The upcoming 2022-23 NBA season is a big one with a lot of questions. Are the Golden State Warriors in the midst of an extended dynasty? Who holds the crown as the undisputed best player in the world? Who will be a surprise All-Star?
All of that and more will play out over the course of the season and the subsequent playoffs.
But this season is also important for a few players that need to prove something. Whether it be living up to external expectations or proving to themselves that they are the best they can be.
These five players have the most to prove entering this season.
#5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
The Wizards guard is entering his 11th season in the NBA. He just signed a five-year $251 million supermax extension to remain in D.C.
In his career he’s made three All-Star teams and one All-NBA (third team). He’s the fourth-highest-paid player in the league and has only advanced to the second round of the playoffs three times in his career.
Beal missed half of last season dealing with ligament injuries in his wrist. Prior to that he was pretty durable.
Beal is often talked about as one of the upper echelon players of the league but never seems to be the player you can build a team around. Yet, he’s being 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 get this roster at least to the play-in tournament.
#4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
After an awkward offseason that began with Ayton being benched in the second half of a closeout game in the playoffs, and the Suns not offering him an extension until forced to match the Indiana Pacers offer, Ayton might have a small chip on his shoulder.
He eventually got his money but there are some bruised egos and hurt feelings here. He was, after all, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He likely had expectations for how the Suns were going to build around him and Devin Booker as a big/wing combo.
Then the team acquired Chris Paul and asked Ayton to be the third-option as a rim runner, pick and roll lob threat and guard. While the team got better, advanced to the Finals in 2021 and had the best record in the league last season, his value diminished a bit.
In four seasons he has yet to make an All-Star, All-NBA or All-Defensive team. Three of the other members in the top five of his draft class have.
#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 on the organization and he chose to rehab in Oregon near Jordan Brand and away from the team.
The Pelicans made the play-in tournament, advanced to the playoffs, and pushed the No. 1 seed Suns to six games. Zion’s tune seemed to change. He seemed invigorated by the improved play of the team under first-year head coach Willie Green.
This summer he signed a five year-$193 million rookie max extension. If a healthy Zion is added to that team that made the playoffs, this is a top five team in the West.
Zion was an All-Star in 2021, if he is healthy he’s an MVP-caliber player. He might want to remind everyone that the hype surrounding him is very much real.
#2. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
By far the most accomplished 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 were down across the board the past two seasons and he hasn’t been healthy. The best ability is availability, and Davis hasn’t been that.
He’s only 29 and still in his prime. If he’s able to stay healthy he’s on the short list for best player in the world discussion. Does he want to prove that he wasn’t riding LeBron’s coattails to a ring and that he is elite in his own right?
#1. Ben Simmons, Brooklyn Nets
The last time we saw Simmons play basketball it was the 2021 NBA playoffs and he passed on a wide-open dunk for fear of getting fouled and having to go to the free throw line.
Since then he demanded a trade and withheld his services due to mental health concerns. When he was finally traded the story of his ramp up in physical conditioning was unclear. Was he going to play? Was he not? When it was determined that his back was causing the delay he underwent surgery.
It has been a wild year and a half for Simmons.
At 26 years old he’s very talented and a player that could really help the Nets. He’s an elite defender, playmaker, and can get the team out in transition. Since he’s reluctant to shoot he will happily give the ball up to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (as long as they’re there) and Joe Harris to take the shots.
Simmons needs to show that he cares about basketball, playing at a high level and helping a team win. If he has another no-show season for whatever reason, it will be hard for him to change the perception.