The NBA season saw a whole host of players who raised their stock and perception around the league.
Take Devin Booker, for example, as the two-time All-Star has successfully proven that he can score as well or even better in the biggest of stages, silencing the “empty stats” argument. Similarly, Trae Young, who wasn’t even an All-Star last season and was merely seen by many as a foul-baiting shot-chucker, led his Atlanta Hawks to a sensational Eastern Conference Finals run. New seasons can truly be opportunities for players to rewrite unflattering narratives and raise their stock once again.
For this piece, we’re going to be looking at the players who will have the chance for redemption this upcoming 2021-22 NBA season. These players, for one reason or another, have seen their stock plummet in recent times, and the fans and the media have certainly let them know about it. However, they’ll have the opportunity to turn it all around this upcoming season.
With that in mind, let’s get into the five potential redemption arcs of the 2021-22 NBA season.
Arguably the NBA player with the worst stock decrease, Ben Simmons has had to face criticism left and right after the past postseason. The entire Philadelphia 76ers organization has actually been under scrutiny after crashing out of the playoffs once again in the second round. It is Simmons, however, who has taken the brunt of the backlash after a dismal showing against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The 6-foot-11 point forward caught flak due to his unwillingness to shoot late in games, culminating in his infamous blunder against the Hawks in Game 7.
Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers’ postgame comments didn’t help matters, either, with both basically throwing Simmons under the bus. The Australian has been criticized for his lack of shooting in the past, but the criticism has reached a fever pitch after this latest failure.
There have been a bunch of trade rumors this offseason, and there have also been reports of Simmons essentially ghosting the Sixers. A change of scenery could be on the horizon, though Philly is holding strong and looking for a massive return in a trade. It sure seems like Simmons could use a fresh start, especially since the fit with him and Embiid is flawed. Never forget the importance of fit to a player’s success.
Wherever Simmons starts next season, he’ll have a chance to redeem himself. Even if he never becomes a good shooter, some improvement in that area would go a long way toward helping him become a more prominent playoff performer.
Victor Oladipo returned to the Miami Heat this offseason on a minimum contract after yet another surgery. This isn’t exactly where we expected Oladipo to be just a few years ago when he was throwing down reverse dunks in the All-Star Game.
We don’t have to go far to see where it went wrong for the former Indiana Pacer. Oladipo suffered a devastating knee injury in 2018-19 and has never really been the same after undergoing surgery for this. He only appeared in 33 games this past season as a member of three different teams.
Despite all the injuries, Oladipo’s greatness has still managed to show up in flashes. He famously scored a buzzer-beating 35-footer to tie the game against the Chicago Bulls in his first game back after his surgery to force overtime, helping his Pacers to eventually take the game. In his debut with the Houston Rockets, he managed to put up an incredible 32 points and nine assists in a losing effort, coincidentally also against the Bulls.
It’s easy to see that the charismatic shooting guard still has all the talent in the world. After a disappointing playoff run last season that saw them get swept in the first round, Miami’s minimum signing of Oladipo could prove to be a game-changer. The low-risk, high-reward signing could prove to be just what the Heat needed to refuel their roster to hopefully replicate their glorious 2019-20 NBA Finals run. If he helps the Heat do just that in his new role (whenever he actually returns), Victor Oladipo might just be able to raise his stock once again.
Similar to Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker’s somewhat unsuccessful tenure with the Boston Celtics can be attributed to injuries. However, there are a couple more factors to consider for the former All-Star.
The Celtics signed Walker in free agency as Kyrie Irving’s replacement for the 2019-20 season. It looked to be a great fit at the start, as he led Boston to the third seed and made the NBA All-Star Game in the process. He was also a key piece in Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals run, although the cracks could already be seen at that point.
The next season wouldn’t be as successful. Kemba and the Celtics fell to the seventh seed after an underwhelming season filled with injuries and COVID-19 protocols. The team would then get bounced by the Brooklyn Nets in five games, with Jayson Tatum having to score 50 points in Game 3 to avoid the sweep. Kemba Walker was mostly invisible in the series, averaging just 12.7 points and 4.0 assists in three games.
While Walker had his moments with the Celtics, a nagging knee injury was a problem both seasons. After playing all 82 games in his final season with the Charlotte Hornets, the point guard played 56 games in 2019-20 and 43 games this past season. He was also injured in that series against Brooklyn.
Walker was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder and then bought out, allowing him to sign with his hometown New York Knicks. With the Knicks, he has a chance to be the main perimeter scorer to complement All-Star Julius Randle’s inside presence. With another young, hungry roster by his side, Cardiac Kemba could insert himself in the elite point guard conversation once again. For the Knicks, Walker could be the piece to take them to the next level, particularly after crashing out in the playoffs last season in just five games.
Watch out for Kemba’s potential New York renaissance next season.
Another victim of injuries, Anthony Davis’ stock last season dropped dramatically in the Los Angeles Lakers’ underwhelming NBA title defense.
The Lakers were once again favorites last season to repeat with a seemingly improved roster. However, injuries to LeBron James and AD caused the Lakers to fall to the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Injury issues struck again in the first-round series loss to the Phoenix Suns.
The main story of the Lakers’ downfall comes down to injuries, with Davis’ being the most crucial one. Davis did score 34 points in two wins against the Suns, but he struggled in Game 1 and got injured in Game 4. He would ultimately sit out Game 5 and would get taken out in Game 6 with knee and groin injuries.
With AD being 100%, the Lakers could realistically have defeated the Suns and would have had a strong chance to repeat. However, Davis’ lack of fitness was placed as the scapegoat for LA’s disappointing finish.
Reports suggest that Davis has been putting in the work this offseason and will be 100% healthy for the Lakers’ next campaign. Never forget what AD did in his last healthy season and postseason for the Lakers: 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.3 blocks per game in the regular season, and then 27.7 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 blocks in the playoffs, culminating in his first-ever championship.
AD can and will more than likely reclaim his spot as the best and most versatile big man in the league.
We end with arguably the only player who can rival Ben Simmons in terms of criticism acquired last season.
After a promising rookie campaign that saw Kyle Kuzma being compared to Jayson Tatum, he was expected to take similar annual jumps. He didn’t do that, unfortunately, but it was an unfair comparison to make in the first place. While Tatum was a one-and-done, top-five prospect, Kuzma was a late first-rounder who spent three years in college.
As Kuzma failed to live up to this unfair comparison, he was unduly criticized. This criticism was on full display during his disappointing 2021 playoff run. A first-round exit and several Shanghai Sharks memes later, he was dealt to the Washington Wizards in the Russell Westbrook trade.
It was a somber end to Kuzma’s LA career. However, it would be useful to remember what happened to Kuz’s former teammates who got traded unceremoniously out of LA. Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram both became All-Stars, while Jordan Clarkson became the first Utah Jazz player in history to win Sixth Man of the Year.
The odds are in favor for Kuzma to bounce back in a strong manner with the Wizards. Perhaps the increased minutes, touches, and opportunities will rekindle the potential he showed in his freshman year in the NBA. He most likely won’t get to Tatum’s potential, but he can still become a very good player in his own right.
Kuz is ready to go out and prove all the doubters wrong when he takes the stage in the nation’s capital.