Fantasy Basketball: Bust candidates to be wary of in drafts

·8 min read

By Juan Blanco, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

No matter how extensive your fantasy basketball prep may be, there are always players who go from prince on draft night to frog once the actual games begin. A variety of factors at play can derail a selection — injuries, unexpected playing time hits, and unrealistic expectations about the player are some of the most common. Getting dinged with multiple busts in one fantasy draft can send you scrambling to make trades where you may have poor leverage or carry out waiver wire selections who are dart throws, at best.

As the start of the 2021-22 NBA campaign nears, here are some potential busts to be aware of throughout draft season.

Kemba Walker, Knicks

A veteran player with chronic knee issues walks into Tom Thibodeau’s roster — no, it’s not the opening line of a bad joke, although the whole Kemba-Knicks fit could come off like one for those who invest unnecessarily high draft capital in Walker.

As the last two seasons in Boston demonstrated, the 31-year-old needs to have his overall workload managed carefully. His best shot of making it through what is now a full 82-game regular-season grind is with a fair amount of maintenance days built in. Of course, that goes against everything Thibodeau has come to represent, so it remains to be seen how the Knicks will handle Walker’s increasingly concerning knee issues.

Kemba Walker #8 of the New York Knicks
Kemba Walker's knee issues could pose a problem for fantasy managers. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

The most likely scenario is Walker sitting out his fair share of games for rest and potentially still missing others due to injury. The Knicks’ defensive-minded style isn’t necessarily going to maximize his offensive upside, either. It’s also a crowded roster that returns nearly every key contributor from last season while adding Evan Fournier in free agency. Talent-wise, Walker is still the best guard on the roster, but with RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Derrick Rose in the mix, the Knicks don’t need Walker to play heavy minutes whenever he’s available.

At the end of the day, Walker can still be a useful fantasy option for managers in daily lineup leagues, but those in weekly leagues could end up regretting their investment.

Lonzo Ball, Bulls

The old adage defines insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. That’s what comes to mind during draft season each year concerning Ball. Any thoughts of the 23-year-old coming close to replicating the elite efficiency he displayed in college have continued to fade with each passing season. To his credit, Ball has become a much better outside shooter, but last season’s 41.4 percent mark from the field was a career-best. That did lead to a career-high 14.6 points per game, but both his rebounds and assists averages took a dip compared to the prior year.

Those drafting Ball for his work in non-scoring categories and assessing his draft value from that prism will likely emerge relatively satisfied with their decision by season’s end. However, managers expecting continued improvement in the scoring column are likely to be disappointed.

Now on his third team in five seasons, Ball joins a starting five that features an elite, score-first guard in Zach LaVine (career-high 27.4 points per game in 2020-21) in addition to DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic — two more All-Star-caliber scoring threats. Last year’s fourth overall pick Patrick Williams, who’s dealing with an ankle sprain as training camp opens, will also be a factor. Meanwhile, Coby White should be ready for a mid-November return and will eat into Ball’s minutes as he rounds back into form following offseason shoulder surgery.

Ball is still a fine player to target in the middle rounds of drafts, but the change of scenery threatens to mitigate the progress he’s made as a fantasy asset over the last two seasons in New Orleans.

John Collins, Hawks

Collins wrangled a five-year, $125 million commitment from the Hawks this offseason after months of speculation as to whether he’d remain in Atlanta long-term. Ultimately, the notion of having Collins in place as the Robin to Trae Young’s Batman after the two helped Atlanta significantly exceed expectations was enough for the two sides to agree — yet, that won’t necessarily equate to any significant increase in the big man’s overall fantasy contributions.

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In fact, there’s a chance the across-the-stat-sheet decline in Collins’ numbers that manifested last season proves to be more than just a one-year outlier. Collins provided a respectable 17.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.0 blocks across 63 games in 2020-21, but that was with talented young wing DeAndre Hunter sitting out 49 games and sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic missing significant time. With both players back in the fold, and the Hawks bringing back nearly every key contributor from last season, Collins could once again struggle to emerge as the true No. 2 option. The Wake Forest product already experienced a drop of 2.6 field goal attempts per game last season, relative to 2019-20.

Kevin Love, Cavaliers

Love’s tenure with the Cavaliers could well be in its waning days, with the team increasingly building around young players. The 33-year-old was still serviceable last season with averages of 12.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists across 24.9 minutes, but he shot just 40.9 percent from the field — a damaging figure for any player, let alone a big man. Love also suited up for just 25 games due to persistent calf and knee issues, along with some load management.

Looking ahead to the new season, the veteran is still the most accomplished player on the Cavs’ roster, but with the team moving in a different direction, it’s fair to question what Love’s role will be. Cleveland brought in Lauri Markkanen via sign-and-trade to supplement a frontcourt that features 100-million-dollar-man Jarrett Allen, as well as No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley. Love’s pedigree could land him in the starting five to begin the year, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cavs ultimately reduce his workload to favor the development of their young core.

On top of those concerns, Love remains perhaps the single biggest injury risk in all of fantasy basketball. He may be worth a late-round stab, but Love’s days as a premier, reliable fantasy asset are long gone.

Aaron Gordon, Nuggets

Like Collins, Gordon inked a multi-year extension this offseason, and he should again enjoy a steady role on a contending Nuggets team in 2021-22. However, it appears unlikely that Gordon is going to snap back to the player who once looked like a star-in-the-making back a few years ago, when he averaged a career-high 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game with the Magic. Gordon’s scoring numbers have declined in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out last season at just 12.4 points per game.

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Jamal Murray’s extended absence due to his torn ACL would presumably open up plenty of usage across Denver’s starting five, but that hardly factored into Gordon’s equation at the tail end of last season and during the postseason. He averaged just 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists across 26.8 minutes while putting up a modest 9.0 shots per game during the 26 regular-season and playoff contests following Murray’s season-ending injury.

Monte Morris proved capable of picking up much of the slack in Murray’s absence, and Michael Porter Jr. — who just signed a five-year max extension this week — should only continue to see his offensive profile expand. At this stage in his career, Gordon is a more valuable real-life player than fantasy asset.

Other notables:

Kyrie Irving, Nets: After media day Monday, the details surrounding Irving’s situation have been well publicized. When he’s on the court, he’s a no-brainer, elite fantasy option capable of returning first-round value. But the combination of vaccination concerns, as well as a checkered injury history, have rendered Irving a complicated player to project. He’ll likely come at a slight discount in most drafts, but overly aggressive fantasy managers could be setting themselves up to be burned.

T.J. Warren, Pacers: Warren played in just four games last season due to a foot injury and remains without a firm timetable for return. With Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner in place, Warren may not be leaned upon as heavily even when he’s healthy.

John Wall, Rockets: The veteran showed he still had plenty in the tank last season, but the Rockets plan to hold him out of game action while seeking a trade partner. Given Wall’s bloated salary, there’s a chance he could end up sitting out the entire season.

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