The NBA playoffs are fast approaching and NBA stars are getting ready to make sure they show up for their teams. After all, NBA superstars have the most pressure to perform and their performances will dictate how the season ends for their teams. Most often, superstars show up and put forth fantastic performances to spearhead their teams to victory. We crown an NBA champion every year and there is always a stand out performer in the squad.
But that doesn’t mean players are valued equally. Some superstars have more pressure than others to perform, or they risk being marginalized as a player and an athlete under the weight of expectation. As a result, it is time to rank the top ten players with the most pressure in the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
10. Jayson Tatum
Young Jayson Tatum, at 22 years old, is the player expected to have a great postseason. This may seem unfair, but it really isn’t considering his level of play this season. Playing well comes with a ton of positives including respect and admiration, but also pressure to repeat this in the postseason.
This is the name of the game, and Tatum is expected to eclipse his 23.4 PPG regular-season average and lead the Celtics to at least the Eastern Conference Finals. Tatum has a good squad with him so it is expected that the Celtics will make it past the second round.
9. Paul George
Paul George was a legitimate MVP candidate last season, posting career highs across the board. George averaged 28.0 PPG, 8.2RPG, and 2.2 SPG which were both career highs and he finished third in MVP voting behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. This year, he finds himself teaming up with Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers with a chance to win his first NBA title.
George is under pressure to perform because he needs to prove he can make an NBA Finals at least once in his career. The most success he has had was making the Eastern Conference Finals with the Indiana Pacers alongside Roy Hibbert and David West. George is a great player, but many are beginning to wonder if he has what it takes to get to the Finals.
8. Anthony Davis
Davis has had the label of “great player on a bad team” since he entered the league. That excuse is no longer there anymore. He has LeBron James, he plays for a storied franchise in the Lakers, and has an excellent squad and coaching staff to back him up. There is no excuse for Anthony Davis not to show up in this year’s playoffs.
While it is almost certain that he will, he must be at his absolute best to take the Lakers to the promised land and win an NBA title. LeBron James is still the best player in the game due to his basketball I.Q., but he needs Davis to be the primary scorer and most dominant offensive and defensive force for the team. All eyes are on Davis to perform.
7. Damian Lillard
Lillard is truly one of the very best guards in the game. Very few players can pull up from thirty as he can, and he has the ability to take over games with his shooting and scoring ability. Only Stephen Curry can match Lillard’s explosive potential on offense at the point guard position, so Dame is clearly well admired and respected.
But it is about time he shows the world what he can do on the brightest stage. He made the Western Conference Finals last year, but Dame did not show up at his best. He only averaged 22.3 PPG on 37.1% shooting so he is hoping to right these wrongs. Dame has to carry his team into the final playoff spot first, which will be a big test to his greatness.
6. Ben Simmons
The Sixers have a lot of pressure to perform, and their All-Star playmaker has the spotlight on him. Simmons is a unique talent, standing 6’10” and averaging a stat line of 16.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, and 8.1 APG. Simmons is also excellent defensively, averaging 2.1 SPG and 0.6 BPG. Clearly, he does it all on the floor.
Yet the Sixers are not feared as much without Jimmy Butler on the squad. Simmons simply cannot shoot the ball, 33.3% with 0.1 attempts per game from three this season, and this has been a media talking point since he came into the league. While that may never change, Simmons needs to be at his best to guide the Sixers to the NBA Finals. With his talent and physical gifts, great things are expected from Simmons and he must deliver.
5. Joel Embiid
While Ben Simmons has a ton of pressure, Joel Embiid has the most pressure on the Sixers squad. Embiid and Simmons are an excellent duo who can dominate both ends of the floor, so there really isn’t an excuse why they shouldn’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals at the least. The Sixers organization has done everything to make the team a contender, and other than losing Jimmy Butler and J.J.Redick in free agency, they haven’t don’t much wrong.
Embiid is the best player on the team, averaging 23.9 PPG and 12.0 RPG while making yet another All-Star team. As a big man with guard skills, Embiid does a lot of chatting on and off the court, but fans and media want to see him dominate in the playoffs. Embiid must prove he can stay healthy and carry the Sixers to an ECF position this year. Otherwise, there could be changes in Philly.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to win his second straight award this season. Posting a monster double average with 29.6 PPG and 13.7 RPG, he has been the best player in the regular season for the Bucks for two straight years. He also has a great coach in Mike Budenholzer and a fellow All-Star in Kris Middleton among other quality role players like Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is well respected for dominating the regular season, but he must prove he can be clutch and lead a team in the playoffs if he wants to be an all-time great. As a unique talent with exceptional gifts, Giannis has the potential to be one of the best players ever so he must carry that pressure with him into the playoffs.
3. Russell Westbrook
Entering the top three, Russell Westbrook has a lot of pressure to perform. We know how explosive he is on offense and how he might be the most athletic point guard ever. Not to mention, he has a motor and raw aggression for the game that we haven’t seen since a young Allen Iverson. He also won an MVP Award in 2016 and is a 9-time All-Star.
However, Russ needs to prove he is a winner in the postseason. Since Kevin Durant left him, Russ has not managed to make it out of the first round. He had Paul George as an All-Star partner in OKC, and he still couldn’t manage past the first round. This year, he has James Harden and an excellent Rockets squad. Russ needs to perform in order to shake the “selfish player with low I.Q” label or else it might be stuck with him forever.
2. James Harden
No surprise, James Harden is on this list right after Russell Westbrook. Harden is arguably one of the top-five shooting guards of all time already, and he is not finished yet. The only thing missing for a former MVP and one of the best scorers we have ever seen is an NBA ring. Harden is an all-time great regular season performer, averaging 34.3 PPG this season, but has not made an NBA Finals since he was a 6th man with the OKC Thunder led by Westbrook and Durant.
Harden, unfortunately, has a “choker” tag on him in the postseason, due to his poor performances in the NBA Finals as a 6th man and also his inability to make the Finals with the Rockets. While this may be unfair, Harden is too great to keep going home without making a Finals. It’s time to get it done for The Beard.
1. LeBron James
Was there ever any doubt on which player has the most pressure to perform? Since he came into the NBA in 2003, pressure has been on the broad shoulders of LeBron James. He has the size, athletic gifts, talent, and skills to be recognized as one of the greatest players to have ever played. To many, he is simply the greatest player ever.
LeBron has 3 NBA rings already, so it may seem confusing as to why he has to prove himself anymore. He had previously made 8 straight NBA Finals and had carried some pretty pathetic teams to the Finals. But the reason LeBron has pressure is only to solidify his stance on the all-time player rankings. We know LeBron is great, but how great?
If LeBron wants to equal or eclipse Michael Jordan, he must have more than 3 rings. Even the greats like Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have at least 5 rings so LeBron has some work to do to be recognized accordingly. Not to mention, LeBron wants to make his 3-6 Finals record look a little bit better so this season he can finally do it.