With the first half of the NBA season in the books, there are several stars that have a lot to prove in the second half, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Zion Williamson.
Many of the teams in the NBA have completed close to 60 of the games on their 2023 schedule, so there is a narrative already in place on most of the players around the league. Some are very positive, like break-out seasons for young stars Lauri Markkanen and De’Aaron Fox, or big years for proven stars Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, or Giannis Antetokounmpo.
However, there are also some stars that have key questions surrounding them heading into the stretch run of the season as they look to help their teams reach the postseason. A few are superstar talents looking to deliver for organizations that have a lot invested in their acquisitions. Others are long-time greats looking to prove they are still relevant at the top of the sport.
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With that in mind, let’s take a look at why Kevin Durant and these five players have a lot to prove in the final 20-plus games of the NBA season.
The Phoenix Suns trading for 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant was a paradigm shift moment in the league. It was the final nail in the coffin of the Nets’ title hopes and made the Suns a favorite to win it all in 2023. But there are still questions on if Durant truly is a reliable superstar at 34 and 15 seasons in the NBA.
Durant is four years removed from tearing his Achilles and has missed significant times the last two seasons. It is still unclear when he will actually return this season, which isn’t good for building chemistry with fellow stars Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. After forcing his way out of Brooklyn, the expectations are sky-high for Durant and the Suns.
If he can not deliver them at least a trip to the NBA Finals, the future Hall-of-Famer will be feeling even more pressure and hate than he already normally does.
Kawhi Leonard has not played more than 60 games in seven years. There is reason to believe that after tearing his ACL two years ago, he may never recapture his peak form at 31 with a growing injury history. Which includes missing nearly half the Los Angeles Clippers games in 2022-2023 as well.
The Clippers still have two more seasons and over $90 million invested in the multi-time NBA champion. Leonard must prove for the rest of this season that he still can be the game-changer talent they acquired four years ago, and not the modern version of Amare Stoudemire. An All-Star talent, who can’t be relied on to be available when it matters most.
Like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, Zion Williamson needs to prove he can actually stay on the court. The New Orleans Pelicans seemed primed to be a legit contender in the West a month ago, however, another injury to the 22-year-old derailed their hot streak and they have fallen down the NBA standings and our NBA power rankings ever since.
But unlike Durant and Leonard, Williamson does not have years of reliable superstar play already under his belt. The Duke alum is closing in on that uncomfortable conversation where “draft bust” is thrown into discourse involving his time in the Association.
Kyrie Irving has a whole lot to prove over the final months of the season. Like Durant, he also forced an escape from New York, yet unlike his former teammate, he is completely immersed in a narrative as a team killer. The Dallas Mavericks will be his fourth organization in eight years. That’s not good for an elite player.
The 10-time All-Star must show that he can be reliable, available, and isn’t a detriment to a locker room after being the opposite for the last three years. Furthermore, with his contract set to expire, he must prove he is worthy of a major financial investment from a franchise after 12 troubled seasons in the league. If he is locked in, the Mavericks are a title contender and Irving gets close to the max money he desires.
The stage has already been set for Chris Paul to be the scapegoat if the Phoenix Suns fail in the 2023 playoffs. The team already tried to trade him at the deadline after a rough start to his age-37 season, and they are reportedly already his targeting his replacement in the summer.
If the future HOFer wants to stay on this possible ride to Phoenix’s first NBA title, he must prove he still has All-Star level talent after 18 long seasons and is not a detriment to the Suns’ championship hopes. That is a mighty challenge at this juncture of “CP3’s” career.
This week, Russell Westbrook decided on the team he wants to finish the season with after a buyout from the Utah Jazz, and that is the Los Angeles Clippers. The one-time league MVP has a lot to prove and a huge amount of motivation.
Westbrook will get to be a starter again on a contending team with a former teammate in Paul George, and get to do it in the same building as his massive failings with the Lakers. Furthermore, like Irving, the 34-year-old will be looking for one last monster deal to cash in on this summer. If Westbrook can’t rekindle his greatness with the Clippers, his days as an NBA superstar are officially over.