Top 5 NBA Players Under the Most Pressure to Win a Title

Nikola Jokic

Last Thursday, February 22nd, Stephen A Smith made a list of the players who he thinks are the five players under the most pressure to win a title this year. The list went as follows

  1. Chris Paul
  2. James Harden
  3. Jayson Tatum
  4. Nikola Jokic
  5. Kawhi Leonard

This is not a horrible list; people have certainly been worse lists made (including ones made by Stephen A himself). However, while it is not a bad list, there could be some improvements. So before I give my list, here are the players on Stephen A’s list that should not.

Chris Paul: CP3 has been a player on this list for years, but he does not belong on these lists anymore. We know he is at this point. He is one of the best point guards of all time, a fantastic floor riser, awesome floor general, but he just is not “that guy come playoff time”. He is 37 years old and the third-best player on his team. Not much can change his legacy, good or bad, at this point.


Kawhi Leonard: It’s understandable why someone thinks Kawhi should be on this list, especially regarding everything the Clippers office had to do for Kawhi to get there. But at the end of the day, he already has 2 Finals MVPs to his name, and one of those came during a playoff run that is debatably a top-10 run of all time. Another Finals MVP would make him only the second player of all time to win three Finals MVPs with three different teams. So with this all being said, Kawhi has nothing to lose; he has already accomplished plenty.

James Harden: Similar to CP3, the reason Harden does not have a ton of pressure is that we already know who he is, and there is not much he can do to change that. If he were to win a ring this year, it would help his legacy, but not as much as it would have if he did it as the number one option.


You can definitely make an argument that these players are in the top five for under the most pressure, but probably not as much as these five guys.

5. Paul George

If the Clippers win the title this year, it will be because Kawhi played like Kawhi, and Paul George has both impressive and unimpressive stretches of playoff basketball throughout his career. The general public’s opinion of PG is that he is one of the most well-put-together players of all time but does not have the “it factor” come playoff time. A ring while playing like a superstar cements himself as a Top 75 player of all time.

4. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is a 2 Time Champion, 2 Time Finals MVP, Regular Season MVP, and one of the best all-around scorers of all time. With this being said, many people understandably still question his legacy because his only two titles came with the most talented team of all time. Not only this, but he also forced himself out of his most recent situation. The only way to prove it was the right decision is to back it up by winning. The Suns do not have a ton of time to figure out team chemistry and everything else, so that is why he is not higher on the list. By next year, he will certainly be in the top three.

3. Jayson Tatum

Yes, Jayson Tatum is only 24 years old. Yes, he is still under contract with a very good team for the next few years. But if you succeed early and set high expectations by winning and playing great, when you fail (like Tatum did in The Finals), that is the only thing the media will talk about until you prove them wrong. Obviously, Tatum has a ton of time to do that, but championship windows are always smaller than they seem, and there will not be a better chance to win the title than this year.


2. Joel Embiid

Embiid absolutely has the talent and potential to be the best player in the world. What holds him back is his health and his drop in performance in big games. From playoff games to elimination games, his true shooting percentage drops from 58.2% to 50.7%. Embiid will have his best teammate in his career by far for a full season come playoff time, and he will be running out of excuses if they don’t make a far playoff run again.

1. Nikola Jokic

The guy who will probably win MVP for the third year in a row is under the most pressure to win a title this year. Yes, he deserved his first two MVPs. Yes, if he continues the way that he continues the way he has been playing, he will deserve this one too. But fair or not, for those MVPs to be taken seriously by the fans and media, you need to have at least one far playoff run, preferably a ring. 


When you’re a superstar, you’re going to have a ton of pressure on you no matter what. But fair or not, when you have accomplished a lot individually but have not been able to win the big one, that is all the fans and media will talk about.

Main Image Credit: 

Embed from Getty Images


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