In this post, we take a look at the NBA players who have something to prove. Players that have not lived up to expectations. These players were high draft picks and were projected to make big impacts in the league. To this point, they have come up way short. Let’s take a look at them.
Ben Simmons is not the player he once was, and it looks like he’ll never be that player again. Prior to the 2021 playoffs, Simmons was averaging 14.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 6.9 APG in 58 games to averaging 6.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 6.1 APG in 42 games. After sitting out all of the 2021-22 season, Simmons would miss just under half the team’s games this past season. It was clear towards the end of the season that Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn did not have a spot for Simmons in the rotation. Rumors came out throughout the second half of the season that the Nets would gauge Simmons value this offseason, but nothing has come of it.
Making $37M this upcoming season and over $40M for the 2024-25 season, he has one of, if not the worst contracts in the league. Simmons is at a point where many believe he will never be an All-Star again and that he will be out of the league after his current contract ends. Recent reports have come out saying Simmons is ready for the 2023-24 season, but many have their doubts as there have been videos of Simmons shooting threes in previous offseasons as well. For Ben Simmons, the 2023-24 season could be do or die for his NBA career. If he can get his head back in the game, there may be hope for his future in the league. If not, it’s likely Simmons days in the NBA are numbered.
The fourth overall pick of the 2020 draft, Patrick Williams has underperformed in the eyes of many. Some have argued he has the potential of a Kawhi Leonard, while others have already labeled him as a bust. In his first three seasons in the league, Williams struggled at times on the court, hesitant to shoot the ball. He’s played 71, 17, and 82 games in his first three seasons, averaging over 10.0 PPG for the first time this past season. Some have argued that Williams’ development has been hindered by the Bulls trio of stars while others have argued he won’t live up to the expectations he has been given.
The Chicago Bulls exercised their club options for Williams for the 2023-24 season, with him set to become a restricted free agent next summer. This season is not only big for Williams but for the Bulls as well. With the Bulls looking at a make-or-break season for the core of Zach Lavine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic, a horrible season could see Chicago move into another rebuild. Recent reports have suggested that in the event that another Bulls rebuild happens, the front office has viewed Williams as the player to build around. A breakout season for Williams could see him land a big contract, whether it’s with Chicago or another team. If Williams has another mediocre season, it may be time for Chicago to move on from The Paw.
There is no doubt that Zion Williamson is a great NBA player. When he’s on the court, he plays like an MVP contender and the New Orleans Pelicans play like a playoff contender. When Zion was on the court during the early months of the season, the Pelicans were dominating and sitting near and at the top of the Western Conference for a time. When Zion went out, New Orleans would drop, eventually missing the playoffs completely. The problem with Zion Williamson is that he’s almost never on the court. In his four seasons in the league so far, Zion has played 24 games, 61, 0, and 29.
There have been countless reports during Zion’s time in the league about his relationship with the Pelicans organization and fanbase. Rumors in the late months of the season suggested the Pelicans may have been willing to move on from Zion for the Trailblazers 2023 draft pick, but nothing ever happened. It did not help that Williamson’s name came up in off-the-court drama. Having signed a five-year max contract that starts during the 2023-24 season, Zion must prove he can stay healthy. While it’s unlikely the Pelicans would trade Zion, they would likely get a significant haul back if they did.
Like Zion drafted right before him, Ja Morant is a great player. When he’s on the court, Morant plays at an MVP level and the Memphis Grizzlies succeed. This past season, Ja received an MVP vote averaging 26.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 8.1 APG, while the Grizzlies finished 51-31, second in the Western Conference. While there haven’t been many issues with Ja on the court, most of them have come off the court. In his most notable off-the-court drama, Ja was suspended in March for eight games after he was caught on Instagram Live with a firearm. Memphis would not have any problems during Ja’s first suspension, but Ja would lose out on money.
It’s likely that Ja’s suspension also played a role in him not making an All-NBA team and missing out on contract incentives. Having been suspended a second time after being caught with a firearm on Instagram Live for a second time, Ja will miss the first 25 games of the 2023-24 season. Ja is set to lose more money due to this suspension, and it’s unknown at the time how his suspension will affect the Grizzlies over the first quarter of the season. For Ja, the remaining 57 games Ja will be available for will be the perfect opportunity for the young Grizzlies star to prove he is past his off-the-court antics and his focus is on the game.
If there is one player who suffered from his own success and from the Warriors’ woes this past season, it was Jordan Poole. Having played a significant role in the Warriors’ 2022 championship run, Poole was set for a big extension, ending in a four-year, $128M deal. Around the same time, Poole was punched by teammate Draymond Green during practice, something that would ruin the relationship between the two as well as heavily impacting the chemistry of the team. Poole would have a career season, playing all 82 games while averaging a career-high 20.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 2.7 APG.
Come the NBA playoffs, the Poole of the regular season was gone, putting on disappointing performances throughout the Warriors’ 13 playoff games. Poole would put up 10 or fewer points in seven of the 13 games, shooting 25% from three over the playoff run. Poole would eventually be traded in the offseason to the Washington Wizards for veteran guard Chris Paul, something that both helps their chemistry and books as the new CBA would’ve impacted the Warriors for their spending. Now on a Washington Wizards team with no aspirations for the 2023-24 season, many expect Poole to have a breakout year, but for Poole, his biggest accomplishment this upcoming season will be proving the Warriors made a mistake by trading him.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
Even though they’ve been seen as NBA contenders the last four seasons, the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era of the Los Angeles Clippers has been anything but pretty. In Leonard’s and George’s four seasons together, the Clippers have won 49, 47, 42, and 44 games. Some have argued that the 2019-20 season could’ve been their best chance to win a championship, if not for Covid-19 and the bubble. The Clippers made the Western Conference Finals in the 2021 playoffs, losing to the Phoenix Suns. They would miss the playoffs during the 2021-22 playoffs and lose in the first round this past season.
The main problem the Clippers have is that Kawhi and PG are always getting hurt. Both miss significant time during the season and have both missed playoff time. Leonard would get hurt before and miss the entire Western Conference Finals in 2021 and both PG would miss the first round of the 2023 playoffs while Kawhi would miss games 3-5. Looking to the 2023-24 season, both are expected to be ready to play. Both are expected to miss a handful of games due to load management, but if they miss more, it could spell disaster for themselves and the Clippers. Both players have player options for the 2024-25 season, being eligible for extension talks this upcoming season. Recent rumors suggested the Clippers and Knicks had discussed a potential trade for Paul George, but it did not go any further than that. Set to move into a new arena for the 2024-25 season, the Clippers need to have a star. While anything is possible, it is possible the Clippers could trade one or both stars, but most likely Paul George. This season is without a doubt make-or-break for the Kawhi/PG era of the Clippers. If the superstar duo could remain healthy going into the playoffs, they could be a dark horse championship contender. If not, this will likely be the last year the NBA sees Kawhi and PG together.
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