It isn’t easy being consistently excellent year after year. Injuries, chemistry issues, or personal conflicts can all contribute to a player regressing or having a subpar season. Just look at Carmelo Anthony. The 10-time All-Star dealt with all three last year, and ended up having one of the worst seasons of his career.
Melo is far from alone. There are plenty of players in the same boat, entering the 2017-18 season with something to prove. Some want to prove they’re worthy of their lucrative new contracts; some want to prove they can co-exist with their teammates; and some simply want to prove they can stay healthy for 82 games, or a number anywhere remotely close.
Below are the ten players with the most to prove this year, along with some props and odds to help keep them motivated because, as my worst boss ever used to say, “you can’t score goals without a target.” (He wasn’t big into sports.)
Rajon Rondo (New Orleans Pelicans)
Rajon Rondo is a lot like hemorrhoids: he only shows up from time to time and can be a major pain in the ass when he does. The NBA champion has consistently butted heads with teammates and coaches over the course of his career and now finds himself on his fourth team in four years. Apart from a jump shot, Rondo still has the abilities to lead an offense, but he needs to prove he’s developed the maturity and humility to make up for his many eccentricities.
Odds Rajon Rondo will be on the Pelicans in 2018-19: 15/1
Isaiah Thomas (Cleveland Cavaliers)
No player has fallen further or faster than Isaiah Thomas. The 5’9” dynamo was unceremoniously traded and left for dead this summer less than three months after being named to the All-NBA Second Team. Adding insult to injury, Cleveland demanded extra compensation in the transaction due to the uncertain status of IT’s dodgy hip. The two-time All-Star has been disproving skeptics his entire life and will have a chance to do it again in 2017-18 by bouncing back and becoming the Cav’s new crunch-time closer.
Odds Isaiah Thomas plays in an NBA game before Christmas 2017: 25/1
Kris Dunn (Chicago Bulls)
It’s too bad for Kris Dunn that mulligans only exist in golf, because the Providence grad probably wishes he could take another shot at his first year in the NBA. The fifth-overall selection in the 2016 draft, Dunn was a popular preseason pick for Rookie of the Year and was widely expected to unseat Ricky Rubio as Minnesota’s starting point guard.
That’s not at all how it panned out. Dunn missed most of Summer League with a concussion and, frankly, looked a little disoriented all season as he went onto average just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17.1 minutes per game. Defense was always expected to be the strongest part of his game — and he was consistently good at that end of the floor — but his inefficiency on offense was far worse than predicted. (When you can’t outshine Rubio on the offensive end, you know things have gotten dark.)
Dunn will have a chance to prove his rookie campaign was just an anomaly this season in Chicago. The Bulls are the weakest team in the league’s weakest conference, and Dunn should get plenty of chances to work through the mistakes that got him benched in Minnesota.
Odds Kris Dunn will be Chicago’s starting point guard to begin the 2017-18 season: 2/5
Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets)
According to the American Medical Association, Dwight Howard isn’t considered a cancer, but he might as well be. The Magic, Rockets, and Hawks all surgically removed him from the rosters lest he infect their team and lead their young players astray. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year will have the chance to repair his reputation when he begins the season in Charlotte. It’s his fifth home in seven seasons, and it might be his last chance to prove he can be a steadying presence on the court and in the locker room.
Over/under blocks-per-game for Dwight Howard in 2017-18: 1.3 BPG
Derrick Rose (Cleveland Cavaliers)
How the mighty have fallen. Derrick Rose was widely considered the NBA’s most unguardable player in 2011 when he became the youngest MVP in league history. Six years later, he’s mostly an afterthought. The three-time All-Star wore out his welcome in Chicago and New York, and now finds himself in Cleveland playing for the veteran minimum. It’s a tough pill to swallow for any superstar, but especially one who appeared to he headed for a Hall of Fame career.
Now that expectations have simmered down, Rose has a chance to prove he can be a valuable piece on a championship-caliber team. The departure of Kyrie Irving and the uncertain status of Isaiah Thomas opens up a ton of minutes in Cleveland, and will give Rose the chance to share the court with the Cavs’ two remaining All-Stars. It could be the opportunity he needs to salvage his career.
Over/Under points-per-game for Derrick Rose in 2017-18: 16.5 PPG
Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
NBA observers have been treating Carmelo Anthony like a redheaded step-child for most of the summer. Fans have been gleefully picking apart his game on social media, and ESPN added to the noise earlier this week when they named him the 64th-best player in the league in their annual Top 100 list. Lost amid all the criticism is the fact that Melo can still hoop. The former scoring champ is just 32 and is coming off a season in which he averaged 22.4 points and shot 35% from the three-point line. He’ll have a chance to prove he’s still an elite player when he returns this fall for his 16th season. The only question that remains is whether New York or Houston will be the team that benefits from his resurgence.
Odds Carmelo Anthony will be traded to the Rockets in 2017-18: 2/1
Kyrie Irving (Boston Celtics)
Can Kyrie Irving really be the man? We’re about to find out. The four-time All-Star forced his way out of Cleveland this summer for a chance to be the number one option on his own team. It was a highly questionable career move given the talent on Cleveland’s roster, and Irving will have to prove he can do a much better job than he did during his first three years when he was the Cavs’ alpha dog. Anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be deemed a disappointment in Boston.
Odds Kyrie Irving/Boston Celtics reach the 2018 NBA Finals: 5/1
Chandler Parsons (Memphis Grizzlies)
The Memphis Grizzlies shocked many observers last summer when they signed Chandler Parsons to a $94.8 million max deal. After all, the only thing the 6’10” forward had maxed out up to that point in his career were his knees, which he had injured twice during his two-year stint with the Mavs. Sure enough, Parsons tore the meniscus in his knee once again in March, bringing his first season in Bluff City to a close after just 34 games.
Parsons spent the summer rehabbing in Los Angeles and is expected to be ready for training camp, but the question remains: which version of the Florida alum will we see when he returns? Will it be the high-flying version we saw earlier in his career in Houston, or the tentative, hobbled version we witnessed throughout much of his first season in Memphis? The Grizzlies have nearly 100 million reasons to hope it will be the former.
Over/under games played for Chandler Parsons in 2017-18: 60 games
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)
No one doubts Joel Embiid’s talent. The Cameroonian center averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks last season, while shooting 36% from deep. It’s his durability that’s the issue. Embiid missed his first two seasons with a broken navicular bone in his foot, and was limited to 31 games last year after tearing the meniscus in his left knee. If he can stay on the court, he’ll be an All-Star. If he injuries his foot again, he’ll be a Greg Oden-esque cautionary tale.
The Sixers will likely hold Embiid out of back-to-backs games, and the NBA’s new, more player-friendly schedule should help to lessen the wear and tear on his fragile body. But in the end, it’s up to Embiid’s body to prove that the injuries are a thing of the past and that the best years lie ahead.
Odds Joel Embiid makes the 2017-18 All-Star Game: 1/3
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Andre Drummond took a big step back last season, and that’s saying something for a guy who can cover so much ground with a single stride. The Pistons center regressed as a rim protector and had nearly as many mental lapses as blocks. He has to prove that 2016-17 was just a blip on the radar and that he can be the kind of mobile big who swats shots and keeps opposing teams from controlling the lane.
Odds Andre Drummond leads the NBA in rebounding in 2017-18: 5/2