NBA

7 NBA players under the most pressure in the 2022 season

October 14, 2021; Sacramento, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6, left) and guard Russell Westbrook (0) sit on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As a new season nears in the NBA, residual storylines from previous years still linger. The offseason saw many changes to rosters across the association. However, the narratives that pertain to teams and players remain. These scenarios that persist throughout the league come with an apparent load of pressure on those involved.

They vary between situations, but in every season, people become more oriented around particular scenes across the association. This stems from either previous, ongoing, or impending issues surrounding each case. Here, our focus lies on the players.

For them, the pressure is often based on contract negotiations, playing up to one’s potential, playoff success, and many other factors. With all that in mind, this article lists the seven NBA players operating under the most pressure for the 2021-22 season.

Ben Simmons

Jun 20, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons warms up before game seven of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What could I say that hasn’t already been said here?

At this point, we don’t yet know where Ben Simmons will play for the majority of next season. Regardless, he has to perform at a higher level than we’ve seen before. Many understand that Ben Simmons doesn’t have a conventional style of play for the NBA. However, the limitations of his game stand alone against his rise to superstardom. His lack of scoring prowess hampers his team’s overall performance on the offensive end of the floor. That being the case, he has to emphasize other elements of his game to help his team win.

How he performs this go-around will play a pivotal role in how his value on the open market changes. Having just returned to Philadelphia, he’ll have much to overcome at the start of the season. He’ll have to prove that he can still be a superstar for any team to seek out a trade. Ultimately, this season should show us what to expect from the former first overall pick moving forward.

Kristaps Porzingis

May 30, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) warms up before game four against the LA Clippers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Mavericks acquired Kristaps Porzingis from New York, expectations were high. Having seen what he did as Knick, most figured that placing him next to the phenomenal Luka Doncic would propel Dallas to championship viability. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out the way anyone foresaw.

Porzingis has struggled to find his footing in Dallas. In the last postseason, the friction reared its head as the Latvian forward looked out of place against the Clippers. It reached a point where trade rumors began to surface. However, newly-appointed head coach Jason Kidd hopes to remedy the issue to avoid such a decision.

If the Mavericks hope to take the next step up to championship contention, they’ll need Porzingis to return to form. Otherwise, he’ll become an anchor for the team in the coming years. At his cap hit, Dallas needs him to produce at a higher level than we’ve seen up to this point.

James Harden

Jun 15, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Brooklyn Nets shooting guard James Harden (13) controls the ball against Milwaukee Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday (21) during the third quarter of game five of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden has all but set his legacy in stone. He has propped himself up to elite status and remained there for the better part of the last decade. Despite the scoring titles and MVP considerations that he’s earned, one accolade still eludes him: the NBA championship. Though he has dominated in the regular season, the postseason has constantly marked a dip in his performance. Overcoming that would add so much more to what he’s already accomplished.

Harden joined the Brooklyn Nets via trade early on in the 2020-21 season. A hamstring injury during the playoffs kept him from playing his best down the stretch. His team would ultimately fall in the second round to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. That said, Brooklyn came quite close to beating Milwaukee without getting much from Harden anyway, which speaks volumes about their talent.

The Nets are one of the favorites to win this year’s NBA championship, and pressure will rest on Harden to deliver such results to them. Especially with Kyrie Irving out in the meantime, James Harden will have to carry a more significant load for his team. Should the Nets falter in the postseason, it’ll only put another stain on his legacy.

Russell Westbrook

Aug 10, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Russell Westbrook poses with Los Angeles Lakers jersey at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For someone who has averaged a triple-double four times in the last five seasons, many of us seem pretty underwhelmed by Russel Westbrook’s career. It’s not to downplay what he has accomplished, but a lack of championship success breeds such disappointment.

Westbrook has, in the past, partnered up with great players like James Harden, Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant. Despite that, he has never managed to make it to the top of the ladder as an NBA champion. He has only ever made it to the NBA finals once in his career.

Now teaming up with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers, the pressure will mount once more on Westbrook to win. As LA is only a year removed from their championship victory in the NBA bubble, they still have the requisite pieces to thrive. Adding Westbrook should only supplement the team. If he fails to do so, it’ll be an even greater indictment on his legacy.

Paul George

Jun 30, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; LA Clippers guard Paul George (13) shoots a free throw in the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns during game six of the Western Conference Finals for the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Because of the injury to Kawhi Leonard, most have tamped down their expectations for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. That said, the team and its fans should still expect a playoff berth. Beyond their depth, they still have a perennial all-star in Paul George to hold down the fort.

A premier two-way player, George overcame his playoff demons from past years. Led by him and the concerted efforts from LA’s key contributors, the Clippers made it to their first Western Conference finals in 2021. Though they’d come up short, Phoenix’s triumph wouldn’t come without a fight from their opponent.

It has been a while since Paul George was the lone all-star on his team. But knowing that past, we can confidently say that he has what it takes to carry his team to the postseason. He’ll have all eyes on him as the Clippers prepare themselves for the season ahead.

Rudy Gobert

Oct 4, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Rudy Gobert won the defensive player of the year award for the 2020-21 NBA season. Then the Los Angeles Clippers thoroughly exploited his defensive limits en route to eliminating the Jazz from the playoffs. Not to undercut how effective Gobert is and has been for his career, but that series completely exposed him.

Coming into this season, he’ll have to expand his range on defense as teams will likely adopt the Clippers’ strategy of running a small-ball lineup against Utah. If he doesn’t adapt, he may become a liability at some point. This will likely force Quin Snyder to bench his star big man for extended periods of play.

The Jazz finished atop the Western Conference standings last season. With minor changes to the roster, they look to repeat those successes and make their way towards a deeper playoff run this go around. How Gobert bounces back from last year will be a critical factor in whether they accomplish this goal.

Pascal Siakam

Mar 31, 2021; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) dribbles the ball up the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Pascal Siakam hasn’t looked the same since the NBA bubble. Once touted as a future superstar, the former Most Improved Player has played below expectations. In his defense, the Toronto Raptors were dealt a bad hand over the past year. Playing away from their home building undoubtedly keyed into their downfall in 2021.

As they return, we’ll get a chance to see them play in a more comfortable setting. However, Siakam will start the next season sitting on the sidelines. A shoulder injury he sustained last season will reportedly keep him out until late November. When he does return, the pressure will mount on him to lead his team back into contention. Failure to do so may lead to an eventual parting between himself and the Raptors organization.

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