Let’s take a look at five players that should know they have so much to prove this upcoming NBA season. Players that have excelled and have the ability to make their team so much better.
Michael Porter Jr.
Prior to being drafted in 2018, many thought that Michael Porter Jr. could’ve been one of the top picks in the draft. Due to back injuries though, Porter ended up being drafted with the 14th overall pick by the Denver Nuggets. Porter would not play the 2018-19 season and only ended up playing 55 games during the 2019-2020 season. After averaging 9.3 PPG and 4.7 RPG his rookie season, Porter took a leap, averaging 19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, and 1.1 APG in 61 games. That was enough to get Porter a five-year deal worth almost $179 Million. Last season, Porter would only play nine games before missing the rest of the season due to back injuries again. Looking to the 2022-23 season, reports have noted that Porter should be back and healthy. If he is healthy, he could be a big contributor alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. If Porter can play in at least 60 games and perform close to how he did during the 2020-21 season, the Nuggets could be a dark horse in the Western Conference. If the back injuries keep Porter out for an extended period during this season, it may be a sign that Denver made a mistake giving him the extension they did.
No one had a season as tough on and off the court as Russell Westbrook did during the 2020-21 season. After a strong season with the Washington Wizards, Westbrook was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2021-22 season. The expectations were high for the 2020 champions as Westbrook joined LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers had a rough most out of the Lakers big three, playing 78 games. In those games, 18.5 PPG (his lowest scoring average since the 2009-10 season), 7.4 RPG, and 7.1 APG. Westbrook spent most of the season in trade rumors and was almost traded back to the Houston Rockets at the deadline. While many thought he would be moved in the offseason, the Lakers decided to keep the former MVP, running it back for the 2022-23 season. With Westbrook in the last year of his deal, he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. With the odds of him returning to the Lakers for the 2023-24 season and beyond, Westbrook will be playing to earn a contract, possibly his last big contract, being 34 at the end of next season. Alongside health, Westbrook will be one of the biggest factors for the Lakers this season. If they do good, Westbrook could get one more contract in the offseason. If the Lakers do bad, it is likely Westbrook will take most of the blame again, if he is not traded before the end of the season.
The 2021-22 season saw Bulls center Nikola Vucevic take a step back in comparison to his previous few seasons. After playing a handful of games with Zach Lavine during the 2020-21 season, Vooch took was the main player to take a reduced role when the Bulls brought in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. He dropped from 21.5 PPG to 17.6 PPG, while his three-point percentage dropped from 38% to 31%. While he is still a great rebounder and a solid scoring option for the Bulls, Vooch struggled on the defensive end at times. Being in the Eastern Conference, Vucevic has to compete with some of the best big men in the league like Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Heading into a contract year and being a big man over 30, Vooch needs to step up not only for the contract but for the Bulls as well. While he can still be a started center in the league, teams may not see the same value in him as the Orlando Magic did when they gave him a four-year, $100 Million contract. Vucevic needs to step up on both ends of the court. One of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league, Vooch could become more valuable if he can improve his three-point shooting again. Vucevic also needs to be able to compete on the defensive end with the best big men in the league. If he can compete with the best big men in the league, Vooch can be a keeper for the Bulls in a deep playoff run.
Everyone knows how last season went for Kyrie Irving. Easily the most talked about player in the league for all the wrong reasons. Irving’s decision to not play for half the season soured him in the eyes of fans, and management alike. Irving’s decision played a role in the eventual James Harden for Ben Simmons trade, as well as the Nets’ struggle throughout the season. In the 29 games Irving played, he averaged 27.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 5.8 APG. After the Nets got swept in the playoffs, the drama only continued for Irving. Following trade requests and not getting the extension he wanted, Irving decided to opt into his contract, running it back with the Nets in hopes of winning a championship. Unless something goes wrong, Irving is expected to play all of the upcoming 2022-23 season in Brooklyn. Heading into the offseason as a free agent, everyone knows the Los Angeles Lakers will be one of the main teams in line to sign Irving and that will most likely be where he ends up. Depending on how the season goes for the Nets, Brooklyn may or may not offer Irving a new contract. While he may not need to prove himself in terms of what he does on the court, fans, management, and executives all over the league believe Irving has to prove himself after what he did during the 2021-22 season.
The Net on this list, Ben Simmons has been one of the more controversial players over the last two seasons. Simmons has been criticized everywhere on the offensive end. In his fourth season, Simmons averaged a career-low 14.4 PPG in 58 games. The last time he played was Game 7 of the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals, with the ending of the game destroying the relationship between Simmons and the teams as well as Simmons and the fanbase. Following months of heckling from fans, news outlets, and media personalities, Simmons was traded to Brooklyn. He did not play a game after being traded, with back injuries and mental health issues holding Simmons out. In the offseason, Ben Simmons has appeared to be healthy. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both staying for the 2022-23 season, Ben Simmons will be seen as the third option if healthy. While he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate a couple of seasons ago, Simmons needs to improve on the offensive end. Simmons is known as one of the worst three-point shooters in the league and free throw shooters in the league. While he has been criticized for not being disciplined and wanting to grow as a player, going all the way back to college, Simmons must improve his work ethic and game. If he does not, his future in the league looks bleak.
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