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NBA AM: Can These Players Handle The Pressure?

Lang Greene looks at a number of players who will enter next season with heightened expectations.



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Can These Players Handle The Pressure?

In the world of aviation, there’s a belief that there’s a huge difference between being a co-pilot versus sitting in the captain’s chair. The belief is rooted in the theory that those few inches separating the two roles come with a much higher level of responsibility, expectations and personal accountability. Some are better suited to be in the co-pilot role. Others thrive under the pressure of increased responsibility.

As we head into the 2016-17 NBA season, there are a number of players around the league who are now faced with higher expectations than they’ve ever faced in their entire career up until this point. Some of these players are in new zip codes, while some of the guys will be transitioning into the role of full-time starter for the first time. But the key difference each of these guys will face is the burden of an entirely new level of pressure.

Let’s take a look at some of the guys who will be facing this challenge next season.

Dennis Schroder, Point Guard, Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks made the transition to Schroder being their primary floor general early in the offseason after trading former All-Star Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers. While Teague’s departure had been speculated about for months, the question immediately now turns to whether Schroder is ready for the role of full-time starter.

Schroder was the first player selected after head coach Mike Budenholzer arrived in Atlanta. Schroder is Budenholzer’s guy. This is no secret and with Teague entering unrestricted free agency in 2017, the Hawks made the move early to avoid any type of in-season drama.

Next season, the Hawks will look entirely different with two-fifths of their starting lineup playing elsewhere (since All-Star Al Horford bolted to Boston as well). Schroder is a young point guard who will now be thrust into the role of trying to keep the new pieces in Atlanta glued together. Will he be up to the challenge?

Harrison Barnes, Small Forward, Dallas Mavericks

Ever since Barnes entered the league, he’s been a role player on a stacked team. Barnes possesses an overall satisfying game. He can step out to the three-point line, decently defend multiple positions and even be a double-digit scoring threat on a nightly basis.

But now armed with a four-year deal worth $90 million with the Dallas Mavericks, he will be expected to play at a much higher level every single night. Barnes will be without the protection of All-Stars such as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green after leaving the comfy confines of the Golden State Warriors organization.

In Dallas, Barnes enters a situation still in a bit of a transition with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki playing his final days. The hope in Dallas is that Barnes’ upside will allow him to grow leaps and bounds and that he could eventually flirt with an All-Star bid. This may be too high of an expectation in year one, but can Barnes develop into an upper-tier performer after the change of scenery? He’ll have every opportunity to shine and finally maximize his full potential, but it’s on him to make that leap.

Allen Crabbe, Shooting Guard, Portland Trail Blazers

Professional sports are filled with stories like Crabbe, where guys seemingly come out of nowhere to establish themselves and lock up huge money in free agency. Some of these guys keep their respective momentum going, but some of these players fall flat after getting paid.

In Portland, Crabbe will primarily serve as the lead guard off the bench behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. So he’s not being thrust into a starting role immediately, but the Blazers are hoping that he continues his progression and ultimately become a perennial contender for Sixth Man of the Year honors. That would be the ideal scenario, of course, for Portland since they invested four years and $75 million into Crabbe after a breakout campaign.

Hassan Whiteside, Center, Miami Heat

The sudden emergence of Whiteside has been well documented and it’s one of the league’s better feel-good, redemption stories. But now the center is armed with a $100 million deal and Miami is reeling after the loss of future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade to Chicago in free agency. This will be a new era for Miami, especially with All-Star forward Chris Bosh’s future still up in the air due to a medical condition.

More than ever before, Whiteside will go from a feel-good story on a bargain contract to the role of a potential franchise savior on a max deal. That’s a pretty drastic change. Many players have failed to live up those type of expectations on the drop of a dime. Whiteside has top-tier defensive skills and should routinely be in the mix for All-Defensive team consideration moving forward, but can he improve enough offensively to help carry the nightly load for the franchise is a valid question to ponder. The young man will be under the microscope, and it’ll be fun to see what he can do with this expanded role.

Clint Capela, Center, Houston Rockets

The Rockets are coming off an extremely disappointing season, but they salvaged the campaign to some extent by overcoming some struggles and making it to the playoffs. The team has been busy this in summer free agency, adding veterans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson into the fold. But the team also lost former Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to Atlanta in free agency.

This leaves Capela with an intriguing opportunity to seize command of the starting center position full-time in Houston. Now, the Rockets did sign Nene to a one-year, $3 million deal as a sort of an insurance policy, but in a perfect world Capela would be ready for the challenge of jumping into Howard’s spot old with little to no turbulence.

The 22-year-old center has flashed glimpses of his excellent potential, but he’s yet to put together a consistent run of high-level production. The 2016-17 campaign will give Capela a chance to assert himself as one of the young centers on the rise.

D’Angelo Russell, Guard, Los Angeles Lakers

Russell had a topsy-turvy rookie campaign but his talent is clearly evident. If he can harness all of his power, the kid could be special. Russell’s rookie campaign was clouded and overshadowed by a number of things, including the Nick Young video incident, Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour and former head coach Byron Scott’s reluctance to remove the training wheels from Russell.

The guard won’t have the luxury of these protections next season, as new head coach Luke Walton has already promised to throw him into the fire whenever there’s an opportunity. For Russell, the expectations shift from a young guy still learning and not being expected to play as much to becoming a nightly producer expected to bring his “A” game  every contest – with more eyes on him than ever before.

Who are some other players that enter the 2016-17 NBA season with heightened expectations? Leave your thought in the comment section below?

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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