Determining who might take the next step in their development in the upcoming season is one of the easier parts of this job. Sure, it's an imperfect science that can make you look foolish, but at least you get to be positive. And that's nice, right?
Projecting who might fail to live up to expectations is a bit harder than the alternative -- basketball tends to be a sport of consistency. There aren't quite as many unknown commodities, so it's more about projecting whose role might leave them on the outside looking in for Fantasy purposes.
This list is by no means an indictment on these players. This entire list could easily end up being among the 100 most valuable Fantasy options this season and still fit here. Here are 10 players I think could underperform their draft position this season.
Jrue Holiday, G, Pelicans
Holiday enjoyed a true breakout performance last season, taking advantage of a shallow Sixers roster to average 17.7 points and 8.0 assists. The Pelicans were so enamored with his All-Star season they traded a pair of first-round picks in order to acquire him this season, which is where the trouble starts for Holiday, from a Fantasy perspective.
The Pelicans are battling their way back to relevance this season, and they are planning to do so on the backs of a trio of well-compensated guards. Along with Holiday, the team signed Tyreke Evans to join Eric Gordon in the backcourt. This creates something of a glut for playing time, especially since all three thrive with the ball in their hands.
Holiday's shooting percentage has fallen in three straight seasons as his usage has increased. That trend should turn around with more help in New Orleans, but it should coincide with a reduction in his per-game and counting stats.
As a No. 2 guard, Holiday should be a fine Fantasy option. Expecting a repeat of last season could lead to disappointment, however.
J.R. Smith, G, Knicks
Just a few months after signing his $17.9 million contract, it came out that Smith waited until after he got his deal to undergo knee surgery that will likely cost him at least a few weeks this season. Fairly or unfairly, that story has created a perception of Smith that he cares more about his financial state than contributing on the court.
I fall on the side that says that criticism is unfair, and it doesn't really color my perception of his Fantasy value. His placement here isn't wholly unrelated, however; coming off knee surgery, Smith is an obvious risk to take a step back this season.
Already, Fantasy owners who could consider targeting Smith on Draft Day have to contend with the lost playing time from his recovery as well as his five-game suspension whenever he is ready to return. With a potentially deeper Knicks team around him, and the improving Iman Shumpert pushing for a starting spot and possible playing time. Smith could be a headache this season that isn't worth the trouble.
Goran Dragic, G, Suns
I like Goran Dragic. Just to get that out of the way, I think he's a really good player who has been a solid Fantasy option pretty much whenever he's been given the chance. And I do think he will be good this season.
This season, however, there is enough uncertainty surrounding him to knock him down a few pegs on my draft board. The acquisition of Eric Bledsoe this offseason gives the Suns another ballhandler and distributor in the backcourt, and though the team has maintained they plan on sharing point guard duties, this wouldn't be the first time Dragic has been pushed to the margins while sharing a backcourt.
At the very least, Dragic should go from being the team's lone creator on the perimeter to one of at least two, which can only cut into his chances. Considering the depth at the guard position, I would rather temper expectations and target Dragic as a third guard this season.
Greivis Vasquez, G, Kings
This one is almost upsetting. Vasquez has worked hard to become a decent NBA point guard, only to have the Pelicans' acquisition of Holiday cost him his spot.
Now, he is battling Isaiah Thomas for playing time in Sacramento. And while the Kings' coaching staffs of the past have searched for reasons not to play Thomas, we simply do not know how the timeshare will go at the point guard spot this season. Thomas and Vasquez are both capable of running an offense and being productive, which could lead to both of them taking a step back for Fantasy purposes.
Coming off a 13.9-point, 9.0-assist season, Vasquez has a further distance to fall. He won't be relegated to a pure backup role, but the team's glut of options likely means he could struggle to get up to full-time minutes. Assists are awfully hard to come by, and Vasquez can bring them in big volumes, so he'll always have some value. Counting on him as a starting Fantasy option could leave you wanting, however.
David Lee, F, Warriors
Lee has long been a consistent, reliable source of points and rebounds, without much else for Fantasy owners. And his lack of defensive acumen has been a problem for a Warriors team that has been trying to grow into a contender. Those two concerns could dovetail into a disappointing campaign for Lee in 2013-14.
The Warriors found a new identity in the playoffs by spreading the ball and launching even more threes than ever before. And, though there is little sign that coach Mark Jackson plans to adopt that for a full season, we now know a small-ball lineup sits in his back pocket if the team gets off to a slow start. Lee's playing time could be a casualty in that scenario.
Each of Lee's last two seasons have ended with surgery, which could also be a motivating factor in limiting his playing time this season. The Warriors are already struggling to find playing time for their bevy of talented wings, and sliding promising sophomore Harrison Barnes in at power forward for 10-15 minutes a game is an option to keep Lee fresh. A nightly double-double threat for years, Golden State's makeup could lead to a disappointing results for Lee.
Zach Randolph, F, Grizzlies
Though he still gobbles up rebounds (or Z-bounds, if you prefer), Randolph's production continues to fall off as he continues into his 30's. Though the falloff hasn't be precipitous, it is enough to make Fantasy owners take pause.
Last season, Randolph arguably fell to third on the team's hierarchy to Mike Conley and Pau Gasol, and that should continue this year. Especially with quality backup big men ready and willing to spell him throughout the long grind of the regular season. Randolph is nearing career-low rates for fouls drawn per 36 minutes, and his efficiency has fallen off in recent years -- he shot just 46.0 percent from the field in 2012-13, his lowest mark since 2007-08.
An additional concern is the Grizzlies' precarious cap situation, and management's known willingness to swing a big trade unexpectedly. It would not be a total shock to see Randolph moved this season, casting another question mark on his status. Randolph has fallen from nearly 20 points per-36 minutes to around 16 the last two seasons, and another dip wouldn't be surprising at all.
Tristan Thompson, F, Cavaliers
Poor Tristan Thompson. The much-maligned No. 4 overall pick from two years ago showed more than enough growth in his second season to easily be considered a breakout candidate this season. If only a few personnel moves had gone his way this offseason.
With two recent top-5 picks invested in their backcourt of the future, the Cavs made upgrading the frontcourt a priority this season, arguably at the expense of Thompson's development as a building block. The acquisition of Andrew Bynum and drafting of top pick Anthony Bennett further muddies a front court that already features Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller, another recent first-round pick.
Working in Thompson's favor is his durability within a crew that has been sadly unable to avoid injuries in recent years. Unfortunately, we have to at least consider the possibility that everyone will be healthy for stretches, which will drop Thompson to third on the pecking order, at least.
Thompson did not truly begin to blossom until Varejao went down last season with an injury. Though that is certainly a possibility again this season, uncertainty surrounding his place on the team is enough to make Thompson a risky selection.
J.J. Hickson, F, Nuggets
Last season, the Trail Blazers almost begrudgingly accepted Hickson as the team's starting center in a mostly lost year. He put up solid numbers and played nearly 30 minutes per game, mostly because there was no other option.
Tellingly, the Blazers never seriously considered the possibility of bringing Hickson back as a free agent, despite his averages of 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Also possibly tellingly, a team that allowed Masai Ujiri and George Karl to leave following a 57-win season was the one to bite on Hickson's empty production.
The Nuggets are clearly moving forward with JaVale McGee at center, and the presence of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur opens up plenty of questions about where and when Hickson is actually going to find playing time. On a team with playoff hopes despite a tumultuous offseason, Hickson is unlikely to find a full-time role.
Andre Drummond, C, Pistons
I'm fully willing to accept that I am opening myself up to ridicule and derision with this one. Drummond is a tremendous talent who looked incredible in his rookie season, despite playing a limited role. So why am I including nearly everyone's favorite breakout candidate on this list?
I'm definitely expecting Drummond to build on his productive rookie season, when he averaged 13.8 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per-36 minutes. Unfortunately, I'm just not convinced he's going to see a huge uptick in playing time in his second season in the league.
Drummond should be a per-minute terror once again this season, but the continued presence of Greg Monroe and the acquisition of Josh Smith could leave a playing time crunch for the Pistons front court. Though they should start with all three big men on the floor together, it is no secret that Smith's best position is power forward. That will leave a delicate balancing act for Detroit coach Maurice Cheeks, because Smith and Monroe could be the team's best balance of offense and defense while Drummond continues to develop.
Then there is the free-throw shooting, which is kindly defined as abysmal; Drummond shot just 37.1 percent last season, actually an improvement on his 29.5 percent mark in college. Factor in that only five players have averaged 25-plus minutes per game while shooting below 40 percent from the free-throw line since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967-68, and you see how Drummond is facing an uphill battle for playing time.
His upside is considerable, and more than enough to make Drummond worth drafting. But right now, he's going 13th among centers in CBSSports.com leagues, which is an easy sign that he is overvalued right now. If he gets his free throw percentage up just to the 50-percent range, all bets are off. Until I see it, I am willing to hedge against it.
Kevin Garnett, C, Nets
Garnett still figures to be a big part of the Nets' team this season, but there are plenty of troubling signs from a Fantasy perspective. Though he still averaged 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game a year ago, Garnett might be a risk even as a No. 2 center this season.
The Nets have already floated the possibility of resting Garnett on back-to-backs, a sure sign they are concerned about his minutes. With a deep, veteran roster around, limiting Garnett as much as possible is probably the best move for a team that has their eyes set on a deep playoff run. And Garnett has missed at least 10 games in five of the last six seasons, so we probably have to pencil him in for at least that much this time around.
Even if we could count on Garnett for 30-plus minutes 80 times this season, it would be hard to expect much from him for Fantasy purposes. He is likely to be the fifth option offensively in the team's starting lineup, and is mostly a pick-and-pop jump shooter at this point in his career. It wouldn't be inconceivable for Garnett to attempt fewer than 10 field goals per game for the first time since he was a rookie in 1995-96.
Garnett could still be a useful Fantasy option, to be certain. At this point in his career, and on this team, however, he should be considered a specialist. He is a luxury on any Fantasy roster, but is not to be relied upon to heavily.