3 Players With The Most To Prove: Southwest Division

There are myriad reasons why certain players would be under pressure to perform this season: some are being counted on to take their teams to a new level, some are needing of an attitude adjustment... And some, just need to prove that they can play

We continue our series looking at players that have the most to prove in the 2022-23 season. Today, we head to the Southwest Division. 

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Clearly, the most important thing Williamson needs to prove is that he can stay on the court. And play a full season. If he can do that, it’s quite likely that the rest will take care of itself. Zion’s last near-full season—60 games in 2020-21– he merely put up 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while shooting 61% from the floor. 

But Zion has only played in 85 games total over his three seasons in the league—zero last year as he spent the whole season recovering from a stubborn fractured foot injury suffered the previous summer. 

These Pelicans, though, are ready to win now. With the addition of CJ McCollum, and the emergence of All-Star Brandon Ingram, this team is definitely counting on having Williamson at full strength and being a difference-maker, to get them to the next level. 

Christian Wood, Dallas Mavericks

For the first time in his career, Wood is a major player on a contender— a team that’s counting on him to be a huge contributor to get where they want to go: deep into the playoffs. 

While Wood had a couple of breakthrough seasons with the Houston Rockets the past two years, it was with no pressure whatsoever, for a last-place, rebuilding team. He has no such luxury in Dallas. Wood is expected to be a No. 2 option behind Lukas Doncic for the Mavs. Though head coach Jason Kidd has thrown a bit of a wrinkle into the mix, saying that Wood will likely be coming off the bench, as a kind of ‘super 6th man’. 

Wood has been known to display poor body language on the court. Now he has to prove that coming off the bench isn't a problem for him, and that he can perform at a 20-point level with a team that’s really counting on him. 

Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets

He's a mercurial personality, both on and off the court. But this year, the pressure is on Kevin Porter Jr. to prove that he's maturing and growing, and can be a solid (and dynamic) backcourt mate for Jalen Green. 

Last season, a five-day stretch in early January pretty much summed up both sides of Porter Jr.:

He got into a heated exchange with Rockets assistant coach John Lucas at halftime of a game on Jan. 1st and was subsequently suspended for a game by the team. In his first game back on Jan. 5th, he merely hit a game-winning buzzer-beating three. 

He finished the season strong, and now must prove he's worth the contract extension that he's eligible for before opening night. 

Photo: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports