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NBA

Biggest X-factors in the Western Conference for the 2019-20 NBA season

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Derrick Favors, Alfonzo McKinnie, Hassan Whiteside [NBA Getty Images]

After all the moves that were made this offseason, the Western Conference is now loaded with evenly distributed talent, giving a number of teams a legitimate shot at making the NBA Finals next season.

While superstar duos have taken over the conference, it's no secret that depth and role players are needed to make deep postseason runs. Each contender has the pieces in place to make a push for a championship, but it will require certain players taking a step forward and exceeding expectations to turn that hope into a reality.

With that in mind, here are five X-factors in the Western Conference that could take their team to the next level in the 2019-20 season.

Hassan Whiteside - Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers may have locked up their star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for the long-term, but the rest of the roster changed drastically this summer.

MORE: Where do Lillard and McCollum rank among the best backcourts?

One of their biggest needs entering the offseason was finding a replacement for Enes Kanter while Jusuf Nurkic continues to recover from fracturing his leg, leading them to a trade with the Miami Heat for Hassan Whiteside.

Nurkic is expected to be out until after the All-Star break - that's 15.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game that the Blazers need to make up for. While they shouldn't expect a 30-year-old Whiteside to completely fill that void, he did post 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game for the Heat last season.

Whiteside is still a great rim protector and rebounder. He is a former rebound champion, block champion and even has an All-Defensive Second Team selection to his name - all of the aforementioned accolades coming within the last four seasons.

The combination makes Whiteside a perfect temporary replacement for Nurkic on paper. It just remains to be seen how he meshes with the roster around him.

If he can produce at a similar rate as he has been over the past five seasons, the Blazers should have no trouble living up to the expectations of a team that reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Once Nurkic comes back and they can bring Whiteside off the bench, that frontcourt becomes much less of a worry for Portland fans.

Alfonzo McKinnie - Golden State Warriors

Alfonzo McKinnie had several breakout moments for the Warriors at the start of last season to put his name on the NBA radar.

His averages of 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.9 minutes per game didn't do his impact justice, though he was at times buried on the bench when Golden State was at full strength. Whenever they weren't at full strength, McKinnie was typically the guy head coach Steve Kerr called upon, and he was solid whenever his number was called.

Now, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are all gone. Klay Thompson is set to miss the majority of the season and the Warriors are going to heavily rely on players with little-to-no experience to fill those roles.

MORE: Are the Warriors a lock to make the playoffs?

Last season was McKinnie's first full season in the league and he's already one of the longest-tenured players on the Warriors. He's likely going to be the starting small forward while Thompson is out and the Warriors will need him to make an Iguodala-like impact from the get-go.

McKinnie is incredibly athletic and a very capable defender. He's a quality rebounder and shot 35.6% from long range last season. If he progresses the way he should as a shooter, defender and rebounder, Golden State will be just fine. They were 6-1 in the seven games McKinnie reached double figures in scoring and went 23-3 in contests in which he grabbed five or more rebounds last season.

This isn't to say that McKinnie grabbing five-plus boards was a result-changing attribute, but it goes to show how important he could be to Golden State's success.

Danuel House - Houston Rockets

The Rockets are thin at the forward position and depending on if they elect to bring Eric Gordon off the bench, Danuel House could become their starting small forward.

House was great for the Rockets in the 39 games he played last season, but his two-way contract forced him back to the G League. Over 39 games with Houston, House averaged 9.4 points and 3.6 rebounds on impressive 41.6% shooting from beyond the arc on 4.6 attempts per game.

In playing alongside James Harden, the ability to knock down the 3-ball is essential. Now playing alongside Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Rockets' wings will get more open looks from long range than ever before.

MORE: Why the Harden-Westbrook partnership will and won't work

In a perfect storm for Houston, House will be a mix of their two veteran forwards P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green. If House can match Tucker's energy as a defender and rebounder while flashing Green's confidence as a 3-point shooter like he did last season, the Rockets will be even more of a threat to win the West than they already are.

Derrick Favors - New Orleans Pelicans

In need of big man depth, the Pelicans went out and traded for Derrick Favors a week into free agency.

Favors has spent his last six seasons starting at power forward alongside Rudy Gobert in Utah but will take over the starting centre role for this young Pelicans team. Along with eating up the bulk of the minutes at centre, the nine-year veteran will have the important duty of helping mold 2019 first-round pick and 19-year-old rookie Jaxson Hayes.

New Orleans also has Jahlil Okafor on the roster - who ended the 2018-19 season on a strong note - but Favors is expected to be the key piece that holds the Pelicans' frontcourt together.

Favors had a good year for the Jazz last season, averaging 11.8 points per game on a career-best 58.6% shooting from the field. He only averaged 7.4 rebounds per game, but fighting with Gobert's 12.4 rebounds per game likely impacted that total.

Favors proved he is a solid rim protector as well, posting 1.4 blocks per game. With the undersized Zion Williamson starting at power forward next to him, Favors will have to take on all the matchups against true centres this season.

MORE: What will Zion accomplish in his rookie season?

His defensive presence and activity on the glass will be his calling card and if he's successful in that role, the Pelicans could exceed expectations as long as the younger talent around him reaches their potential.

Making the playoffs in the West is going to be a grind and the season that Favors puts together could be a difference-maker in whether or not New Orleans qualifies.

Jeff Green - Utah Jazz

The Jazz loaded up this offseason, trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic to give them some much-needed firepower on the offensive end.

Conley, Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert makes up one of the best starting units in the NBA, but the Jazz are still going to need some production off the bench to compete for a title.

That's where the Jeff Green signing this offseason comes into play.

Utah improved their second unit by bringing in guys like Green, Emmanuel Mudiay and Ed Davis. As far as bench scoring goes, they'll look to Green and Mudiay to handle the bulk of that load.

Green averaged 12.3 points per game for the Washington Wizards last season - his highest scoring average since 2015 - on 47.5% shooting from the field and 34.7% from 3-point land. While it would be beneficial to bring that 3-point percentage up, it was the third-best mark of Green's career. His field goal percentage was the second-best mark of his career, and he also grabbed 4.0 rebounds per game.

MORE: Biggest X-factors in the Eastern Conference

At 33-years-old with 60 games of playoff experience under his belt, Green gives this Jazz team exactly what they need in another veteran presence in the locker room and scorer off the bench. If he can keep that same energy as a scorer for Utah's second unit all season while giving them another reliable player to have on the floor come playoff time, Green could be the perfect bench role player to contribute to a deep playoff push.

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