Whether due to injury or other factors, several key contributors across the league experienced dips in performance during the 2020-21 campaign.
Here's a look at five players poised for bounce back seasons (make sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2).
Ben Simmons - Philadelphia 76ers
Despite Daryl Morey's best efforts, Ben Simmons is still a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. Several teams reportedly rebuffed Morey's absurd packages for Simmons following a dire postseason that sparked both public distrust from coach Doc Rivers and subtweets from Sixers cornerstone Joel Embiid. To Simmons' credit, he had an effective regular season and was one of three players to compile 400-plus rebounds, 400-plus assists, and 90-plus steals.
Then the playoffs happened. The 25-year-old Aussie went 25-for-73 (34.2%) from the charity stripe in the first two rounds - the worst mark in NBA history - and took only three shots in 56 fourth-quarter minutes during Philly's seven-game series defeat to the Hawks. No moment was more emblematic of his postseason struggles than when he passed up a wide-open dunk down a bucket with 3:30 left in the Game 7 loss to Atlanta.
One anonymous NBA scout told The Ringer, "There’s really no ideal place for him" - a sad indictment of a star talent whose game hasn't evolved. Simmons' skill set is so flawed that the franchise had discussions about him shooting with the opposite hand. Still, he's one of the league's best defenders, possesses elite court vision, and is a handful to guard when dashing towards the hoop with a head of steam. A redemptive tale awaits, whether it's in Philly or not.
Pascal Siakam - Toronto Raptors
Two seasons removed from a starring role in the Toronto Raptors championship run and one removed from a maiden All-Star Game selection and spot in the All-NBA Second Team, Pascal Siakam is a question mark on a roster that has gone from contender to rebuild in a flash. Siakam - and Toronto's entire squad - should benefit from playing at home following a campaign spent at makeshift digs in Tampa.
During a mid-August press conference, Raptors vice-chairman and president Masai Ujiri addressed past beef between Siakam and head coach Nick Nurse, saying, "Everybody is in a better place." Ujiri also commented on Siakam's name being at the center of trade talks, adding, "Trust me, Pascal is a prideful man … Pascal is a Raptor, and he's going to play with us."
Siakam, who will miss the start of the season following shoulder surgery, was absent for 16 games in 2020-21, in large part due to COVID-19. A 29% mark from three-point range highlighted his shooting struggles, and one would expect that it can't get worse for a player whose rapid ascendancy has been tethered to a steep learning curve. Some hometown cooking could be enough to re-establish Siakam as the club's No. 1 option.