A fresh NBA season feels good. You go into the year feeling optimistic for your team regardless of what happened last year. Expectations have been recalibrated and you’ve been yet to be let down.
For players, it feels just as good. They’ve spent the offseason working on their game and conditioning and are ready to put it to the test in training camp, preseason, and the regular season.
For players who had a rough 2022-23, it’s a chance to start the journey on a resurgent year and write a better chapter in the book that is their NBA career. While it’s a team game, the NBA community gets fixated on individual performance and accolades. And with only five players on the floor at any given time, these individual performances matter to the team, too.
Some players that had rough 2021-22 seasons need to bounce back more than other. Here are four in particular.
NBA players in need of a 2022-23 comeback: Kemba Walker
- 2021-22 WAR: 1.2
- FiveThirtyEight WAR projection: 2.8
For the most part, I looked past long-standing veterans when compiling this list when their (lack of) performance last year seems to be indicative of a career slowing and not necessarily a recoverable temporary dip (i.e.: Danny Green). That said, Kemba Walker is a big exception, because as fans, I think we need him to bounce back and go out on a high note.
The Kemba Walker of recent history is not how fans want to remember him. Walker, going into his 12th NBA season, is a four-time All-Star and should be known for his (overall) above-average career play, not the stain of a performance we got from him in New York last season.
The Knicks storyline felt really great in the moment, but in retrospect, it should have been clear it wouldn’t work. Walker is a New Yorker himself and his most iconic basketball moment that earned him the nickname Cardiac Kemba happened at Madison Square Garden while he was at UCONN.
The fit, though, just wasn’t there.
Speaking on his struggles, Walker admitted he wasn’t used to the backseat role the Knicks asked of him, and it was taking a lot to adjust to what was needed from him:
"“It’s pretty difficult,’’ Walker said. “It’s just so different. It’s a different time in my career. I’m in a whole different position and role. But yeah, that’s on me to learn how to play with guys and learn when to get my shots and it’s just taking more time than what I’d like to expect.’’"
Walker was traded to the Detroit Pistons this offseason, and as a rebuilding team, it’s unclear exactly what they’ll expect his role to be, or if they may look to trade him again to secure more assets.
While the Pistons will likely shop Walker around to competitors, it’s unlikely that any of them will want to spend assets to acquire Walker when he’s a possible buyout candidate later in the season.
In that regard, maybe Detroit is a good spot. He can spend the early months there mentoring young players like Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes while getting low-pressure minutes in as a rotation player, getting comfortable being out of the driver’s seat. Then, at the deadline, he may get traded or bought out, or maybe he settles in with Detroit for the year.
Whatever the case may be, just about every basketball fan wants to see Kemba rise a bit before he hangs it up on his solid career.