Five NBA Players With the Most to Prove This Season

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Andrew Wiggins (22) of the Minnesota Timberwolves wipes sweat from his brow against the Denver Nuggets during the second quarter. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, December 28, 2016. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

It’s dangerous for a writer to set standards for an athlete of a sport in which he/she never played at a high level. However, last season, NBA players aggressively heightened their expectations with bold actions. A select few NBA players have plenty to prove in the upcoming season to meet the standards set for them.

Five NBA Players With Most To Prove this Season

Russell Westbrook

NBA witch hunts aren’t uncommon in the media. Players are burdened with unworldly expectations, which, in turn, makes it difficult to go through with these articles. However, polarizing players seem to place the target on their back with pride, and Russell Westbrook is target practice in human form.

Westbrook, a former MVP, and up until this past summer, the face of a franchise with perennial playoff experience, is under heavy scrutiny.

Nothing lasts forever.

Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti constructed the roster for Westbrook to hide his moles and had every right to do so. There were some odd player-catering methods which raised eyebrows across the league. For example, centers yielded their rebounding efforts for the sake of the OKC star. NBC’s Tom Haberstroh (then ESPN writer) thoroughly investigated the bold claim.

The stars were aligned the year Westbrook won the infamous 2016-17 regular season MVP. Westbrook steered a ship filled with flaws straight to an MVP acceptance speech. Despite the ego-boosting love from Oklahoma’s faithful, Westbrook mustered up a whopping zero playoff series wins after Durant’s departure.

Although unlike Oklahoma, the Houston Rockets have an NBA championship or bust mentality.

The pressure is cooking for the former MVP of the league. Whether his reunion with James Harden succeeds weighs on Westbrook’s adapting skills. In light of the Warriors offseason, the Houston Rockets aren’t far from a trip to the NBA Finals. Therefore, it’s imperative Westbrook doesn’t fall back into his bad habits.

Room for Improvement

Westbrook’s team defense must improve for the backcourt marriage to work. Too many times does the UCLA alum fall asleep on defensive assignments. This critique isn’t to say he needs to be an All-NBA defender, but at least not a liability.

Westbrook was never accused of being a bad teammate. However, time and time again, players exponentially improve when leaving the superstar’s side. This season needs to be the change of narrative for Westbrook.

Even if Westbrook is younger and more explosive than Chris Paul, the fit with Harden has been dissected more than DeMarcus Cousins on defense. It’s clear the 11-year NBA veteran isn’t afraid to hoist up shots. Westbrook’s career 30 percent three-point percentage doesn’t bode well with the Rockets m.o..

Although Westbrook is known as a hard-working professional, it’s his mentality which needs to change the most for the Rockets to ascend as champions. Will the change of scenery influence him to change his me-against-the-world approach?

The outcome of the Rockets’ 2019-20 season is indicative of Westbrook’s NBA future and, perhaps, the legacy of his career.

Andrew Wiggins

There is nothing wrong with players getting the money they deserve. To regular folks, the contracts may seem astronomical, but it’s what the market offers these talented players. Players typically earn what they deserve, and sometimes teams overpay, but then there is an absolute robbery of contracts given to certain players in the league.

Former number-one overall pick in 2014, Minnesota Timberwolves’ small forward Andrew Wiggins, is the perfect example of a player not coming close to the standard of their contract.

Before Minnesota offered a five-year deal worth nearly $148 million, Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor publicly questioned the effort of the former Kansas Jayhawk. Such a report is either a red flag for Wiggins’ growth or a boss merely digging deep to inspire his employee.

In retrospect, maybe it was the wiser choice to wait for Wiggins to hit the open market. No matter the case, the deal is done and all the Wolves can do is hope Wiggins will be more than a scorer and an athlete with great potential.

The Biggest “If” in the NBA

Potential is something that hasn’t happened yet.

There was a hype surrounding Wiggins as a capable defender in college. Furthermore, the scouting reports on Draft Express touted the Kansas product as “extremely effective” in his one-and-done collegiate career. The scouting report went on to claim Wiggins had the potential to be a “multi-positional lockdown defender as he matured and gets stronger.”

Perhaps Draft Express is right and Wiggins’ time as a legitimate star is upon us. On the contrary, even the brightest of minds strike out on theories. Advanced stats say the 23-year-old wing isn’t anywhere close to contributing on a higher level.

Wiggins isn’t putting Minnesota in positions to win, the appalling 0.6 win share last season is indicative of such a claim. An NBA player who’s gifted with an athletic build yet is still a terrible defender is like having a fire truck with no water hose.

Regardless of the “get off my lawn” stance, the sentiment is shared around the NBA media. People look at Wiggins’ contract as a burden. It’s imperative for the Wolves’ future that Wiggins evolves into a complete NBA player, rather than a black hole on offense.

Anthony Davis

The Los Angeles Lakers wagered a hefty load on Anthony Davis taking the purple and gold back into championship relevancy. Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, maneuvered the New Orleans Pelicans in a grip rivaling Thor’s hammer level of force. Team loyalty was challenged, fans thought they were respected, and someone lost a job.

With the brightest of lights hovering over the superstar power forward, it’s apparent the pressure is at it’s highest. Davis doesn’t have the previous pass for playing on a subpar team. LeBron James won’t allow it and neither will the Lakers’ fanbase. Davis got what he wanted, and now it’s time to justify his method of landing in LA.

Self-Created Pressure

Even with a six-time all-star and the face of the league with three championships on the roster, there are glaring holes on the Lakers’ roster. Expecting Davis to fill the gaps is not the fairest task, but we are past the point of equitable rules. James was crushed for not reaching the playoffs last season despite the average roster bestowed to him. Davis has one of the best players of all time as his running mate. His room for error is as thin as Magic Johnson‘s threshold of patience for Rob Pelinka.

It’s hard to judge Davis’ on-court stats with him only playing 56 games last season. Considering his counting stats from previous season hovered around his career averages, it’s fair to say he had a good season. How Rich Paul put the league on notice wasn’t the best look for Anthony Davis.

Davis, of course, is by no means a bad person for demanding a trade. By all means, this isn’t the first time a player has voiced their frustration. However, Anthony Davis’ representation publicly took on the New Orleans Pelicans. Saying the trade could have gone a tad bit more subtle would be a safe assumption, but then you realize it was the Lakers the Pelicans were dealing with it all makes sense.

Anthony Davis is prime for an MVP-caliber season. Even if the Lakers last playoff game was in 2013, the Los Angeles franchise’s expectations exceed a first-round playoff series win.

Devin Booker

If basketball were only about scoring points, Carmelo Anthony would still be in the league.

Devin Booker is four years deep in the NBA and has yet to make the tiniest of ripples in the NBA waters. Sure, he has his $158 million deal and no one his blaming him for taking the money. But with the money comes responsibility. It’s foolish to assume the Phoenix Suns’ woes fall solely on Booker’s back. Again, the road to growth leads back to expectations.

Devin Booker is a poor defensive player. This statement reveals no revelations. Focusing on defense isn’t reflective of his box plus/minus statistics. Including players with at least 60 games played, Booker had the second-worst defensive box plus/minus at -3 per 100 possesions. The player he trailed was 38-year-old guard, Jamal Crawford.

Perhaps Booker’s defensive effort will show itself with Ricky Rubio as a veteran on the floor. Making an argument for Booker’s defensive effort taking a backseat due to carrying such a heavy load on offense is a sound assessment. However, at a certain point, excuses run thin.

Booker publicly stated he wanted to make the playoffs. With the Western Conference as deep as it’s been in quite some time, those playoff hopes are as good as dead unless Booker and the rest of the Suns can take an astounding leap. The days of Booker is a good scorer on a bad team are close to eye-rolling territory.

Chris Paul

It seems like Chris Paul is on the verge of basketball exile. Fair or not, his contract and the opinions held by some of Paul’s former peers don’t help. Yes, Chris Paul reportedly isn’t the easiest person to get along with, but neither was Michael Jordan. Paul is one of the greatest point guards of all time.

If it weren’t for a nagging hamstring injury suffered in the Western Conference Finals in 2018, we could be talking about Chris Paul in a different light. Narratives can form and fold on a whim. Although in Paul’s case, for the most part, history isn’t on his side. NBA championship point guards listed at 6’0 and under aren’t typically the best player on the team. NBA Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas is the only exception who comes to mind.

If you’re expecting Paul to lead any team to significant playoff contention, you’re sorely mistaken. At this juncture in his career, Paul can’t be the star quarterback of a championship team; however, a winning team can still use his services. Unfortunately for the veteran point guard, the second chance to play for a relevant team comes down to Paul walking away from a good chunk of $160 million.

NBA Role Change

The other factor in Paul’s reincarnation of a basketball player: his attitude.

Coaches love him, for he is an extended coach on the court. However, players aren’t as fond of the control freak nature of play. In Chris Paul’s heyday, it was acceptable to pound the ball into the hardwood for 15 seconds. Now, at Paul’s advanced basketball age, he needs to step further from the idea of controlling the flow of the offense.

In fairness to Paul, to an extent, he did ease up on his controlling nature for the sake of making it work with James Harden.

But the change must not stop there. For Paul’s relevance as a playoff performer to stay afloat, he must bite his tongue with players. Paul may be right in his assessment of what his teammates need to do, but his rough around the edges reputation doesn’t work as much as an aging player.

Paul is at a crossroads in his career. Either he stubbornly sticks to his ways like Carmelo Anthony or the championship-starved guard looks in the mirror and changes for the betterment of his career.

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