LaMelo Ball and the NBA Rookies with the Most to Prove in 2021
Expectations for NBA rookies are generally low, but a handful this year will have more to prove than others.
The top picks in particular will want to show they were deserving, especially LaMelo Ball, the draft's biggest name who went No. 3 after playing just 12 games in Australia's National Basketball League.
Others have hype to meet and questions to answer, including the oldest and youngest prospect taken in the lottery.
Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves gave Anthony Edwards something to prove when they took him No. 1 overall.
But even the Wolves didn't seem sold on Edwards based on how available they made the pick in trade talks. Sources told Bleacher Report throughout the process that Minnesota was trying hard to move down, including during draft day.
While scouts around the league have acknowledged Edwards' talent and likelihood of producing, many have questioned his ability to play efficiently or impact winning after he shot 40.2 percent and Georgia finished 13th of 14 teams in the SEC.
Minnesota will be hoping Edwards can give the lineup a third star to push the Timberwolves over the hump into the playoff picture. But he'll need to show he can tighten his shot selection as a primary creator, score off the ball with spot-up shooting—given the offense will still run through Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell—and that he can consistently apply his special defensive tools.
Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
The narrative on Cole Anthony changed since this time last year, when many projected a top-five pick.
Having spoken to teams around the league, it sounded like his draft-night slide to the 15th pick could have been worse than it was. Scouts soured on Anthony's lead-guard potential after he shot 38.0 percent and averaged 4.0 assists to 3.5 turnovers.
He'll be out to prove that his inefficiency was fluky, given his midseason knee injury and heavy workload and the poor spacing at North Carolina.
Though Markelle Fultz has made strides in Orlando, the starting job seems winnable for Anthony, who looks like the more threatening scorer and shooter.
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
James Wiseman will be looking to prove the Golden State Warriors made the right call, taking him No. 2 after he played just three games at Memphis.
Klay Thompson missing another season should mean more responsibility and opportunity for the 7'1" rookie.
Wiseman will have a spotlight role in the Western Conference, presumably starting for the Warriors with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green focused on guiding the team back toward contention. While Wiseman will be looking to prove something to Golden State's veterans and coaches, there are also evaluators to silence who question his upside in today's NBA.
He isn't part of the movement that has seen bigs shoot threes and play-make off the dribble like Nikola Jokic or Bam Adebayo. Doubters question the ceiling of a center who plays one position and isn't an advanced creator, shooter or passer.
There isn't much concern about Wiseman's ability to pick up easy baskets and block shots. But he should be out to show that his skill set and defensive awareness are sharper than skeptics believe.
LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
The draft's third pick is the class' No. 1 celebrity. LaMelo Ball's debut and season figure to draw more attention than any other rookie's.
The bar is high, with enough pro-Ball evaluators willing to call him the top prospect (like myself) and skeptics waiting to pounce if inefficiency or maturity concerns surface.
Ball will be looking to surprise doubters with professionalism and prove he's an actual basketball star, not just one on Instagram or reality shows. While there are multiple narratives about his game and personality, he'll try to disprove ones that suggest he's more about his brand than winning.
In terms of skill specifics, Ball will want to answer questions about his shooting and defense after he left Australia 20-of-80 from three and with a lowlight-reel package that illuminated underwhelming effort containing dribble penetration.
Obi Toppin, New York Knicks
Obi Toppin won't have the wiggle room for error that the teenagers get entering the league. Already 22, he's roughly three years older than each of the seven players selected before him.
Expectations will be high for Toppin right away, and a poor start will surely rile up the frustrated New York Knicks fanbase. With uncertainty about RJ Barrett's trajectory from here and whether Mitchell Robinson's limited offensive game has enough upside, the Knicks are banking on Toppin to emerge as a surefire cornerstone to build around.
He may also have a personal agenda to prove certain teams wrong, after he won college basketball's National Player of the Year and then slipped to No. 8 in the draft.
More than anything else, Toppin will be looking to prove the defensive concerns are overblown. They represent skeptics' ammo. How valuable can a poor defensive big be?
"I'm in the weight room every Monday, Wednesday and Friday working on my body," Toppin told reporters three weeks ago. "I've been working on that a lot, and I feel I'm going to prove a lot of people who feel I can't play defense, I'm going to prove a lot of people wrong."
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls
A month ago, it didn't seem like Patrick Williams would have much to prove early. But the predraft buzz and Chicago Bulls raised expectations.
He skyrocketed to No. 4 in the draft despite averaging just 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds, leapfrogging proven names like Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton, and more productive freshmen such as Onyeka Okongwu and Isaac Okoro.
Now he'll be out to prove that the rise was deserving. Williams won't have to compete for Rookie of the Year, but the team and fans will want to see regular flashes of versatility that create the perception of upside, which Chicago clearly felt was worth reaching on.
Ideally for the Bulls, they just added a combo forward with three-point range, playmaking skills and lockdown defensive potential. But in his one season at Florida State, Williams shot just 16-of-50 from deep, averaged 1.0 assists and didn't look the quickest guarding around the perimeter.
To justify going as high as he did, he'll need to demonstrate a substantial amount of skill improvement.