Although it’s still a couple of months away, several players have something to prove heading into the 2023-24 NBA season. After analyzing the East, here is one player from each team in the NBA’s Western Conference with the most to prove.
NBA Western Conference Players With Something to Prove in 2023-24
One Player on Every Western NBA Team With Something to Prove in 2023-24
Dallas Mavericks: Kyrie Irving
The Dallas Mavericks recently re-signed Kyrie Irving to a three-year contract. Last season, they acquired the 31-year-old from the Brooklyn Nets to pair Luka Doncic with a second star. However, the experiment didn’t work out exactly as hoped, with the Mavericks missing the playoffs. Next season, Irving will have to prove that he and Doncic can co-exist. This means figuring out his role offensively, giving consistent defensive effort, and being available. Overall, Irving will look to help get Dallas back into contention and turn around a frustrating season.
Denver Nuggets: Christian Braun
The Denver Nuggets lost a key role player this offseason when Bruce Brown signed with the Indiana Pacers. However, Christian Braun said he is ready to fill Brown’s shoes. While it’s encouraging to hear his optimism, it doesn’t mean anything if the 22-year-old can’t back it up. Last year, the rookie averaged 4.7 PPG on 49.5% shooting and 2.4 RPG. These stats are inferior to Brown’s 11.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 3.4 APG, but Braun still made his impact felt through his efficient shooting, IQ, and defence. As he takes on a bigger role with the team, he will look to take a leap in his sophomore year.
Golden State Warriors: Chris Paul
This offseason, NBA veteran Chris Paul made his way from the Phoenix Suns to the Washington Wizards and finally landed with the Golden State Warriors. Some found this move controversial, as the Warriors shipped off Jordan Poole, two other players, and picks for the 38-year-old. The trade was a win-now move following a disappointing second-round playoff exit last season. With Golden State, Paul has high expectations, and he’ll work to prove the team made the right decision to acquire him.
Houston Rockets: Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks became a villain in the NBA in last season’s playoffs. After taunting LeBron James in the first round, the 27-year-old couldn’t back up his trash talk. When the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, they informed the unrestricted free agent that he wouldn’t be brought back under any circumstances. Brooks later joined the Houston Rockets, inking a four-year, $80 million contract. Heading into 2023-24, the forward/guard will look to redeem himself and get a fresh start. While it doesn’t look like he’ll stop running his mouth anytime soon, Brooks should try to step up his game.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kenyon Martin Jr.
The Los Angeles Clippers acquired Kenyon Martin Jr. from the Rockets for two second-round picks this offseason. The 22-year-old is coming off a breakout year, averaging career-highs in points (12.7), field goal percentage (56.9%), rebounds (5.5), and assists (1.5). With the Clippers, Martin has his first chance to contribute to a winning team. As Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will likely miss time with injuries, Martin’s ability to help carry the scoring load and contribute defensively is significant. Entering the last season of his rookie contract, the small forward will look to carry over his success with the Rockets and continue to develop.
Los Angeles Lakers: Austin Reaves
The undrafted Austin Reaves has become a key piece for the Lakers. The team was able to re-sign the restricted free agent to a four-year, $56 million contract, with the move being labelled as one of the steals of the offseason. Last season, Reaves’ role grew as the year progressed, and he showcased his three-level scoring, IQ, and efficiency. Following the All-Star break, he averaged 17.6 PPG on 57.8% shooting, 3.1 RPG, and 5.5 APG. Reaves has big expectations placed on him, and he’ll look to be the third star alongside James and Anthony Davis.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant
Ja Morant is undoubtedly one of the best rising stars in the NBA. However, the 24-year-old has had a recent string of incidents which have led to multiple suspensions. His latest affair sidelines him for 25 games this upcoming season. With this, the Grizzlies are without their leader and top scorer for a significant chunk of time. Acquiring Marcus Smart from the Boston Celtics helped fill the gap and provide some stability at point guard, and he’ll take on a greater role until Morant returns. Once he’s back, he must change his behaviour and improve his decision-making. Morant has tremendous potential and is the future of the NBA unless he keeps up these antics. This season is his chance to show he’s grown.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Rudy Gobert
When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert in a lopsided deal one year ago, many thought it was disastrous. Following the conclusion of last season, the experiment was largely dubbed a failure. While multiple injuries can shoulder some of the blame, Gobert underperformed and produced some of the lowest averages of his career. Even in the little time when he and Karl-Anthony Towns shared the floor, the results were disappointing. Ultimately, Minnesota brought in the three-time Defensive Player of the Year with the expectations that he would take the team to the next level. While he still made an impact, in 2023-24, he’ll look to prove the trade was not a mistake and that he can return to his usual self.
New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson
Zion Williamson’s future with the New Orleans Pelicans has been uncertain for some time now. Thus far, Williamson’s career has been characterized by injuries, so concerns over his availability and durability have formed. In four seasons, the forward has only appeared in 114 games. His impact when healthy is undeniable; however, his injury proneness limits him. Rumours are swirling about potential trades, but the 23-year-old still holds promise and potential to be the franchise’s future. While injuries can be unpredictable, some precautions and changes can be made to help prevent them. Next season, Williamson should aim to turn around his narrative and play as many games as possible.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Chet Holmgren
The 2022 second-overall pick is finally set to make his NBA debut after a foot injury kept him sidelined last season. Even though he’s entering his rookie year, Chet Holmgren has plenty of expectations placed on his shoulders. The Oklahoma City Thunder center/forward has already impressed spectators in games and practices this offseason. He’s also training with some of the league’s best and is one of the top picks for Rookie of the Year. Many believe the Thunder have playoff potential with Holmgren and that he’s their missing piece.
Phoenix Suns: Bol Bol
In an eventful offseason, one of the Suns’ latest addition was rising young power forward Bol Bol. The seven-foot giant has even drawn comparisons to the highly-anticipated rookie Victor Wembanyama. Bol is coming off one of the best seasons of his career and averaged personal bests in points (9.1), rebounds (5.3), and blocks (1.2). Throughout his four seasons, he’s lacked playing time but has displayed solid shooting and defensive abilities. Behind Deandre Ayton, Bol has a chance to showcase his potential and receive increased minutes.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jerami Grant
The Portland Trail Blazers‘ future is murky following the Damian Lillard saga. The team re-signed Jerami Grant to a five-year, $160 million extension before their superstar requested a trade. Many considered the contract one of the biggest mistakes of free agency. The team likely signed the 29-year-old to such a lucrative contract as an incentive for Lillard to stay, and the offer probably would’ve been less if the request had been known. Nevertheless, Grant will look to prove doubters wrong and become Portland’s new leader.
Sacramento Kings: Keegan Murray
Keegan Murray is coming off an impressive rookie campaign with the Sacramento Kings, emerging as a three-point threat and solid defender. He participated in the Summer League’s California Classic this offseason, where he dominated and was later shut down. Heading into his sophomore season, it’s expected that the 23-year-old will take another leap. Murray was one of the reasons Sacramento ended a 16-year playoff drought last year, and he’ll look to help bring the team more playoff success.
San Antonio Spurs: Victor Wembanyama
Labelled the “best prospect since James,” the 2023 first-overall pick faces a lot of pressure this upcoming season. Wembanyama is expected to deliver stellar results for the San Antonio Spurs because of his exceptional shooting, passing, IQ, rebounding, and shot-blocking skills. However, he’s received criticism for his underwhelming Summer League debut, and there are concerns about his weight and strength. Furthermore, people project Wembanyama to either be a bust or generational talent, and he’ll be looking to prove the latter.
Utah Jazz: Talen Horton-Tucker
Talen Horton-Tucker opted into the final year of his contract and is entering his second season with the Utah Jazz. With an extension and the future starting point guard spot on the line, the 22-year-old has a lot to prove. He’s struggled with efficiency, consistency, three-point shooting, and turnovers throughout his career. However, he has the physical tools and potential to be a key player for the Jazz in this make-or-break season.