The pressure ratchets up on everyone in the NBA playoffs, but these players, in particular, will have everything to prove.
The playoffs not only determine who wins the championship each year; it’s also where legacies are formed. Otherwise great players are derided if they are unable to raise their game in the postseason or lead their team to playoff success. This year, there are several players eager to secure their reputation as legends, stars who want to show they can succeed when the stakes are highest, proving that they are indeed among the all-time greats. Here are five of them who have much to prove and could greatly improve their reputations among fans if they impress in the coming months.
5. Russell Westbrook
While Kevin Durant was a member of the Thunder, he and Russell Westbrook missed out on winning a championship together due to a combination of bad luck, injuries, and Klay Thompson making 11 3s in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals. Since Durant left in the summer of 2016, Westbrook has thrived personally, winning the 2017 MVP and averaging a triple-double for three consecutive seasons, but team success has not followed.
The last two years, Westbrook and the Thunder have had ignominious first-round defeats to the Rockets and the Jazz and a third such opening-round exit in as many years would only make his critics feel that much more justified in lambasting his style and effectiveness. With the Western Conference being fairly wide open after the Warriors, this should theoretically be a prime year for the Thunder to advance deep into the playoffs, but considering their late-season collapse, and the fact that no team in the Western playoff picture is anything resembling an easy out, such a run seems unlikely.
If Westbrook truly wants to cement his place among the league’s elite in the minds of NBA fans, though, playoff success in line with his regular season triumphs is a must. No one can reasonably doubt his talents and his ability to take a team to the playoffs — what is in doubt is how much he can help them advance once they get there.