The 2021 season is coming very soon and that means certain NBA stars will be under pressure. Most NBA superstars have a lot to prove anyway, but 10 players will need to prove their critics wrong and step their games up. This means they need to showcase their talents in terms of numbers or team success.
In the era of Instagram and social media, we can see every mistake of every player every single night. Sports shows and highlights pile on the pressure on athletes and this will be the case once again starting December. For some players, however, their pressure won't be matched.
Here are the 10 players who will be under the most pressure next season.
10. Andrew Wiggins
For some reason, Andrew Wiggins is not appreciated for what he brings to the table. Neither fans nor media members respect what Wiggins has done in the game, and that means he is under constant pressure every season. Wiggins averaged 19.4 PPG last season after averaging 22.4 PPG the year before, but he still has not received his due.
Maybe it's because he is capable of so much more, which he is. Wiggins can become arguably the best defensive wing in the game because of his athletic ability and build, along with his very high basketball I.Q. Wiggins should be an All-Star by now, and the fact that he isn't is a major problem for critics. He might get there one day, but he will enter 2021 as one of the 10 most criticized players in the league.
9. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving has come a long way since he won an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving was a beast in 2015 and many even claimed he was the Finals MVP (which he wasn't). The fact that he was so impactful for Cleveland alongside LeBron James means he should do the same with his team right now. With Boston, he wasn't that guy and his character weaknesses were exposed. Now with Brooklyn, Irving must live up to the hype.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are expected to lead Brooklyn to the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least, but most of the pressure is on Irving. Durant is back from Achilles injury and he has already won NBA titles and even an MVP in his career. Irving has yet to prove he can be a team leader and that is why all eyes will be on him next season.
8. Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons is one of the best all-around players in the league. His playmaking and defensive abilities make him a franchise player and he is well respected because of that. Simmons is also still young at 24 years of age, so he has plenty of time to develop into the superstar player he should become. But the fact that he hasn't improved his jump shooting until now is concerning.
Ben Simmons has not led the Philadelphia 76ers too much success in the postseason so far, especially with his teammate Joel Embiid by his side. Simmons can impact the game on both ends but not with his shooting, which is hurting his team whenever he plays point guard. Simmons must have an improved jumper or else the Sixers will remain stagnant in the East.
7. Joel Embiid
Much like Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid will be on the radar for many critics. Actually, Embiid is expected to do more. Joel Embiid is a big man who has no weakness because he can space the floor or score inside. Defensively, he can be one of the best in the world as a center. Embiid has it all, and that means he is expected to lead the 76ers to the Eastern Conference Finals at the very least. But Embiid has found a way to put himself under the spotlight even more.
The real reason Embiid has a ton of pressure is because of his putrid performances in the playoffs last season. Even though Ben Simmons was out with injury, Embiid could not even lead the Sixers to one win against the Boston Celtics in the first round. Embiid needs to block out noise, forget the off-court antics, and focus on dominating the game as the most skilled center in the league.
6. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has earned himself a Hall of Fame ticket because of his incredible statistics and individual accolades but he needs to do more in terms of team success. Westbrook is the most athletic point guard in NBA history yet he doesn't play in control as much as he should. Westbrook can literally be the most impactful player in the league if he wants to be, but he needs to slow down at times and even focus on his key strengths.
Westbrook couldn't help the Rockets past the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round, and he wasn't that impressive in the first round either. Russ played too out of control during the playoffs and his impact wasn't there alongside James Harden. All eyes are on Russell Westbrook to prove he is still one of the best guards in the game, and he might be judged for not playing in the NBA Finals since Kevin Durant was his teammate.
As he was recently traded for John Wall, Westbrook has to prove he can be a franchise player again with the Washington Wizards. Washington haven't been a playoff team in a while so Westbrook has a chance to return to his old self: Mr. Triple-Double. However, fans and critics want to see Westbrook create a winning team and time will tell if he can do it with Bradley Beal by his side.
5. James Harden
The Beard is the best scorer in the NBA, and that, unfortunately, means a load of pressure to perform. As one of the five best players in the league, Harden needs to prove he is one of the best players ever by leading his team to the NBA Finals. Harden managed to reach the Western Conference Finals with the Rockets, but that isn't enough. The Beard needs to show more leadership and responsibility with his body language and even his defensive efforts.
Harden will have a ton of pressure to make an NBA Finals next season, whether it's with the Rockets or somewhere else like Brooklyn. Harden must keep up his level of play although he will earn more credit if he performs up to his level in the postseason. So far, Harden has not performed as well during the playoffs as he has in the regular season and that's a problem.
With Russell Westbrook out and John Wall in, Harden once again has a strong supporting cast around him. Westbrook is more of a scorer than a playmaker, while Wall is a natural playmaker. With Wall by his side, Harden can focus on scoring the ball without the pressure of playmaking as well. Harden has no more excuses to not win in Houston, so let's see if he can get it done.
4. Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson is one of the most exciting players in the NBA and he has a very bright future ahead of him. But he needs to follow up his exciting rookie season with a full season of dominance. Fans and critics are excited to see Williamson healthy for a full season because he showed he was the second-best rookie in the league behind Ja Morant last year. Williamson averaged 22.5 PPG over 24 games of play, so it remains to be seen how he plays over a full season.
Zion has the full package including an inside game and an outside shot as he shot 58.3% from the field and 42.9% from three albeit in a small sample size. Williamson has the skillset and also the impact as a franchise player, and he will need to be a factor for the Pelicans making the playoffs next year. Williamson is a box office player and his performances will need to follow the hype as he is under pressure.
3. LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball is Lavar Ball's son, meaning the press will be all over him. Lonzo went through it, and LaMelo will too. Lonzo Ball has not lived up to his hype just yet, with many claiming him to be a bust as a player. Lonzo has great size and ability but he has yet to translate this into becoming a star. LaMelo Ball, on the other hand, has a much higher ceiling. Since he was a child, LaMelo has been a very skilled player and he looks like he will be an All-Star in the NBA. His shooting range and ball-handling are already at an incredible level, and time will tell if he can translate this into the NBA game.
Critics will be all over LaMelo even before he even plays his first NBA game. His physicality will be questioned, his heart and aggressiveness doubted, and every turnover or mistake analyzed. Just like his brother, LaMelo Ball will have to carry a tremendous amount of pressure on his shoulders in his rookie season although he might be good enough to put it all to rest.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the best players in the league and a well-deserved MVP the past 2 years. But he has not led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA Finals just yet, meaning critics will hop all over him. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still not considered one of the greats because as dominant as he has been during the regular season, it has not translated to wins in the postseason. Antetokounmpo's inability to make shots consistently hampers his team's success because the opposition can pack the paint and prevent easy buckets at the rim.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has some more help in the form of 2-way star Jrue Holiday, so there is no excuse for the Bucks to not reach the Eastern Conference Finals this season. It takes time to win a championship and we all appreciate that, but Giannis must show progress as a leader and impactful player during the Playoffs next season.
1. Paul George
Paul George is under the most pressure in the league and we all know why. His season last year was forgettable, as he looked disinterested and distracted from day one. His personal life seemed to have leaked into his basketball life because George was non-existent for the Clippers during their postseason run. There is no way the Clippers would have choked their 3-1 lead in the second round of the playoffs if George was playing at his usual MVP level.
Next season, George needs to prove he can still be one of the top 10 players in the league. After placing third in MVP voting by averaging 28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, and 2.2 SPG; his numbers were down last year. George put up 21.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, and 1.4 SPG while shooting 43.9% from the field. His impact was non-existent and it was almost embarrassing to see how meek he looked when the Clippers needed him most. George needs a bounce-back season and will be the player under the most pressure next season.