In theory risk and reward can be calculated up and down the spectrum of a draft, from the early rounds to the late rounds, but for the purpose of this article we'll be focusing on mostly the costly risks in the early and middle rounds. Calculated risks are almost always involved in winning a championship against 11-or-more competitors, so let's take a look and see if we can pick out the good ones versus the bad ones.
C Al Horford, Hawks
Horford will be underdrafted due to injury risk. As long as another big one doesn’t hit, his durability has been pristine when not suffering season-ending injuries.
PG Deron Williams, Nets
Williams appeared to lose his confidence at times last season and concurrently Joe Johnson took on a lot of ball-handling responsibilities. Now Jarrett Jack, who struggled mightily last season, is in the fold and that’s another guy who just two years ago did very well with the ball in his hands in Golden State. Can Williams bounce back to become a reasonable facsimile of what he once was? It’s still going to take an early round pick to find out, and that’s pricey territory, but a seemingly unlikely return to form could yield top-20 results on a Nets team with little overall depth.
PG Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose buckled owners up on this train during last year’s preseason only to leave them strewn about the railroad tracks. He made the highlight reel plenty of times for Team USA this summer and he has first round upside, though it will be interesting to see if that best-case scenario can hold up with the decreased usage he’s bound to experience on his deepest Bulls team. On one hand, that can help his efficiency and allow him to contribute in other areas – not to mention keep him from crashing into interior defenders so much. On the other hand, can he really change his instinct to attack and bottom line – can he stay on the floor after two disastrous knee injuries? It’s gonna cost a whole lot to find out.
PF Kevin Love, Cavs
How much does Love change his game playing with heavy usage guys that handle the rock in LeBron and Kyrie Irving? Will Anderson Varejao stay healthy and cut into his rebounding? It’s going to take a top 10-15 pick for a crack at a player with top-5 upside if he can somehow clear all the traffic out of the way and do his thing.
PF Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs
Dirk’s game is timeless and doesn’t rely on athleticism. After a big-time season he has plenty of offensive pieces around him this year to help make life easy. Father Time lurks on the other side of that equation, but you can ask the Reaper what he feels like after another round with the Diggler.
PG Ty Lawson, Nuggets
Lawson has always been dinged up dating back to his North Carolina days and it may finally start catching up to him. Factor in the backcourt logjam and three guys that can also handle the ball in Randy Foye, Nate Robinson and Arron Afflalo and there could be problems. If he can dodge all of that, you’re holding onto a guy that can return top 25-40 value when he’s on the floor.
As of late August these two are still set to kill each other’s production, and likewise both have the potential to be early round producers sans the other. In the case of Smith, it’s unlikely but he has top-15 potential if he can find a bounce in his step we haven’t seen since 2011-12. If we ignore the potential that either guy can be shipped out via trade, they’ll both be overvalued in terms of name value. The aforementioned upside is essentially what you’re paying for here.
PG Stephen Curry, Warriors
We think he’s okay healthwise and he certainly proved that last year but because the questions about his ankle entered our minds they probably entered yours too. This is a mild risk-reward situation, but because he’s going to cost you a top-5 pick we thought we’d mention it.
C Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Sure, the Pacers don’t have too many guys to carry the load with the exodus of Lance Stephenson and the big injury to Paul George, but can Hibbert rebound after a second-half of last season that exposed him? His scoring is best provided as a secondary option and he looked lethargic on both ends for much of last season, with DPOY voters blowing their votes when giving Hibbert a nod. It’ll be up to George Hill and Rodney Stuckey to get him going, and that’s probably not a good sign, but the likely late-mid round pick could theoretically go big if he is relied upon heavily and gets the job done.
PG Chris Paul, Clippers
Paul is a top-5 player when healthy and even if he misses in the ballpark of 10 games he’ll probably turn in at least a mid-first round performance. But there is that chance that the Clippers decide to be extra careful with him and/or his body starts to break down in his 10th season. When paying the premium owners will pay for CP3, a swing in value from the front to the back end of the first round or worse could be titanic.
SG/SF Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Kobe headlines wherever he goes anyway, and he most certainly headlines this risk-reward list if anything because of the mythology surrounding his ability to stave off injury. Now it appears that he and the Lakers are more realistic about his return this season than last, but we’re already seeing reports like the statements from trainer Gary Vitti to not bet against Kobe. Chances are he changes his game to play out of the post more, while also probing for spot-up opportunities and fadeaways.
The Lakers have very few assets and none of them are threats to a relatively full workload for the Mamba, and the only question is what he does with it and if he completely disappears in the defensive stat categories. The Lakers should play in some junked up games so his steals might not be as at risk as one would think.
Nevertheless, durability concerns and likely decreases in counting stats should theoretically push Kobe down the draft board into the middle rounds, which in an 8-cat league is a likely floor for his value when on the court. In a 9-cat league feel free to chop 2-3 rounds off his value. Still, should Kobe have one more headlining act in his arsenal, the early-to-mid round pick it’s going to cost to get him could be Dirk Nowitzki-like.
SG Dwyane Wade, Heat
Wade says he wants to play in 75 games this season and there is a chance that he wants to reclaim some of his legacy with LeBron out of town. But Wade’s knee issues are well-established and grinding through a bottom of the pack playoff push in the East may not sound as good in March. Fantasy owners are always tempted by upside and it’s going to push Wade’s price higher than it should probably be on draft day, but a regular season without expectations might cause him to move the goalposts closer to April rather than June. We don't think Wade is going to come close to his old form, but if we're wrong, he has late-early round upside if he can meet his own 75-game mark.
C Larry Sanders, Bucks
Sanders is probably on some never-again lists but he has solid mid-round potential with a hint of upside if he can get his head screwed on straight. Perhaps he falls in drafts to the point where the risk dissolves into opportunity, but chances are owners will have to burn a mid-round pick on a guy that may or may not have the blessing of his new corporate overlords.
PG/SG Eric Bledsoe, Suns
Bledsoe is in the center of contract negotiations as of late-August and Rotoworld sources have been clear to not rule out that he could be moved. Whether or not the Suns can find a taker in a sign-and-trade (hello Greg Monroe) is at play here, and the only real takeaway is that there could be some acrimony and slippery business if he plays out his qualifying offer. If he gets a deal inked, there is the ever-present injury risk to contend with.
On the other end of that carrot is a likely top 30-50 producer when on the floor in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively. Perhaps he shakes off the presence of newcomer Isaiah Thomas and stays healthy all year, but even if he’s purchased at a discount there are a few different ways this can go wrong for owners.
PG Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Lowry finished as the No. 12 player in fantasy leagues last year and got paid so needless to say the hype surrounding his value will be pretty intense in competitive leagues, even if his name value isn’t anywhere near his real value in fantasy or reality. The Raptors are basically bringing back the same team, but along with the high expectations the injury risk foreshadows a player that might be at the top of his value curve.