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Gaze into your crystal ball and tell me: which player has the most to prove to start the 2018-19 season?
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Steve Aschburner: Kawhi Leonard. The season-long drama over his fitness demands answers, both on the court and from his lips. Enough with the coy. Time for a grown man to deal with other grown men and women properly, and that includes the Spurs fans, through the media. Leonard doesn't have to cut open a vein and give us Manu. We'll settle for him being an adult and giving us a proper, mature Tim, with a dry but full state-of-Kawhi address. Then he needs to go out and dominate at both ends like his old self, and not waste another year.
Shaun Powell: Markelle Fultz, just barely ahead of Paul George (who must hold it down until Russell Westbrook heals) and Carmelo Anthony (can he help Houston?). The Sixers need to know if Fultz has overcome his serious case of the shooting yips. They protected him by keeping him out of NBA Summer League, but the curtain's about to open on his progress. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 Draft must instill confidence in the coaching staff and teammates right away, or risk becoming an outcast on a team that could shake up the East if not the NBA.
John Schuhmann: This is a long list that obviously starts with Markelle Fultz and Kawhi Leonard (see the question about East teams to keep an eye on), and also includes Carmelo Anthony, Eric Bledsoe, Blake Griffin, Rodney Hood, Dwight Howard, Serge Ibaka, Jabari Parker, Myles Turner, Hassan Whiteside and Andrew Wiggins. But one name that also sticks out is D'Angelo Russell. The former No. 2 pick is in the last year of his rookie deal (and Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks made it pretty clear on Tuesday that no contract extension is coming) and has yet to show that he's the Nets' (or anybody's) point guard of the future. He has shown flashes of special talent and is still only 22 years old, but has had issues with consistency, decision-making (shot selection in particular) and defense. The Nets were a better team with Russell off the floor last season and, in Spencer Dinwiddie (also a free agent next summer), Russell has competition at point guard. It will be fascinating to see which of them (if either) is on the Brooklyn roster at this point next year.
Sekou Smith: All eyes will be (and should be) on Carmelo Anthony in Houston. He never was a great fit in Oklahoma City trying to operate as the third option behind Russell Westbrook and Paul George. So what gives anyone the confidence that it'll be any better with 'Melo playing third fiddle behind James Harden and Chris Paul? Well, the Rockets have already been through a successful season of integrating a new superstar into their mix. (Paul's first season with the Rockets might have ended in The Finals if not for that hamstring injury he suffered in Game 5 of the West finals). They should be better equipped to manage Anthony's transition than the Thunder were. Still, there's the chance that this whole thing goes sideways. And that alone will keep plenty of attention on the goings on in Houston this season. He's been an easy target before, in his departures from Denver, New York and Oklahoma City, so there's no reason to believe 'Melo will escape that same fate if things go awry in Houston. Call me crazy, but I think things work out much better with the Rockets.