Unexpected x-factors for each Western Conference playoff team

LeBron James talks with Los Angeles Lakers teammate Alex Caruso.

LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and James Harden will earn much of the limelight in the Western Conference when the NBA season resumes. While each of these players will obviously play a giant role in their team’s success (or lack of success), we can guarantee that an unexpected contributor will step up during a team’s march to the NBA Finals.

Now, we’re not talking about the likes of Anthony Davis, Paul George, or Russell Westbrook. Rather, we’re focused on the end-of-rotation players who could have a heroic performance in a single game. We did a similar exercise with the Eastern Conference last week.

Below, we’ve listed the unexpected x-factors for each Western Conference team.

Los Angeles Lakers: Alex Caruso

The balding 26-year-old may not be unfamiliar to Lakers fans, but he’ll have a prime opportunity to introduce himself to casual NBA fans following the hiatus. While Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is likely to slide into the starting lineup following Avery Bradley’s decision to sit out, Caruso should inherit most of his teammate’s minutes.

Among Lakers players with at least 1,000 minutes played, Caruso had the second-highest Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) on the team. Plus, his ability to hit jumpers (at least when compared to alternative Rajon Rondo) should earn him some important playing time.

Los Angeles Clippers: Landry Shamet

The Clippers improved their depth prior to the hiatus by adding Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris. However, it should be one of their incumbent players who will be key come playoff time.

While the 23-year-old Shamet hasn’t been able to match the incredible shooting numbers from his rookie campaign, he still managed to shoot 39% from three this past season. Sure, he’s going to have to fight Jackson, Patrick Beverley, and Lou Williams for minutes at guard … but when the Clippers desperately need some shooting, Shamet could emerge as an integral piece.

Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr.

The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and the majority of their rotation players shouldn’t be described as “unknown” nor “unexpected” contributors. It’s worth noting that the majority of this depth comes at guard, and while Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic will do their best to defend the rim, Denver will still need a sturdy forward who can guard the likes of LeBron and Kawhi.

Enter Michael Porter Jr., a 2018 first rounder who missed his rookie campaign due to back issues. Considering he has less than 700 career minutes to his name, the Nuggets will take what they can get from the “rookie” come playoff time. However, he finished with the third-best defensive rating on the team (behind only Mason Plumlee and Jokic), and he has the physical attributes to defend the NBA’s top wings. Despite his inexperience, he should get a chance.

Utah Jazz: Ed Davis

The Jazz have played a number of players next to Rudy Gobert in the frontcourt, but many of those options (including Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Royce O’Neale) profile more as small forwards than power forwards. If Utah is forced to play against lengthy frontcourts like the Lakers or Nuggets, they could struggle.

Fortunately, they have a fallback option in Ed Davis. While the veteran hasn’t played much this season, he still finished third on the Nuggets in DBPM (among players with at least 200 minutes played). Davis doesn’t provide the floor spacing that the Jazz value, but his experience playing both power forward and center could lead to playing time in the playoffs.

Other Teams

Oklahoma City Thunder: Luguentz Dort

After started the season as a two-way player, Luguentz Dort has established a role in the starting lineup. To be clear, he’s not the token fifth starter; he has a top-five DBPM among his teammates.

Houston Rockets: Tyson Chandler

This isn’t the Tyson Chandler of old. While the Rockets are going all-in on their “small ball” lineup, they’ll need size at some point. The 37-year-old Chandler is their only choice.

Dallas Mavericks: Delon Wright

Courtney Lee will miss the rest of the season, so the Nuggets will need someone to take his minutes on the wing. Those minutes could end up going to Delon Wright, who shot better than 38% from three this past season.

Memphis Grizzles: Solomon Hill

Portland Trail Blazers: Gary Trent

New Orleans Pelicans: Kenrich Williams

Sacramento Kings: Corey Brewer

San Antonio Spurs: Trey Lyles

Phoenix Suns: Cheick Diallo

These teams are all playing for the chance to lose to the Lakers in the first round. If they want to win even a single playoff game, they’ll need offensive or defensive production from an unexpected source.

Virginia Bonuses

See All


Get a $100 Risk-Free Bet!

Register for a new Unibet account & make a deposit

Place your first bet up to $100 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $100

New players only. Terms & conditions apply. 21+. VA only.

FanDuel Sportsbook


Get a $1,000 No Sweat First Bet

Sign up for a new FanDuel Sportsbook account and make your first deposit of $10+

Place your first bet up to $1,000!

Get refunded if you lose up to $1,000

Must be 21+. First online real money wager only. $10 first deposit required. Bonus issued as non-withdrawable free bets that expire 14 days after receipt. See full terms at fanduel.com/sportsbook.



Get a $500 Risk-Free Bet

Sign up for a new BetRivers account using promo code PICKSWISE

Make your first deposit & get up to $500 in free bets

To get $500 in free bets, wager $500

Must be 21+. Play in IA Only. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-BETS OFF



Bet $10, Win $200 if Any NBA Team Hits a Three Pointer!

Sign up for a new betting account with BetMGM

Place a pre-game moneyline wager of at least $10 on a NBA game

Win $200 in free bets if any team hits a three pointer

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Bet $5 & Win $150 If Your First Moneyline Bet Wins!

Sign up for a new account with DraftKings Sportsbook and make your first deposit

Bet $5+ on the pre-game Moneyline in any sport

Win $200 if your team wins

Offer valid for new players only. Must be 21 years or older to play. Reward paid in site credit. Full terms available at DraftKings Sportsbook.



Get 4x $200 In Free Bets

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Bet up to $200 and If you lose, you get a refund

You will receive Free Bet(s) in the amount of the losing wager(s), up to $200 each for four days.

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Caesars Sportsbook


Get a $1,250 risk-free bet

Sign up for a new Caesars Sportsbook account

Place your first bet of $10 or more

If your first bet loses, you’ll receive a refund up to $1,250 from Caesars in free bets

21+. Terms and conditions apply.



Bet $10, Get $200 if Any NHL Team Scores A Goal

Sign up for a new betting account with BetMGM

Place a pre-game moneyline wager of at least $10 on a NHL game

Win $200 in free bets if any teams scores a goal

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get a $1,000 Risk Free Bet

Register for a new BetMGM & deposit

Place your first bet up to $1,000 risk-free!

Get refunded up if you lose up to $1,000

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get 5x $100 in Free Bets

Sign up for a new PointsBet account

Make a bet of up to $100 and receive a refund if you lose

Get this offer once a day for the first 5 days you sign up

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.



Get a $1,000 Deposit Bonus

Register for a new DraftKings Sportsbook account & deposit

DraftKings will match 20% of your deposit up to $1,000 total

To get a $100 bonus, deposit $500

21+. Terms & conditions apply.



Get $2,000 in Free Bets

Register for a new PointsBet account & deposit

Receive a free bet refund up to $500 if your first fixed odds bet loses

& a free bet refund up to $1,500 if your first two PointsBetting Wager loses

Must be 21+. Full terms are available at PointsBet.

Monkey Knife Fight


Claim Instant Deposit Match up to $100 + Free $5 game

Register for a Monkey Knife Fight account & deposit using promo code PICKSWISE100

Monkey Knife Fight will match your first deposit up to $100

Deposit $100 and you'll get $100 bonus + a free $5 game

18+. Terms and conditions apply. You must live in one of the states where real money DFS is legal.



Get Your First Single-Horse Win Wager Back Up to $200 if you don't win

Register for a new TVG account and make a deposit

Place your first single horse win-type bet up to $200

If your horse doesn't win you'll get a refund up to $300

21+. T&C's apply. Please gamble responsibly.



Get a $200 Sign-Up Bonus with Twinspires Racebook!

Open your TwinSpires.com account using offer code BET200

$200 bonus cash will be credited in increments of $100 for every $400 wagered

To earn the full $200 bonus players must wager $800 within 30 days

21+. Terms and conditions apply.

Underdog Fantasy


First deposit is 100% matched up to $100 with Underdog Fantasy

Sign up for a new account with Underdog Fantasy

Make your first deposit

Every dollar (up to $100) will be matched! Deposit $25, get $50; deposit $100, get $200, etc

Must be 21+ to play. Terms & conditions apply