The upcoming 2022-23 NBA season is a big one with many questions. Are the Golden State Warriors in the midst of a great dynasty? Who holds the crown as the undisputed best player in the world? Who will be a surprise All-Star?
All of this and more will play out over the course of the season and subsequent playoffs.
But this season is also important for a few players who have something to prove. Whether it’s meeting external expectations or proving to themselves that they’re the best they can be.
These five players have the most to prove this season.
#5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Wizards Guard is entering their 11th season in the NBA. He just signed a five-year, $251 million supermax extension to stay in DC
During his career, he has formed three All-Star teams and one All-NBA (third team). He is the fourth-highest-paid player in the league and has only reached the second round of the playoffs three times in his career.
Beal missed half of last season with a wrist ligament injury. Before that he was quite persistent.
Beal is often cited as one of the top players in the league but never seems like the player to build a team around. Despite this, he gets paid like a top-flight All-NBA player.
If last year was an anomaly, Beal should be back with a vengeance this season and working to at least get that roster to the play-in tournament.
#4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
After an uncomfortable offseason that began with Ayton being benched in the second half of a final playoff game and the Suns not offering him an extension until he was forced to meet the Indiana Pacers’ offer, Ayton might have a small have a chip on his shoulder.
He finally got his money, but there are some hurt egos and hurt feelings here. After all, he was the No. 1 draft pick in 2018. He probably had expectations of how the Suns would build around him and Devin Booker as a big/wing combo.
The team then acquired Chris Paul and asked Ayton to be the third option as a rim runner, pick and roll lob threat and guard. While the side got better, advancing to the finals in 2021 and having the league’s best record last season, its value has gone down a bit.
In four seasons, he has yet to field an All-Star, All-NBA, or All-Defensive team. Have three of the other members in the top 5 in his draft class.
#3. Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans power forward missed all of last season with an injury in a bizarre situation that was never fully explained by either side.
There were persistent rumors that Zion wanted out of New Orleans and wasn’t high in the organization, and he chose to go to rehab in Oregon near Jordan Brand and away from the team.
The Pelicans made the play-in tournament, made the playoffs and took the Suns No. 1 to six games. Zion’s tune seemed to change. He seemed revived by the team’s improved game under first-year head coach Willie Green.
That summer, he signed a five-year, $193 million rookie max extension. If a healthy Zion is added to the team that made the playoffs, it’s a top-five team in the west.
Zion was an All-Star in 2021, when he’s healthy he’s an MVP-caliber player. Maybe he wants to remind everyone that the hype surrounding him is very real.
#2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
By far the most successful player on this list. An eight-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA, four-time All-Defensive selection, and an NBA Champion.
But he hasn’t been the same since that championship in 2020.
His numbers have been down across the board for the past two seasons and he has not been healthy. The best skill is availability, and Davis wasn’t.
He’s only 29 and still in his prime. If he stays healthy, he’ll be on the shortlist for the best player in the world. Does he want to prove that he didn’t ride LeBron’s coattails to a ring and that he’s an elite himself?
#1. Ben SimmonsBrooklyn Nets
The last time we saw Simmons play basketball was the 2021 NBA playoffs, and he passed a wide-open dunk for fear of being fouled and having to go to the free-throw line.
He has since demanded a trade and withheld his services for psychological reasons. When he was eventually traded, the history of his rise in physical conditioning was unclear. would he play Wasn’t he? When it was determined that his back was causing the delay, he underwent surgery.
It’s been a wild year and a half for Simmons.
At 26, he’s very talented and a player who could really help the Nets. He is an elite defender, playmaker and can take the team out in rotation. Reluctant to shoot, he’s happy to give the ball to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (while they’re around) and Joe Harris to shoot.
Simmons needs to show he cares about basketball, plays at a high level and helps a team win. If for some reason he has another no-show season, it will be difficult for him to change perceptions.