Now that most of the pieces have been moved during what has been a frantic summer around the NBA, it’s time to look forward to the 2019-20 season.
The Los Angeles Lakers added Anthony Davis to team up with LeBron James, creating a ton of pressure for both stars.
Remaining out west, Stephen Curry will be scrutinized big time this coming season with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson likely out through January.
Over in the Eastern Conference, it’s a wide-open affair. After a drama-filled 2018-19 campaign in Boston, Kyrie Irving will now lead the Nets. The same thing can be said for Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.
These are the 10 NBA stars facing the most pressure in 2019-20.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
How can a dude that’s won three NBA titles and been to the championship round nine times be on this list? Well, it’s rather simple. LeBron made the career decision to relocate to the nation’s second-largest media market. He spearheaded the acquisition of Anthony Davis. He’s playing for legitimately one of the most historical NBA franchises.
This will lead to a ton of pressure on the King’s shoulders, especially after the disastrous 2018-19 season his Lakers put up. We have no doubt James will be up for it. He remains a top-three player in today’s Association.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Fresh off signing a five-year, $170 million max extension, Simmons heads into the 2019-20 campaign in need of improvements across the board. Primarily, he must find some sort of a mid-range game if the former No. 1 overall pick is to live up to his contract.
Playing in Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily help matters here. Fans expect championship contention. They’ll let you hear about it if that doesn’t come to fruition. With an elite core five, the Sixers should be up there with the east’s best. If that doesn’t happen, Simmons will be the one drawing the most criticism.
Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Off-court issues combined with missing the past year-plus due to a torn ACL. These are two backdrops surrounding the Unicorn after Dallas handed him a max five-year, $158.2 million deal during the summer. It also comes with the Mavs boasting a fellow youngster in Luka Doncic who just put up a brilliant rookie season.
The pressure will be on Porzingis to not only remain healthy, but live up to huge expectations that started in the Big Apple. Remember, he’s just about to turn 24 and averaged 22.7 points to go with 6.6 rebounds in his last season.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
If Irving didn’t like the media and pressure that was placed on him in Boston, he’s going to be in for a rude awakening in the nation’s largest media market. That’s magnified by Irving’s drama-filled departure from the Celtics and the view that New York City might be too big of a stage for the NBA champion.
Even with Kevin Durant joining Irving on the Nets, this coming season is going to see the onus fall solely on him. Durant will likely miss the entire campaign. Brooklyn is coming off a surprise playoff appearance. D’Angelo Russell was jettisoned in favor of Irving. Anything less than 50 wins in 2019-20 will be seen as a disappointment.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Portland did everything possible to find a supporting cast behind Lillard and C.J. McCollum. That included taking on Hassan Whiteside’s bloated contract. The idea here is to go nine or 10 deep in the rotation to match up with other contenders out west.
None of that will matter if Lillard doesn’t up his performance in the playoffs. One of the game’s true marksmen, Lillard shot just 37 percent from the field in Portland’s four-game series sweep at the hands of the Warriors in last season’s Western Conference Finals. He needs to step up on the game’s grandest of stages. It’s that simple.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
Davis played college ball at Kentucky. He was lucky enough to be drafted by a Pelicans squad in need of a franchise cornerstone. Two smallish markets. Talk about taking a complete 180.
After forcing his way from New Orleans, Davis joins the planet’s best known player on one of the most heralded organizations in sports history. He’ll do so in the nation’s second-largest media market on a championship contender. Given how Davis’ career in the Bayou ended, the microscope and pressure is going to be squarely on him this coming season.
Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
Westbrook’s departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn’t just civil, it was respectful. The OKC organization knows what this former MVP did for it. That doesn’t change the fact that Westbrook forced his way on to a contender as he nears the end of his prime.
It’s going to be highly interesting to see how Russ fits with former teammate James Harden in Houston. The two didn’t necessarily work together well in Oklahoma City. Adding even more pressure to Westbrook is the fact that he’s coming off a career-worst 2018-19 season that saw the high-priced veteran shoot just 29 percent from distance.
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Walker’s situation is somewhat similar to that of Anthony Davis in Los Angeles. He was able to play away from the limelight for UCONN in college before being selected by the then-Charlotte Bobcats in 2011. Now in Boston, the bright lights of a major city coupled with a fan base starved for a title is going to create a ton of pressure.
Sure Walker is coming off his first ever All-NBA performance. He still has not been a top dog on a contending team. He’s also now being tasked with replacing Kyrie Irving in one of the most boiler room-like atmospheres in the Association. Good luck, Kemba.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis is a freak of nature. This is known. What he did during an MVP 2018-19 season at the age of 24 was absolutely insane. Statistically, it might have been one of the greatest seasons in history. Giannis averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists while leading Milwaukee to the NBA’s best record.
That’s all fine and dandy. But our last visual of Antetokounmpo on an NBA hardwood was not great. His Bucks lost four consecutive to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals after taking the first two games. Giannis went AWOL on a consistent basis, showing us that he still has a lot of work to do. Should these struggles continue for a contending Bucks squad in 2019-20, Giannis will be thrown off his pedestal.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
How in the world could a three-time NBA champ who has been to five consecutive Finals find himself on this list? As with LeBron James, it’s rather simple. Curry’s Warriors dropped not only the NBA Finals to Toronto, they saw Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson go down to serious injuries.
With Durant now in Brooklyn and Thompson likely sidelined through at least January, the onus is going to be on this two-time MVP to live up to that billing. He’ll have to work with new running mate, All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell. He’ll also have to keep Golden State afloat until Thompson returns. Oh, and this is all happening at a new waterfront arena in San Francisco.