Every NBA season serves as an opportunity for each player in the league to prove themselves, and the 2021-22 season is no different. But while the opportunity is there for all, some players have more to prove than others. Some have to show that they're still the same player they were prior to an injury issue while others have to prove that they're worth the financial investment that their team made in them. The good news for fans is that players often tend to step their game up a level when they feel like they have something to prove, which leads to elevated play. Hopefully, that will be the case this season. With that said, here's a look at the ten players with the most to prove during the '21-22 campaign.
After his underwhelming performance against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Ben Simmons has a lot to prove during the 2021-22 season, regardless of what team he's on. If the two put their differences aside for the time being, and Simmons starts the season suiting up for the Sixers, he'll have to prove to them that he can be professional and that he might even be worth keeping in town. He can do that by showing growth in his game on the offensive end of the floor.
The more likely scenario is that Simmons is traded and plays his next game for a new franchise. In that case, he'll have to prove to his new team that he was worth investing in. Any team that trades for Simmons will likely have to part with several important pieces in order to acquire him from Philadelphia. The Sixers have maintained an extremely steep asking price. Plus, the team that lands him will be inheriting a contract that still has four years and over $145 million on it. Any team that makes such a move will want to see some serious return on its investment. So, no matter where Simmons plays, he'll be under some serious pressure to perform.
Dennis Schroder's decision to bet on himself last season backfired badly. He turned down a four-year, $84 million extension offer from the Lakers in February, thinking that he could do better on the open market in free agency. That proved not to be the case, as the big offers that Schroder was apparently expecting to receive never came, and he was ultimately forced to sign a one-year deal with the Celtics for $5.9 million.
Schroder was reportedly in shock about the way that his free agency played out, and given the fact that he lost out on nearly $80 million in contract money, it's tough to blame him. The good thing about the NBA, though, is that Schroder will get an opportunity to bounce back and prove that he is indeed worthy of a big-money deal. Schroder will have ample on-court opportunity with the Celtics, and if he can take advantage of it, he should be able to recoup some of that contract money that he missed out on this past offseason.
Two years ago, Victor Oladipo was one of the most promising players in the league. He made back-to-back All-Star teams as a member of the Indiana Pacers in 2018 and 2019, and he appeared poised for many more. However, since then, injury issues have knocked Oladipo's career off course. He played in just 88 total games over the past three seasons, due largely to a lingering quadriceps tendon injury, and he was traded twice in 2021 alone.
As a result of lingering questions about his health, Oladipo was forced to sign a one-year deal for the veteran minimum salary with the Heat over the offseason, as opposed to landing a longer, more lucrative deal. Oladipo now has to go out and prove that he can still be the same player that he was when he made those two All-Star teams. If he's able to do that, he'll make the Heat even more dangerous than they already are, and set himself up for a pretty payday next offseason.
It's fair to say that the upcoming season is a make-or-break one for Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas. The Mavericks brought him in to serve as a sidekick to Luka Doncic, but so far the partnership hasn't particularly panned out. Availability has been an issue for Porzingis, and his chemistry with Doncic -- both on and off the court -- hasn't been great.. Porzingis' production has also been often underwhelming. This past postseason, he averaged just 13.1 points in 33.3 minutes per performance -- not the type of production you'd expect from a secondary offensive option.
Porzingis, who still has three years remaining on his current contract, will have the beginning of the '21-22 season to continue to work on his fit with the franchise and to prove that he's a serviceable sidekick to Doncic. If he's unable to do so, he could find himself on the trading block prior to the deadline.
Spencer Dinwiddie played just three games for the Brooklyn Nets last season due to an ACL injury, but that didn't stop the Washington Wizards from inking him to a three-year, $62 million deal over the offseason. It will now be up to Dinwiddie, 28, to prove to the Wizards that their investment was a good one -- and that he can be the same player that he was before the injury. If he can be that player, it will help the Wizards compete for playoff positioning in a decently deep Eastern Conference. Also, as a player that has started in just 133 of 320 career games, Dinwiddie will have to prove that he can handle the role of being a full-time starting point guard, since that's what he projects to be in Washington.
6. Andre Drummond, Philadelphia 76ers
Andre Drummond is just three years removed from being an NBA All-Star, and just a single season removed from leading the league in rebounding. However, after brief and underwhelming stints in Cleveland and Los Angeles, Drummond now finds himself as the backup to All-Star center Joel Embiid in Philadelphia after signing a one-year deal with the 76ers. At just 28 years old, Drummond likely wants to regain his status as a starting center moving forward. In order to do that, he's going to have to prove that he still has a whole lot left in the tank.
The good news for Drummond is that he should still receive ample on-court opportunity in Philly, given that the team doesn't like to overwork Embiid. Embiid has never averaged more than 33.7 minutes per game over the span of a season -- he averaged 31.1 last season -- and he has also never appeared in more than 64 games in a season. That leaves a lot of time for Drummond to rejuvenate his career. He should get a chance to show that he can contribute to a winning team at a high level. For a player that has never made it past the first round of the playoffs, it's a solid opportunity and one that could be very beneficial to him when he hits the open market again next offseason, if he's able to capitalize on it.
Markelle Fultz remains one of the bigger mysteries in the NBA. He has appeared in more than 19 games in a season just once since the Sixers selected him with the first overall pick in the 2017 Draft, and though he has shown flashes of potential, he has yet to regain the shooting form that he had during his single collegiate season at Washington. At this point in his NBA career, he's just a 26 percent shooter from long range. Plus, now he's coming off of a torn ACL. In other words, there's no shortage of lingering questions when it comes to Fultz. When he's healthy during the upcoming season, he'll get ample opportunity to answer those questions, prove that he can stay healthy, and solidify himself in Orlando's long-term plans.
8. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
There's always inherent pressure that comes with being the top pick, and this year is no different. The Pistons are in the midst of a rebuild, and landing the first pick is an absolute prized possession for any rebuilding team. If the team nails the pick, they'll be in good shape for the foreseeable future. If not, well, to call it a massive missed opportunity would be an understatement, especially when you consider all of the talent that is passed over.
Now, it's on Cunningham to show that he has what it takes to be the future of Detroit basketball. No one is expecting him to blossom into a superstar during his first season, but people -- especially those in Detroit -- will absolutely be looking for him to show signs of superstardom. As such, it will be up to Cunningham to prove that the Pistons made the right pick by selecting him ahead of everyone else in the draft class.
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9. Robert Williams, Boston Celtics
Robert Williams is far from a household name, which makes sense given the fact that he's started just 16 games over the course of his three-year career. However, despite his lack of experience, the Celtics bet big on Williams over the offseason, as they signed him to a four-year, $54 million contract extension. The deal clearly indicates that the Celtics view Williams as their big man of the future. Now, it's up to Williams to go out and prove that he is indeed that.
So far, Williams has been moving in the right direction, and his role with the Celtics has continued to expand since his rookie season. He started in two games and played just 8.8 minutes per game as a rookie. His playing time increased to 13.4 minutes per game during his sophomore season. Last season, he started in 16 games for Boston and averaged 8.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 blocks in 18.9 minutes per performance. Now that the Celtics have invested heavily in him, his playing time figures to increase, as will the pressure that will be on him to perform.
Klay Thompson's status as one of the greatest shooters of all time is already solidified. However, any time a player misses an entire season due to injury issues -- or two in Thompson's case -- they have to go out and prove that they can still perform at, or near, the level they played at prior to the injury. Thompson's case is especially interesting because the level that he was operating at prior to his injury issues was extremely high, and if he's indeed able to regain his old form (or close to it) the Warriors will quickly morph back into legitimate contenders in the Western Conference. If he has lost a step (or two) on either end though, Golden State might need to bring in some outside help in order to maximize the time that Steph Curry is still at, or near, the peak of his powers.
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