25 NBA Players Under the Greatest Pressure

Ahnaf AhmedContributor IIISeptember 17, 2011

25 NBA Players Under the Greatest Pressure

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    Being an athlete is a very stressful job. Keeping yourself in shape is essential. You can’t really see your family much. You’re under extreme pressure to perform well, and more importantly, to help your team win.

    All basketball players are pressured—some more than others. This season, there are a handful who really have to prove something to fans and critics alike. Some must show that they’re not playoff underachievers. Others have to keep their legacy intact. Another group needs the NBA world to know that they’re not lottery busts.  

    The following list contains the most pressured NBA players this upcoming season. 

25. DeMarcus Cousins

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    There is no doubt that Cousins is a talented player, and it seems as if the Kings made the right choice with their fifth overall pick in 2010. However, there are some issues with Cousins.

    Although he has shown a promising rookie campaign, his 43 percent from the field is mediocre for a big man. Another aspect DeMarcus really needs to improve is his free throws—69 percent from the line is unimpressive. The biggest knock on the soon-to-be sophomore is his attitude. Cousins still lacks the mental maturity fit for an NBA squad.

    Due to his bad attitude and his poor shot selection, Cousins attracted a sizable number of critics. Many people will be following the lottery selection to see whether he will improve his attitude and IQ on offense. 

24. Brandon Jennings

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    Jennings had a spectacular rookie year in which he scored 55 points in a game. Although Jennings has improved his scoring compared to his rookie year, his assist average and three-point shooting depreciated significantly.

    Jennings still has a major flaw. His shot selection is terrible and his shoot-first mentality could be detrimental.

    The Bucks guard gathered some attention this summer, when he wore a shirt which said “Nobody likes a snake,” making reference to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. He also took some shots at Bryant, claiming that he shouldn’t be playing in the Drew league since the Lakers guard is not originally from the City of Angels.

    Is this the start of a new rivalry? Maybe. 

    Fans will pay close attention to Jennings this year, due to his potential and more excitingly, his rivalry with the great Lakers guard.

23. Ricky Rubio

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    Ricky Rubio was selected by the Timberwolves with the fifth pick back in 2009. Rubio made some headlines shortly after his selection. It was alleged that he wasn’t interested in playing with the Wolves. However, it seems like Rubio will play for Minnesota after all.

    Many players had complimented Rubio’s game. Kevin Durant, for example, had some nice words for the Spaniard: "He's an amazing defender, that's one thing that stood out to me is how well he pressured the ball and disrupted our offense […]. He's flashy, he's crafty as well and the passes he did tonight were kind of amazing.”

    Based on predictions and quotes on Rubio, he seems like an exciting player to watch. He will definitely be one of most talked-about players this year, whether his season is terrible or great. 

22. DeMar DeRozan

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    Since his rookie year, DeMar has been compared to Raptor great Vince Carter by supporters of this franchise.

    Although DeMar is not likely to surpass Carter’s skills and legacy, the young man has shown some promise. DeMar improved his shooting compared to his rookie year. His mid-range jumper is slowly becoming consistent.

    Raptor fans have been waiting for a savior since Bosh left, and DeRozan could be the man. The question is: Can DeMar improve other aspects of his game, and more importantly, lead the Raptors to meaningful victories?

21. Gilbert Arenas

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    Gilbert Arenas was acquired by the Magic to provide some support to Dwight Howard. The experiment has been a failure thus far.

    Arenas, since packing his bags to Florida, has been averaging eight points a game on a brutal 34 percent field-goal percentage. These stats are probably a major aberration.

    Arenas cannot be possibly that terrible. Earlier in the year with the Washington Wizards, the former All-Star had been averaging a respectable 17 points and 5.6 assists a game.

    Arenas was a lethal scorer just a few years ago and might still have some gas in him. Arenas is under pressure; if his numbers this season are similar last season, it could very well mean that his career is close to an end.

    Arenas will definitely be a player that fans from across the league would like to follow. If Gilbert does come back to his old self, the Magic can make a deep run in the playoffs. 

20. Kyrie Irving

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    Every year, all eyes are on the No. 1 pick. Irving was the consensus No.1 pick on many mock drafts. Irving had a spectacular career at Duke, averaging 17 points per game, dishing four assists a game while being extremely efficient from the field.

    The rookie has a big year ahead of him. Not only do fans love to gossip about the performance of the No. 1 pick every year, but he also plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers—a team most fans sympathize with.

    Adding to the stress, Cleveland fans are also some of the most loyal fans in the NBA. Their attendance was still outstanding despite their poor record.

    After LeBron James departed from his former team, the Cavs and the Heat are among the most talked-about teams in the NBA. Will Irving have a marvelous rookie year and bring Cleveland back on track? 

19. Kemba Walker

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    Kemba Walker was probably the most popular college player last year. And there is a good reason for it. He’s a great player. Can Kemba’s college skills be imported to the NBA? Probably.

    Walker carried his UConn team to the national title, which implies that he might have a competitive drive inside him. Walker’s passing abilities are also very underrated. He averaged more assists than Kyrie Irving last year. The only knock on Kemba is his shot selection.

    Will the most popular college player live up to his hype? He has the skills to do it. The only thing that he needs to improve is his basketball IQ. 

18. Derrick Rose

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    Derrick Rose was the MVP winner in the 2011 season. Although he carried his team to the best record in the league, many felt that he did not deserve the MVP. A reason why people felt that "why" is because of his poor shot selection.

    The Bulls guard shot an unimpressive 44 percent from the field last year. Many also feel that he plays too much like a shooting guard instead of making his teammates better, like a real point guard should. The former No. 1 pick also has been criticized for his mediocre defense. Many critics even claimed that Rose was the worst MVP in NBA history.

    Despite some flaws to his game, it is undeniable that Derrick Rose is one of the best players in the league today.

    Many fans will have their eyes on him this year and see whether Rose’s MVP was well deserved, or whether it was a fluke. 

    Worst NBA MVP? Maybe not. Great player? Definitely. If Rose can improve parts of his game, his critics will forget that they even labeled him as the “worst MVP of all time.”

17. Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook is one of the best young point guards in the league. He is one of the reasons why the Thunder were successful this year. However, Westbrook was also one of the reasons why the Thunder failed to go past the Mavs in the Western Conference finals of this year.

    Westbrook was criticized by many fans for his bad decision-making. Instead of looking for open teammates, the young point guard was taking shot after shot and missing a big portion of them.

    Westbrook’s selfishness was a big reason why the Thunder failed against the Mavs. The good news is that Westbrook is still very young, and that episode of his career happened due to inexperience.

    Basketball IQ is something that can be improved with age. Oklahoma City has a solid roster. Throughout the playoffs, Harden, Durant, Ibaka and Westbrook in some cases, did their jobs well. The Thunder hopefuls can expect their team to be in the NBA Finals in the near future with a young and talented roster.

    Success or failure of the Thunder lies in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

16. Zach Randolph

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    Earlier in his career, Randolph was ridiculed by fans and the media for his poor work ethic and his bad attitude. However, this spring, Randolph silenced his critics well. Randolph was the reason why the eighth-seeded Grizzlies pulled an upset over the first-ranked Spurs.

    Randolph is also coming off a magnificent season, in which he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds a game. This spring, shortly after the playoffs began, Randolph signed a four-year, $71 million contract.

    With a huge contract like this, it is evident that Randolph’s name will be speculated often by the media and the fans, based on his performances this year.

    Grizzlies fans can only hope that Z-Bo does not become what Elton Brand became after signing a massive contract with the 76ers.  

15. Monta Ellis

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    Monta Ellis is one of the best scorers in the game today. With his lightning-quick agility, Ellis has no trouble getting past his defenders. However, there are some issues with his game.

    Ellis is only 6’3". He is undersized for a shooting guard. Ellis’ small size for a 2-guard can cause some defensive problems for the Warriors. In addition, Ellis is also criticized for his bad defense. Although Ellis is among the league leaders in steals, his man-to-man defense is mediocre. 

    Critics of Ellis also label him as a “ballhog.” Ellis needs to distribute the ball better in order for his team to become a playoff threat in the near future.

    Golden State has only made the playoffs once since Ellis got drafted back in 2005. This year could determine Ellis’ future with the franchise, that is if he even enters the season with them.

14. Andrea Bargnani

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    Although Andrea Bargnani is one of the best scoring big men in the league, he has many flaws. Firstly, for a seven-footer who plays 35 minutes a game, grabbing five rebounds is completely unacceptable. Secondly, Bargnani’s defensive IQ was a reason why the Raptors were bottom-feeders in defensive rankings this year.

    Many Raptor fans are tired of his poor work ethic and want him out. On the other hand, many Bargnani apologists claim that Bargnani never had a good coach to develop his game properly.

    The Raptors hired former Dallas Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey as their head coach this year. Bargnani, who is near his peak, will have his first try at a competent coach. Il Mago has the opportunity to improve his defense and his rebounding with a solid coach in Casey. Bargnani has no excuse to let his team down on the glass and on defense this year. 

13. Tyreke Evans

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    Tyreke Evans had a solid rookie year in which he averaged 20 points, nearly six assists and five rebounds. Evans joined a league of elite players, as he was one of the four rookies to average 20/5/5 in their first year (the others being LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan).

    Tyreke had a disappointing second year. His numbers dropped in most major statistical categories.

    Evans is still a young player and could be the face of the franchise for the Kings for years to come. He is a good ball-handler, a skilled rebounder for a guard and a nasty scorer. Talent like him at his age is very rare. Barring any major injuries, expect the Kings guard to have a comeback season, in which he could possibly be amongst the best players in the game.

12. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    LaMarcus Aldridge had a spectacular second half of the season, and has been a solid contributor for the Blazers since he was drafted. However, out of his five years in Portland, there was only one half of a season where he was actually the main guy.

    With Roy becoming less of a factor every year, the Blazers are Aldridge’s team. Can Aldridge keep up what he did in the second half of last season, or will he be a fluke?

    With Portland’s depth, Blazer fans should not be worried about Aldridge. A Felton-to-Aldridge combo could be exciting to watch this year.

11. Hasheem Thabeet

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    This year is huge for Thabeet. It could be a make-or-break situation for him. The former No. 2 pick has already been labeled as a bust by many fans and analysts. However, there is still an opportunity for Thabeet to shine. With Yao Ming’s retirement, Houston lacks a true center. Thabeet could fill in that spot.

    When Marc Gasol got injured in the 2009-10 season, Thabeet did a decent job replacing him. He almost had a double-double in those limited games played along with a couple of blocked shots.

    The window of opportunity is closing for Thabeet. This year will really determine whether Thabeet is a legitimate center or a legitimate bust.

10. Carlos Boozer

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    One of the reasons why the Bulls acquired Boozer was to provide Rose a solid Robin. Although Boozer had a respectable regular season in which he averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds, he was a non-factor in the playoffs.

    In the postseason, Boozer averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds. Those numbers are not bad, but they fall short of Boozer’s expectations. In addition, the former All-Star shot a terrible 43 percent from the field in the postseason. Many claimed that Boozer’s poor play was a big reason why the Bulls had a hard time competing with the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

    Also, Boozer’s age and his injury history are not on his side.

    The former Jazz player will be an interesting player to watch this year, whether he fails or succeeds. 

9. Chris Paul/Dwight Howard

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    If injuries do not get them, it is a certain thing that Dwight Howard and Chris Paul will have another spectacular year. But that’s not the question. The topic that might stress both of these players is: Where will they go?

    Similar to Carmelo Anthony last year, there might be a big media frenzy about Howard and Paul this season. Will Paul stay in New Orleans? Will Howard stay in Orlando? Or will they both play in the same uniform?

    The news about Paul and Howard’s status will make the upcoming season a bit more interesting.  

8. Blake Griffin

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    Griffin had one of the most successful rookie campaigns in NBA history. The Clippers forward averaged 22 points and grabbed 12 boards. This year could be a significant year for Griffin.

    The Clippers have not made the playoffs since 2006. However, general manager Neil Oshley did a respectable job building around Griffin. The addition of Mo Williams could be instrumental in many ways.

    Williams is a good playmaker who's full of heart and passion, and more importantly, he can mentor Eric Bledsoe. Also, Eric Gordon could be a great Robin to Blake Griffin. Gordon possesses tremendous shooting skills and is fresh off a 22-point-per-game season. 

    With the Clippers roster looking good, and if Griffin improves his game, expect the Clippers to be a big threat in the league. 

7. Kevin Love

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    Kevin Love was one of the most surprising players in the league. No fan expected the former UCLA Bruin to average 20 points and a ridiculous 15 rebounds a game. However, those great stats were accrued on a terrible team.

    In a lot of cases, players have an easier time inflating their stats on bad teams. This is why Love will be one of the key players to study this year. Will he be able to repeat his performance? With the Wolves adding young talent in Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio, it will certainly help Love. However, it is not known whether Love can fill the stat sheet like last year with a better roster around him.

    Also, another reason that puts pressure on Love’s shoulders is that the Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. With an improving roster and a new coach, it will be interesting to see what Love will be able to do for his team this year.

6. Carmelo Anthony/Amar'e Stoudemire

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    Both Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire were acquired by the Knicks last season and went on to tremendous years.

    But the Knicks were a very inconsistent team even after the acquisition of 'Melo midseason. They had streaks where they would win a ton of games, then another streak where they would lose a ton of games. Can the addition of Billups and 'Melo make the Knicks a more consistent team?

    Amar’e and Carmelo will also be exciting to watch because they are potentially the new rivals of the Big Three of Miami. Amar’e has his personal rivalry with Chris Bosh dating back to his Phoenix days. Many people will tune in to the Knicks this year and see whether or not Anthony and Stoudemire can coexist, and more importantly, lead New York far in the playoffs. 

5. Jeff Green

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    Celtics GM Danny Ainge said in May that it's possible Jeff Green will start some games over Pierce and give him starter minutes; coach Doc Rivers confirmed that Green will be getting more minutes. If Rivers keeps his promise, Green will have a very stressful year coming up.

    It is always pressuring to play on a good team, but playing on the best franchise in basketball is something else. The atmosphere in Boston is different and since it's a large media market, people care fervently about the Celtics.

    Green has had some successful years with the Thunder, however he looked lost in a Celtics jersey. Giving him starter minutes is very risky, but given that Green is a young player that has a lot of time to grow, the move can be a rewarding one as well. 

4. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Dirk silenced his critics this year. Throughout his career, Nowitzki was a respected player, however when it came to the postseason fans always slept on the Mavericks and the German was labeled as a “choker.” The defending champs are always focused on by the media and fans. Will the Mavs repeat as champions? It depends.

    If Nowitzki runs out of gas and Kidd ages too quickly, the Mavs could be painful to watch. Nowitzki already suffered a significant drop in his rebound averages compared to last year. The Mavericks are an older group and their window of opportunity for another title in the near future is closing fast.

    However, fans and the media have learned their lessons: Never sleep on the Mavs, and don’t call Dirk a “choker."

3. Chris Bosh

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    Throughout his career, Chris Bosh has been called names related to softness. Although Bosh is labeled as a soft player by fans, media and even players, he is still one of the best power forwards of the league. The product of Georgia Tech has a career average of 20 points and nine rebounds.

    At the beginning of last year, Bosh seemed lost in the Miami system. Bosh eventually picked up his game quite well as the season progressed, though there were lapses where he played terrible defense and struggled to get rebounds.

    Skip Bayless recently confronted Bosh and justified why he nicknamed him “Bosh Spice." Will Bosh respond to his critics with revenge?

    This year is a very important one for Bosh. He will either keep his reputation as a soft player, or prove the basketball world wrong. 

2. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant is one of the most accomplished players of all time. This year, Kobe’s game indicated that he was mortal. Bryant’s numbers have decreased in many statistical categories compared to the 2010 season (PPG, APG, RPG, FG%, 3FG%). He also played four fewer minutes per game than last year, which could be indicating that Bryant is on a decline.

    The Black Mamba was also disappointing in the playoffs. His defense against the Mavs was poor, and he was unable to carry his team with magnificent scoring like he did in the past. His 22.8 PPG in the playoffs is his lowest scoring average in the postseason since 2000.

    Although Bryant is aging physically, he has one of the best work ethics the league has ever seen. Like every year, Bryant will be one of the most important players to watch.

    What makes this year special is that it will indicate whether Bryant is still a top player in the league or whether the Lakers should consider him too old to carry the huge load on offense.

1. LeBron James

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    LeBron James feels the most pressure out of anyone. Although James remains the NBA's top player, his talent is not translating to love from fans. He is possibly the most hated player in the league today. And there are good reasons for it.

    James claimed that the Heat will win multiple championships. He did not back up his words in the short run as the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the finals.

    Many thought that James would bring a championship to Miami with decent teammates. LeBron was close, but he failed, especially in the finals.

    This year is not only going to be huge for LeBron, but the whole Miami Heat organization. If Miami fails again this postseason, expect the front office to make some drastic changes to the roster.