Nobody wants to criticize players. In a perfect world, every professional athlete would play to the best of their abilities at all times injuries would never happen, and every team would use every player in exactly the right way.
We don't live in a perfect world. Players get hurt, they disappoint, their coaches struggle with rotation decisions. It's impossible to tell when this will happen or who they will strike, but every Fantasy player has a horror story of a star whose regression they just didn't see coming.
Let's see if we can have a bit more foresight this season.
It usually isn't a good sign when your name is dangled in trade rumors and your team drafts a player in the top-five at your position, but that is the situation Ricky Rubio finds himself in to start the season. Rubio isn't a bad player, per se -- he is a tenacious defender and an ace passer, who makes up for at least some of his issues as a shooter by getting to the free-throw line a ton and hitting 80-plus percent of his shots when he gets there.
However, he also remains pretty much the same player he was as a 21-year-old rookie, and the Timberwolves are rightly wondering whether their young team can go where it wants with a point guard who has already likely hit his ceiling. A trade would, of course, mitigate some of the concerns about Rubio from a Fantasy perspective, but the real concern is that Rubio stays on the Wolves all season while losing minutes to Kris Dunn. He should still be a strong contributor in assists and steals, but he can kill your field-goal percentage, and it might not be worth taking on the risk of Rubio losing his job given the lack of breakout potential.
Rajon Rondo is coming off just the breakout season was hoping for. After a few lost years in the wake of an ACL injury, Rondo put up peak numbers, averaging 11.9 points, 11.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game for the Kings. He was able to parlay that into a $27 million deal with the Bulls. However, the Bulls aren't all-in on Rondo.
The deal contains just a $3 million guarantee for the second season, a nice escape hatch on a deal for a player who has proven tough to rely on lately. If Rondo slips up, the Bulls aren't exactly heavily invested in him, which could make it easier to diminish his role if needed. The bigger concern might be the awkward fit in Chicago, which could make it tough for him to manage a repeat of 2015-16. If Rondo slips in your drafts, he can be a fine value, but he's a risk in the fifth round.
Speaking of that awkward fit, Dwyane Wade is in Chicago too. If you tuned out for the offseason, the Bulls will be running out a starting lineup of Rondo, Wade, Jimmy Butler, a power forward (Nikola Mirotic? Bobby Portis? Taj Gibson?), and Robin Lopez. Spacing isn't everything, and it is easy to focus too much on that when talking about the modern NBA, but you still need someone to keep defenses honest on the perimeter. Wade is an ace cutter, and you can't just ignore Butler out there, but this might be a starting five with three ball-dominant perimeter players who are mostly non-threats beyond 20 feet.
All three are crafty ball-handlers who can create for themselves and others, and their combined talent level may be enough to overcome any fit issues, but there's a chance this goes south quickly. Wade is also a constant injury risk -- though he did manage to stay healthy last season -- and really needs a lot of volume in scoring and assists to make up for his lack of shooting and defense in category-based leagues. He proved last season he can still be a useful Fantasy option, but that might have been the best-case scenario.
If the cost is a sixth-round pick, you may not want to be around to see what the worst-case looks like.
Brandon Knight seems to be a man without a position. He isn't a good enough creator to serve as a full-time point guard, but he has never seemed comfortable playing off the ball either. This conflict has made his fit in Phoenix an awkward one next to Eric Bledsoe, but the emergence of Devin Booker seems to have given them an obvious fix, with Knight moving to the bench this season. He can run the offense as the sixth man, while still seeing time next to Bledsoe and Booker in smaller lineups. Minutes shouldn't be an issue for Knight, however he has had a lot of trouble staying healthy over the past two seasons, and it's fair to wonder if coming off the bench will harm his numbers.
Knight managed to post 19.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game last season, but that came in 52 games, many of which Bledsoe missed after a knee injury. With the Suns seemingly set to move forward with Bledsoe and Booker as the future of the franchise, Knight could be the odd man out. Whether that leads to a trade or simply more of a diminished role than expected, there is plenty of uncertainty moving into the season surrounding Knight.
The Kings are saying all the right things these days, but the offseason certainly showed that the end of the Rudy Gay Era in Sacramento is looming. Gay has already said he will decline his player option for 2017-18, so there is pressure to get something for him before he walks.
Gay has remained productive in Sacramento, but he remains an awkward fit as a ball-dominant player on a team built around DeMarcus Cousins, and it continues to feel like the bottom might fall out at any point. Whether that means a trade or a diminished role is an open question, but Gay already saw his numbers take a step back last season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that happened yet again as he enters his age-30 season.
Jae Crowder has grown in popularity over the last year, after a solid season with the Celtics in which he averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.7 3-pointers per game. He doesn't dominate the ball or the box score, but he has a way of fitting in naturally and making consistent contributions across the board.
However, with the addition of Al Horford this offseason, the Celtics' offense is bound to look at least a little different this season, with Horford serving as a focal point for a team that has built their identity around spreading the ball around. That could lead to fewer scoring opportunities for Crowder, and the addition of Jaylen Brown, the No. 3 pick in this year's draft, threatens to push Crowder into a smaller role as well.
Crowder broke out in a big way last season, but with a shaky jumper and a high-pedigree rookie at the same position, there's a chance we see some regression coming his way.
This will be the third year Pau Gasol makes my Busts list, but I promise this is the year I'm right. Why not keep doubling down?
At 36, he still has a significant history of injuries to his lower appendages, though he has managed to stay mostly healthy the last two seasons. Even if he does, he is almost certainly going to see a reduced role in San Antonio, after averaging 16.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game and a 24.6 percent usage rate last season for the Bulls. He still played 31.8 minutes per game last season, a number that is likely to decline sharply under Gregg Popovich. And, that usage will likely come down, just as LaMarcus Aldridge's did when his fell from 30.2 to 25.9 in his first year with San Antonio. The Spurs like to spread both minutes and touches around more than just about any team around, which is likely to lead to a decline in Gasol's production naturally.
At his age, Gasol can still be a solid contributor, but you can't expect what he did last season.
Another obvious trade candidate, Kenneth Faried seems as likely as anyone to be on the move this season if the Nuggets can find a taker. In many ways, Faried is in a similar spot to Ricky Rubio. He doesn't necessarily fit his team's timetable in terms of age, and his game has basically stagnated since his rookie season.
You'll get some rebounds and points, but that is about all Faried can give you at this point. A trade might actually be the best-case scenario for Faried, whose presence just doesn't make all that much on a young team building around a big man combination of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic.
Someone in your league may reach for Faried, thinking his combination of athleticism and energy still hides some upside, but don't let it be you.
Few big men have been as productive as Nikola Vucevic over the last few years.
He put together yet another solid season in 2015-16, averaging 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, despite missing significant time with concussion issues. When he is the focal point of Orlando's offense, he is capable of big things, but his role seems somewhat surprisingly in question as we come into the season.
Vucevic is a borderline All-Star caliber player on a reasonable contract entering his prime, and he isn't even the highest paid center on his roster after the Magic signed Bismack Biyombo this offseason. Add in the fact that Serge Ibaka can certainly handle his share of center minutes, and all of a sudden this frontcourt is looking awfully crowded. Vucevic is another trade candidate, but if things stay how they are in Orlando, Vucevic may have a hard time reaching the heights he has settled in over the last few years.
All that extra money flying around the NBA this offseason pushed some teams into decisions they might not have otherwise made, which explains the frontcourts of Orlando and Washington. Both teams had solid, dependable starting centers -- Marcin Gortat in Washington's case -- but also had a ton of extra cash lying around thanks to the cap jump. That money went to backup centers, moves that might have made their teams better, but certainly muddy the waters for Fantasy.
In the Wizards' case, it almost certainly means both Gortat and Ian Mahinmi have a ceiling on how many minutes they will be able to play this season, because it's hard to see how you play these two together. Mahinmi played 25.6 minutes per game last season, while Gortat logged 30.1 himself; something has to give here. Gortat has long been an underrated Fantasy player, a reliable source of double-doubles, blocks and solid percentages across the board, but it will be tough to hit his career numbers with this much competition for playing time.
Depth is a great thing for an NBA team to have, but it is a luxury Fantasy players hate to see them indulge in. Gortat might still be a starting-caliber option, but with Mahinmi pushing him for minutes, you might end up frustrated if you draft him as such.