It’s easy being in the NBA when you’re playing better than anyone ever expected. The kind of player that elevates a team, like Ja Morant before his suspension and subsequent season-ending injury. And then there are those that find themselves underperforming, drawing the scrutiny of fans and media alike. The worst part is that most of the players I’ll be writing about aren’t even doing poorly, just below expectations.

James Harden might be averaging 16 points a game, but in his case it’s only 16 points. The usual factors might be in play here, one of them being his age. At 34, many people are still getting started on their careers, but in basketball you might as well have one foot in the grave. A problem with being one of the best is everyone else looking to emulate that style. He might just need some time to gel with the Clippers, his third team in three years. It seems like constantly changing scenery in the hopes of a ring might not be the best maneuver to get one.

Jordan Poole got dealt an unlucky hand in his career with the Warriors, and it isn’t getting any better with the Wizards. In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have been the one to leave after being punched by a teammate (cough…Dray) who has had no shortage of on-court problems. But at least Poole earned his $140 million extension, right? The only problem is, even after being traded to the Wizards he’s doing much worse. Out of 95 players logging at least 900 minutes this season, he’s at the bottom in terms of effective field goal percentage. Not near it, dead last. His 16.3 points per game average is deceptive when you look at it from a wider view. Without the massive contract he might be forgiven, but at this point it’s money that could be going elsewhere.

Most sports fans would agree there hasn’t been as much hype in a long time for an upcoming NBA player as there was for the Pelican’s Zion Williamson. And he’s still capable of being a 30-point player, but that hasn’t been the reality thus far. He’s only played a little over 60 games since 2021, which is alarming for someone meant to be the cornerstone of a franchise. More alarming? Zion injured himself again, just a few days ago. His 21.3 PPG this season isn’t a problem for almost any other player, but averages don’t mean much when you’re not on the court.

Deandre Ayton should be doing better than he has been this season. For a big-man center, he doesn’t spend nearly enough time defending the ball. He might be building self-confidence, but so far this season he hasn’t been showing it. He’s down to a career-low 13 PPG, along with an incredibly low 55% 2-point shot rate. And the Blazers aren’t making it any easier; they’re ranked lowest in the league in terms of 3-point shooting. As a veteran, it’s his job to rally the troops and get things back on track. He seems to be good in the locker room, so if nothing else he should elevate those around him.

Austin Reaves – This is another case of someone who just hasn’t lived up to the potential fans thought he would. It might not even be his fault, as the Lakers have been highly inconsistent this year. That could all change if Lebron gets angry enough and saves the season, but right now Reaves’ 13.5 PPG isn’t helping. When Shaq starts calling you out, like he just did with Austin Reaves, things need to change. And that might be just what Reaves’ is doing, having scored 20+ points each of his last games. If he keeps that up, he should be just fine.