3 Players With The Most To Prove: Northwest Division


Whether it be players returning from injury, or players needing to elevate their team to the next level, there are a number of NBA stars (and wannabe stars) who have plenty to prove in the 2022-23 season. 

Here are the three who have the most to prove in the Northwest Division.

1. D'Angelo Russell

The Minnesota Timberwolves went all-in this summer, trading a boatload of first-round picks for Rudy Gobert to pair with Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt. Add burgeoning superstar Anthony Edwards to the mix, and the T-Wolves have a 'Big 3'. Scoring and defense. 

But to get to the next level, Russell will have to prove that he can provide the playmaking and point guard play needed to get everyone involved and maximize the big fellas. 

He had a solid regular season last year, averaging 18 points and a career-high 7.1 assists, but his effectiveness fell off considerably in the playoffs. He even found himself on the bench in key stretches. His coach is taking some of the blame:

"We were trying so hard to exploit the Morant matchups, it just didn't allow D'Angelo to settle into the series. I should have done a better job activating him," said Chris Finch.

Establishing a smooth-running team from October through April is great, but Russell's true time to prove himself will come in the postseason.

2. Michael Porter Jr.

It's unfortunate, but the narrative on Porter Jr. is that his back problems will forever haunt his career. He had back surgery during his one and only college season; he missed his entire rookie season in Denver with yet another back surgery; then, after signing a 5-year, $172M extension before the 2021-22 season, his back gave out once again, and he had to go under the knife for the 3rd time in his career.

When he's been healthy (read: the 2020-21 season), he's shown that he can be a difference-maker. Porter Jr. posted averages of 19 points, 7.3 rebounds and 44.5% shooting from beyond the arc in that '20-'21 season.

He needs to prove that he can stay healthy, and be a third star for the Nuggets, to go along with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray (also coming back from injury). 

3. Anfernee Simons

He signed a $100M contract in the offseason, all off of one stretch of 27 games in which he exploded onto the scene for the Trail Blazers. Before January of 2022, Simons had averaged 7.5 points in his three previous seasons in Portland. 

Now the 23-year-old has to prove that his magical January through early-March run this past year wasn't a one-off. If he can come anywhere close to that 23.5 points per game stretch again this season as Damian Lillard's backcourt mate, the Trail Blazers could return to prominence in the West. 

Photos: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports, Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports