Here are the players with a chip on their shoulder or the most pressure to perform during the 2016-17 season, from rookies, to mid-career players, to a certain superstar who may have moved west this summer…
If point guard rotations were like relationships, Jeff Teague would have been the long-term girlfriend that provided a stable relationship with mostly good moments, but Dennis Schroder is that girl that the Hawks had long been intrigued by and wondered if the grass was greener on the other side. The writing had been on the wall for a while before the Hawks pulled the trigger on a Teague trade and gave the keys to Schroder.
Schroder has the ability to fill up a box score with his passing ability and speed to get into the teeth of the defense and create scoring opportunities for others. He needs to prove the Hawks right for betting on him as the conductor of their beautiful, motion and ball movement heavy offense. My feeling is that he will.
This seems a little odd and unfair for a rookie to be the player with the most to prove for any team, but it seems to fit for the Celtics. The Celtics were unable to unload the No. 3 pick and other assets to land a star in the draft and passed up on the opportunity to draft a potential two-way star in Kris Dunn in order to take Brown.
The Celtics have a bevy of back court players and front court players now especially with Al Horford, but outside of Jae Crowder, the Celtics have a dearth of depth on the wing and Brown will have plenty of opportunity/expectation to earn some minutes and play a role this season. He needs to prove he is worth the coveted No. 3 pick.
Jeremy Lin has bounced around quite a bit since breaking out as a Knick and inciting the “Linsanity” hysteria of 2012. He mostly struggled and failed to live up to the hype after signing with the Rockets, and then failed to have much of an effect as part of a tire fire in Los Angeles for the Lakers for a few seasons. He seemed to have a bit of a revival in Charlotte last season playing in the same back court with Kemba Walker as a combo guard and backup point guard and as a member of a depleted roster in Brooklyn will have every opportunity to see if there is some Linsanity magic still left in the tank.
Although he signed a four-year, $48 million extension right before going down with a torn labrum last season, the 22-year-old (yes still only 22) former No. 2 pick has to prove he is still an improving and starting caliber wing player that can be an elite defender and major part of the Charlotte Hornets future.
Gilchrist seems to be forgotten in the shuffle with the Hornets organization and young players in his class, he will need to re-assert himself in the 2016-17 season after missing the 2015-16 season.
The Bulls are a very bizarre fit roster composition wise as a team that has two ball-heavy, usage heavy guards in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, neither of which can shoot from range and create more space for the team to operate. That places even more importance on McDermott’s ability to provide long range shooting and stretch the floor. He needs to become a passable defender and reliable knock down shooter to maximize his increased opportunity with the Bulls this season.
Another rookie choice here as the reigning champs have a big experience hole at the point guard position behind Kyrie Irving. Mo Williams has decided to retire and the Cavs lost Matthew Dellavedova to the Bucks in free agency, leaving Felder and little else at the back up point guard position. This means at least initially it seems, that Felder will be given a huge opportunity to be a rotational player out of the gate for the champs.
This is probably the player with the most to prove in the entire NBA this season. Many front office people around the league have hypothesized that Barnes could step in to a lead scorer and expanded role if given the opportunity. He has been paid $24 million per season and has that exact opportunity and expectation in Dallas this season. Will Barnes show the confidence, grit and game to fill that role in Dallas? Or will he be nothing more than a third or fourth option? It will be interesting to find out.
Faried seems and has seemed to be on the outs in Denver so he may not have the opportunity to prove or improve his value while a member of the Nuggets. He is clearly a high level rebounder and energy player who can be a double-double machine, but is not a great defender or scorer. Is he worth high-level money as a starting four in the NBA? Or is he just an overpaid rotational player who can play about 24 minutes and have some great nights? Faried needs to prove his worth.
Many (myself included) saw Johnson as an instant contributor and dark horse candidate for rookie of the year last year. What we got was an inconsistent and raw forward who failed to earn consistent playing time regularly and seem to lack some maturity. Johnson was a negative offensive player (-3.5 plus/minus) and shot 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. Johnson must prove he is worth his top 10 draft status in year two.
You could argue one of the Warriors unproven players who will need to fill a role this season such as Patrick McCaw, but let’s be honest here, Kevin Durant turned the NBA upside down by joining a 73-win team and now faces intense pressure ans scrutiny to help lead the Warriors to win a title this season.
With Superman out of town and the Rockets trotting James Harden out at point guard to play the Steve Nash role in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, that means the Rockets figure to be comically awful at stopping the opposition and will need Clint Capela to take the starting center and rim protector role and run with it. He looked great in short spurts behind Howard the past couple seasons, but can he be great with an expanded role and increased minutes and responsibility? The Rockets better hope so.
Monta Ellis’s career has been a roller coaster of under valued to over valued and back again. He started out as a 2nd round draft pick out of high school that had to develop and play his way onto the roster and into a role on the Warriors. He became a break out player before falling out of favor and being dealt to Milwaukee. He would sign with Dallas on the cheap after struggling there and establish himself as a valuable go-to scorer alongside Dirk. Then he wound up in Indiana where he struggled mightily last season. He must prove he is worth consistent minutes and become more efficient to not get lost in the shuffle for a revamped Pacers squad.
Griffin has a break though 2015 postseason and flashed his Barkley-Malone-LeBron hybrid massive ceiling before faltering much like his Clippers and blowing a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets in the 2nd round. Fast forward to last season and he is still seen as a top 7 or so player and an MVP candidate and then has a number of injuries, one of which is a broken hand while punching an equipment manager in a nightmarish season and went from untouchable to almost a member of the Denver Nuggets.
If Griffin wants to be seen as a superstar and franchise cornerstone worthy of $25+ million per year this off-season he must restore his reputation and have a great season devoid of injury and drama.
The Los Angeles made the first splash (or not) of free agency at midnight by announcing they had signed Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million deal to be their starting center after falling out of the rotation in Cleveland.
There aren’t very high expectations for the Lakers once again this season, but the fan base and management will be very upset if Mozgov doesn’t play well and at least prove to be a dependable starter at center. Not really the center the fans want in Tinsel Town after being spoiled by Wilt, Kareem, Shaq, Pau Gasol and even Dwight Howard.
Chandler Parsons was the first big free agent acquisition in Memphis Grizzlies history as he signed a massive four year, $94 million deal to be the team’s missing piece at small forward. Parsons has had chronic knee issues though and his injury history makes the pricey signing risky. He needs to be able to put together an effective, healthy season if the Grizzlies want to re-enter the top-tier of the west and he wants to prove he is worth $24 million a season.
Dion Waiters has seen his stock as an NBA player steadily fall since being the No. 4 pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. He didn’t get along with Irving, was cast out for not buying in when LeBron came back to Cleveland, filled a role but not consistently on another contender in Oklahoma City and waited out free agency, getting chump change compared to many other players as money was spent in mind-boggling quantities. He has been given a golden opportunity though, with no Wade in Miami, he will be given every opportunity to be a big time scorer and contributor to restore his value. The question is if he will actually take advantage of it.
The Bucks are in dire need of skilled and mentally sane basketball players on the wing. Khris Middleton will miss most of the season. the Greek Freak is playing point guard and Jabari Parker will be used more as a small ball four. Rashad Vaughn is just the young wing player and scorer that the Bucks will need to step up and fill a role if they have any chance of returning to the postseason.
Another case of a guy who may have to prove himself elsewhere, Rubio is the last real holdover from the previous era of the Timberwolves and is a player they have been trying to deal for about a year, especially now with their anointed point guard of the future in Kris Dunn. Rubio is a special passer and ball handler who can defend and fill up a boxscore, but he is a rare point guard in today’s game who can’t shoot or create space for his team to operate as a non-offensive threat which greatly limits his effectiveness in today’s NBA. If he could even shoot 33-36% from three he would be a top 10 point guard.
Hill is another player that got a big contract this summer and is expected to see increased role and increased responsibility with the Pelicans. He is a sort of jack of all trades, master of none type player akin to a Boris Diaw or a poor man’s Draymond Green and will need to give the Pelicans some ball handling, three-point shooting and defensive ability for a team dying for healthy and consistent contributors every season. He will need to show he can be a starting caliber player.
Another shocker here. Rose has consistently been a disappointed with scattered flashes of his previous self the past few seasons when on the court. The Knicks were able to get him for little value because there was no market for Rose and basically no one else wanted him. He is on the final year on his current deal and seems to have his final opportunity to be a starting point guard in the NBA, he must prove he is worth the gamble and not damaged goods on (and off) the court.
The Thunder made the biggest splash on draft night, dealing long time rim protector and core player Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illyasova and the rights to draft Domantas Sabonis. At the time many though Oladipo would team up with Westbrook and Durant, but then Durant somewhat shocked the world (and took the easy route) by signing with the Golden State Warriors. Now Oladipo is going to be counted on to be a go-to player, and the number two option for a suddenly much different Thunder team alongside Russell Westbrook. The Magic dealt him because they decided Evan Fournier was the better player and wanted to build around him on the perimeter instead of Oladipo, Victor needs to prove them wrong and step up in a big way of the Thunder want to remain contenders.
The Magic had easily the most perplexing off-season of any NBA team pumping a bunch of money and trading valuable assets to have a five-man deep front court with little wing depth. No Oladipo or Harris means that Hezonja will have to step up and play big minutes on the wing alongside Evan Fournier and for a player with talent that struggled in his rookie season with consistency, he really needs to step up for the Magic this season if they want to take a step forward into the playoff picture.
Joel Embiid hasn’t done much since entering the NBA in 2014 besides be an entertaining Twitter follow and massive disappointment for not being able to debut in his first two years in the NBA. The foot issues are finally quelled for the moment and he is ready to go for the 2016-17 season. There were be plenty of pressure on him to show he was worth the wait and the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Alex Len has shown some flashes throughout his career of being an aggressive and effective rim protector and rebounder with a little touch in his first three seasons after being the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but due to injuries and an inability to lock down consistent minutes, he has been able to have the affect the Suns were hoping for. He is behind Tyson Chandler still and will not start this season while Chandler is healthy (or until the Suns go in full on tank mode), but he needs to flash or show he is worth keeping around as the center of the future before his rookie contract expires.
Evan Turner has seen his value rise and crater throughout his career after being the No. 2 pick in the draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He restored some of his value after falling out of favor and the rotation in Indiana and showed some of the all-around stat sheet stuffing, secondary ball handler and creator ability that made him a desired prospect while on the the Celtics. He turned that into a huge, four-year, $72 million contract with the Blazers and will now be expected to be a missing piece for a budding contender. He needs to prove he is worth the contract and can co-exist effectively alongside two other talented ball handlers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Remember Ben McLemore? That silky smooth and athletic two-guard out of Kansas that many thought could be the next Ray Allen? Whatever happened to him? That’s right his is toiling away on a cellar-dwelling and dysfunctional Kings team.
After showing some promise in year two, McLemore saw his minutes decrease dramatically in year three (from 32.6 to 21.2) and his production and confidence as well. This team is dying for production from their back court and McLemore needs to show he is worthy of being a valued member of the franchise beyond his rookie deal.
Danny Green is at times one of the most vital 3-and-D guys in the NBA with his ability to defend the wing and knock down open threes. He also has a superpower for thwarting LeBron James fast breaks (see: 2013 and 2014 NBA Finals). He took a huge step back last season with his efficiency and didn’t seem like the same player. With Tony Parker aging, Jonathan Simmons looming and Dejounte Murray set to steal some minutes, Green needs to step up to assert his value and role with the team moving forward.
This is more of a personal desire to prove himself pick than a need to establish his actual value in some ways. Jared Sullinger has improved every season in the NBA and become a solid three-point shooters and elite rebounder in limited minutes. He played a role in the Celtics success last season but was only able to manage a one-year, $5 million contract with the Raptors in free agency while players like Ian Mahinmi got deals like four years, $64 million. He will be on a mission to be the missing piece for the Raptors and prove that he was the best value signing of the off-season.
Sometimes the mystery international player that shoots up draft boards works out like in the Greek Freak’s case and sometimes it doesn’t like may be the case with Dante Exum. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and has still proved very little and played very little against NBA competition.
The Jazz are trying to make the leap to playoff team and maybe contender this season and brought in a slew of veteran ball handlers in George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw, so minutes may be hard to come by for Exum, but he needs to prove his worth or status as an NBA player and show some flashes if he wants to have a future in Utah.
Beal has looked like the exact kind of silky, smooth and athletic two-guard any franchise would want at times in his career, including in two postseason appearances. He has been hampered by in juries that past two seasons though and his development has been stunted.
Never the less, he signed a massive, five year, $127 million extension this off-season and the Wizards are putting all their chips on the table that he will develop into a perennial all-star and franchise cornerstone for them, time for him to prove it.