Determining what goes into making an X-Factor is about as hard as determining who the actual X-Factor should be. For argument’s sake, my personal view of what an X-Factor should be is a contribution from a player outside of the immediate foundation that elevates the team’s performance from meeting expectations to outplaying their season goals.
For example, it would be both inaccurate and cheap for me to call either Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire or Tyson Chandler this year’s X-Factor. All three of those players have to play significant roles on the team this year in order for the Knicks to meet the very basic of goals fans and the organization have placed on them. Even if ‘Melo goes bonkers this year, averaging 30+ points a night, or Amar’e returns to the level he found when he first came to the Knicks, those can’t be considered X-Factor qualities. They’re overachieving, yes, but you expect a certain level of that success from your star players anyway.
Instead, in order to find someone that can rise to the level of an X-Factor, you need to look at the surrounding parts around your best players. Who has the potential to not only enhance the abilities of your best players, but add something to the game the others can’t? Who can take control of a game and dictate the team’s pace without commanding too much of the spotlight?
For me, there were only four players to really consider potential X-Factors, and three were eliminated rather quickly. As much as I would love to throw this tag on my man-crush, Steve Novak, I just can’t do it. Yes, there will be nights where Novak is literally draining everything from the MSG parking lot and I will be giddy as a school girl around the Biebs, but I don’t realistically expect Novak to average north of 8 points per contest and command more than 20 minutes a game. That wouldn’t be properly using his deadly accurate three-point skill-set while masking the fact that he’s a bit of an albatross on defense.
I also couldn’t give the title to Iman Shumpert. I do think Shump is going to play a huge roll on this team this season, but I’m still very worried about how healthy he will be for the long haul and how quickly the Knicks can get him back. It’s clear that, when healthy, Shumpert is the team’s best perimeter defender and their only shot at limiting the abilities of Dwayne Wade in a potential playoff series, so his health is of premium importance. But, that question mark limits my expectations for him in 2012-13 significantly.
Furthermore, I couldn’t give it to J.R. Smith. I just couldn’t. Mostly because I’m fearful Smith is going to read this article and take my anointing of him being the X-Factor as a free pass to throw up more treys at will. He’s like a rich man’s Al Harrington. He’s going to have nights when he’ll be absolutely lights out, throwing down huge dunks, making 3s from everywhere and scoring 27+ points. But, he’s also going to have his fair share of 5-for-19 nights from the field when all you want to do is throw something at the TV to maybe make him pass the ball more. There’s almost no middle ground for J.R. Smith, who really should be this team’s Sixth Man/Irrational Confidence Guy.
So, after much thought and deliberation, I have to think this year’s X-Factor is a familiar face around New York, and a player that has found success in this market before.
How Felton handles the point and the egos on this Knicks offense will be something to behold. While a very average performance from Felton will not hurt the Knicks or take away from their success, if he finds the level of efficiency that he had before the Carmelo Anthony trade, he has a very good chance of being on that tweener-level of point guards, not quite elite, but certainly well above average. He will hold the keys to the Knicks offense, and it will be up to him to make sure everyone not only has a role, but knows exactly what that role is.
His role on the Knicks, even with Jason Kidd backing him up, will prove to be the difference in just how high the team’s water mark could be this season. For that reason, I have to believe that Ray Felton is this year’s X-Factor.