Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the epitome of NBA players who had something to prove and went out and proved it.
Antetokounmpo took the next step in his development last season by not only leading the Bucks to the NBA Finals but carrying them to the title with an MVP performance.
There was no doubt who the best player on the floor was in the six-game series against Phoenix. Antetokounmpo averaged 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds with three 40-point performances and a rare 50 points in the Game 6 clincher.
Who will be that player this season? Who needs to be that player this season?
We take a look at players with something to prove in 2021-22:
Joel Embiid, 76ers
Embiid is an MVP-talent, and the 76ers have championship aspirations. But the 76ers have been unable to reach the conference finals with Embiid. They dropped a conference semifinals series to Atlanta last season and to Toronto in 2019 and lost in the first round to Boston in 2020. If Embiid wants to join that short list of greatest players, it’s his turn to take another step and lead the Sixers to at least the conference finals.
Kemba Walker, Knicks
At 31 years old and trying to put lingering knee issues behind him, Walker seeks a fresh with his hometown Knicks. The Knicks were a surprising No. 4 seed in the East last season, and with an improving roster, the Knicks want Walker to help them contend for the conference title. Can Walker rediscover his All-Star performance?
Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Let’s get this out of the way first: Doncic’s game is filled with joy. It’s a treat to watch a game with the basketball in his hands. Now, he needs to translate his gift into a playoff series win. The Mavericks have lost in the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons — both times to the Los Angeles Clippers. Jason Kidd is Dallas’ coach and needs to help Doncic figure out team playoff success. Winning in the postseason isn’t easy. It’s a learning curve. It’s the next step in Doncic’s development.
Pascal Siakam, Raptors
Siakam had a great 2019 Finals, signed the big extension and made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams in 2019-20. But he had an uneven season in 2020-21 as the Raptors struggled. Siakam and Toronto coach Nick Nurse had a verbal confrontation following a loss to Cleveland in which Siakam didn’t play in the fourth quarter. The Raptors need All-Star Siakam back in the fold.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
No matter where Simmons plays this season – Philadelphia or another team in a trade – it’s imperative that he expands his offensive game to include an outside shot and reliable free throw shooting. He is an elite defender and gifted in the open court when he’s driving to the rim and passing to teammates. Don’t forget, Simmons is a three-time All-Star at 25 years old. There’s upside to his game, especially with offensive improvement.
Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
The Jazz had the best record last season, but injuries to Mitchell and Mike Conley resulted in a second-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Jazz had first-round exits the previous two seasons. Mitchell is now better, older and healthy, and if he remains healthy, Mitchell should be taking the Jazz deeper in the playoffs – even in the competitive Western Conference. There’s no doubting Mitchell’s talent. Now, it’s about truly contending for a title.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kemba Walker, Joel Embiid lead list of NBA players with most to prove