for spreading the court and showing the Grizzlies’ playoff tease last season was more than that.

Jimmy Butler: The Bulls latest shooting guard audition was supposed to be a small forward. He’s at shooting guard per force as the Bulls let go Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli. He got the attention of the NBA with his relentless playoff performances last spring. His hustle will enable him to defend and rebound. But if can Butler shoot and help open the floor, he could give the Bulls an additional scoring option to make their offense as formidable as their defense.

Kevin Martin: The former high level, 20-plus scorer became a complimentary piece who was overlooked in Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves finally are on the verge of being a playoff team for the first time since Kevin Garnett left. With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio healthy, his perimeter shooting could enable the Timberwolves to make a big jump into the playoff picture.

Anderson Varejao: The talk and hope in Cleveland is of Andrew Bynum. And, sure, if he is healthy, which most question, would be a major boost for the Cavs. But with their young core of offensive players, if Varejao can remain healthy and be the rebounder and defender he was becoming last season, the Cavs even without Bynum could introduce themselves to the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Andrew Bogut: The Warriors center has a reputation for being only somewhat interested in basketball. But his attention could be piqued in a contract year. The Warriors have plenty of action with their perimeter scorers and the addition of dunking Andre Iguodala. Bogut can be a prime defender when healthy and engaged, and if he is it makes the Warriors one of the top Western teams.

Jonas Valanciunas: The Raptors are under new management and again promising much to perhaps the world’s most patient fans. Their young center could be the difference in making a move with high level perimeter scoring. Or another breakup to come with Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry free agents.

Sam Smith’s NBA news and notes