It’s hard to believe, but the NBA players we watch now aren’t going to be great forever. Some will be bad sooner than others, and some will stick around longer than anyone could have predicted. If I told you that Andre Miller would continue being a functional member of an NBA team after Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan retired, you’d be in the right to laugh in my face and insinuate that my parents raised me incorrectly. Or if I told you in 2011 that Roy Hibbert would be a punchline in the NBA while DeAndre Jordon would be one of the best big men in the league, you’d probably tell me that I knew nothing about basketball.
Some players will fade over time, and sometimes it happens overnight. Injuries can take away a player’s career in the blink of an eye. Some players are “over-the-hill” for a decade before they are bad.
Let’s go back to Duncan and Kobe. Kobe was on top of the world and still one of the league’s best players before a rash of injuries in 2013. Tim was supposed to retire from 2008 until 2015, and then he finally did this offseason after one of the worst playoff performances in basketball history. Sometimes a player just hits that moment and BOOM- they’re terrible.
Here are the 15 NBA stars who we will be awful this year.
15 Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks
Every move that Mark Cuban has made since winning the championship in 2011 has been to take the scoring pressure off international superstar Dirk Nowitzki. That was his reasoning in giving max contracts to guys like Chandler Parsons, Monte Ellis, Wesley Matthews, and bringing in veterans like Vince Carter and Elton Brand instead of keeping Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry. Nowitzki is old, and he’s been old for a while now, so the concept of taking the scoring off his aching shoulders made a lot of sense. However, it seems like Cuban did the reverse this offseason signing Harrison Barnes to a max deal despite the fact that Barnes hasn’t been shown himself as an offensive threat at any point, and trading for Andrew Bogut who hasn’t averaged double digit points per game since 2012. Dirk is going to have to shoulder most of the scoring for the Mavericks, who still believe they can compete for a title (baffling we agree). The only aggressive scorers on the team are Wesley Matthews (who is injury prone) and Justin Anderson (still unsure how good he is). Devin Harris can’t play more than 5 games in a row without breaking an ankle, Deron Williams can’t play anymore, and JJ Barea is a gimmick that works once every 10 games. Dirk will be forced to try to regain his youthful heroics, and instead will have a poor showing that will be an embarrassment to the Hall-of-Famer’s career.
14 Derrick Rose – New York Knicks
Derrick Rose hasn’t been good since his 2011 MVP season. Well, it’s not that he’s been bad… he more or less just hasn’t played. Last season was a poor showing in Chicago as he had one of the worst +/- stats of any player in the league. To explain Rose’s total ineptitude on the court, many pointed their finger at Jimmy Butler. They said that, despite the two getting along, on court it was always a competition as to whose team it was. That was a stupid debate as Butler has turned into one of the premier two-way players in the game and Rose’s knees are largely comprised of cardboard and screws. Now Rose is moving onto New York where he’s going to have to share the floor with the most ball hungry scorers of this or any other generation. If Rose was uneasy about sharing the ball with Butler, how the hell can he share the ball with Carmelo Anthony? Let’s be fair, Melo doesn’t love scoring point guards. He and Allen Iverson never worked in Denver; he helped run Jeremy Lin out of the Big Apple, and even had his moments against Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton. If Rose is even able to play this season, it will be filled with a lot of death stares from Melo, and random critics saying there’s a power struggle between the two in the locker room. The Knicks are Melo’s team, and Rose doesn’t seem to like not being the king of the floor.
13 Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors
By the end of the season, Kyle Lowry had lost so much steam that he was completely ineffective in the playoffs. He was missing shots, he was leaving his man uncovered, he wasn’t playing defense, and he even went into the locker room early to rest. Last season he played the most games and minutes (including playoffs) than he ever had in his career, and dealt with a persistent elbow injury that constantly needed treatment. Few players needed the offseason to rest as badly as Lowry did, but instead he chose to play in Rio with the US Men’s Olympic team. We have no qualms with playing for your county, but it’s not as if that team was in need of talent. Lowry is not very young and has been in the league for a decade, and he has put more minutes on his legs over the past year than at any other point in his career. The Raptors should have told Lowry that he could not play in the Olympics because they are in serious jeopardy of their point guard being absolutely ineffective or getting hurt early in the season.
12 Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz
The Jazz can’t seem to put anyone around Hayward that can help their star out. It’s not all their fault; almost every one of their high draft picks get hurt. Derrick Favors and Alec Burks haven’t stayed healthy to play a full season, ever. The Jazz noticed this so George Hill and Joe Johnson were both brought in over the offseason, but they don’t add enough ability at this point in their careers to relieve scoring pressure off Hayward. The rest of the team is injury prone, can’t play offense, or are even more injury prone. Hayward played the second most minutes in the NBA last season, and higher minutes often leads to lower production the next season (James Harden last season, Monte Ellis the season before). Hayward is a decent player, and has become the heart and soul of the Jazz’s roster, but he’s not good enough to be the best player on his team. Both of the last two seasons he just missed out on averaging 20 points per game, but we think this year he’ll regress. The lack of players around him and the wear and tare on his body over the past 6 years will catch up to the guard and we will see him slow.
11 Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one the most exciting players in the NBA; he’s just been playing in Milwaukee so he doesn’t get too much attention. The Greek Freak has been absolutely fantastic over the past three seasons, doing everything that the team needs him to do. Score 30 points? Sure. Pull in 15 rebounds? Not a problem. Play center? Easy. Play point guard? Uhh I guess so. Literally this guy does everything. So why is he primed to have a down year? Well, the coaching in Milwaukee is baffling. It’s cool that Giannis can play at any position, but why would Jason Kidd allow that to happen. He can’t get into any sort of rhythm if he’s supposed to take the ball up the court one half, and then post up in the next. The team went out of their way to sign mediocre players with playoff experience to sit on their bench, but still only have Antetokounmpo at Small forward. Michael Carter-Williams is still an injury risk, and it’s not like Matthew Dellavedova has been decent without LeBron to pass to. If things click and everyone stays healthy, then the Bucks will be a playoff team. In the far more likely scenario, Coach Jason Kidd will again turn to Giannis and say, “go do everything.” He will try, but he can only do so much before his knee or ankle twists and will hamper him for the season. He will do everything he can to play in another city if that happens, as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year.
10 Hassan Whiteside – Miami Heat
We are big fans of Hassan Whiteside. There aren’t many Centers who still dominate the league defensively and swat shots away as if they were playing on a playground. He definitely earned the max contract that he got from Miami, but he is not a player who can produce without other players. The Heat lost Dwayne Wade and Luol Deng over the offseason and attempted to replace them with Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters. Who knows what the situation is with Chris Bosh, but we honestly hope he retires because there is nothing that would be worth him dying on the court as rumors suggest could happen due to his heart condition. Hassan will be looked at to do too much for the Heat this season. Whiteside has never shown himself to be a scorer, but reports have come out that Erik Spoelstra wants a more up tempo offense and will be looking to Whiteside to make up for some of the lost offense. That makes very little sense, as Whiteside is an inside presence and doesn’t have any sort of shot with the ball. If the Heat lean on Whiteside to score, it will greatly hamper his defensive presence. How does the old saying go? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. If you’re best player is a defensive stud, don’t force him to become an offense-first player. Or else you’ll end up with a middling scorer who can’t get back on defense quick enough.
9 Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs
We aren’t going to pretend that Tony Parker has been playing top-level NBA basketball over the past few years. The 15-year veteran hasn’t scored more than 1000 points in a season since 2014 and has lost a lot of his defensive ability that made him a 6-time All-Star. This season Parker will be playing without Tim Duncan for the first time in his career and it’s hard to say how a veteran player will function without his safety net. For years, Parker has been able to dance with the ball and dish it inside to Duncan if he couldn’t find a better option. He would know exactly where Duncan was with his eyes closed and 15 players surrounding him. Will he have that kind of trust with LaMarcus Aldridge this year? Most likely not. San Antonio is well aware that it needs a new point guard. They tried to woo Mike Conley from Memphis and even looked into signing someone like Jeremy Lin. Despite the ageing guard, the Spurs are going to be great again this year led by Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. Parker will end the year as a starter in name only. Patty Mills is a better option and will probably play the bulk of the minutes, but we fully expect this to be Parker’s final NBA season.
8 DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings
Why won’t DeMarcus Cousins be good? Well he has no one on his team to help him. We truly believe that on the right team, Cousins could be one of the 5 best players in the league, but as long as he’s stuck in Sacramento he’s screwed. Last year Cousins was named to his second straight All-Star game by averaging 26.9 points per game along with 11.5 rebounds. The NBA used to be dominated by big men who could score, but the sport has changed into a shooting game, where big men only flourish with a good passing guard and a bunch of shooting threats. The Kings have some players who can shoot, but no one who can pass anymore. Last year they had Rajon Rondo, who led the league in assists per game. However, Rondo got away from the organization and turned his season into a contract with the Bulls. The King’s backcourt is now made up of Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison. Afflalo is old and has never been one to take the ball up the court, and Collison has never been a “pass first” player. Cousins may get off to a rough start, as his team will struggle to get the ball in his hands. A consummate child, Cousins will whine and moan, pissing off his teammates and probably get the coach fired 20 games in. It’s just going to be another long season for the Kings.
7 Paul Millsap – Atlanta Hawks
Being a “teammate” of Dwight Howard has never been an easy task. Back when he was dominating the paint and taking his team to the NBA finals, people would put up with his constant complaining and, at times, lazy play. Now he kinda reminds us of the kid from your high school who never got over being the prom king and still brags about his “cannon arm.” Howard sucks the life out of his teammates because he still believes he deserves everything he wants. Even when he is right (like he was in Houston) that he isn’t getting the ball enough or that the coach doesn’t like him, he would rather cry on the bench about it than try hard in the game. Bringing that attitude to a team that is one piece of hay from crumbling spells trouble for Paul Millsap and the rest of the Hawk’s team. Over the past couple seasons, Al Horford accepted being the second option to Paul Millsap and their teamwork earned the pair back-to-back All-Star game selections. Replacing a player who accepts their role with Dwight Howard is a bit like replacing sugar with flour in a cake recipe. Millsap is going to have to compete with Howard to get the ball on the floor instead of sharing it, and it will lead to greatly reduced numbers for both players. This year will break the All-Star streak for Paul and it wouldn’t shock us if the Hawks fall out of the playoff picture for the first time since 2007.
6 Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers fans will blame the broken hand he suffered in the playoffs last year. They might blame the Warriors for playing to rough with him. They may even blame Blake Griffin, saying things like “he’s not a good teammate.” However, fans are going to have to face the facts sooner or later and accept that Chris Paul is getting old. The 9-time All-Star has been one of the premier players in the NBA since being drafted in 2005, but throughout his career has dealt with a number of major injuries and has only once been able to play a full 82-game season. In 2016 he had another great year, averaging 19.5 points and 10 assists per game. The season ended in disappointment as the Portland Trail Blazers bounced Paul’s Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Over the offseason there were numerous rumors that the Clippers were trying to dump Paul off to another team, but no trade ever came to fruition. Chris is going to be 31 years old when the season starts and it’s not uncommon for players to start regressing after their 30th birthday, especially at positions like Point Guard. Paul needs to go somewhere that he can be the second or third scoring option, not the most reliable one on the team, to continue playing at this level at his age. Unfortunately for him, it looks like he won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
5 Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler has been one of the great stories in the NBA. The 30th overall pick from 2011 is a two-time All-Star and has been named to the NBA All-Defensive Team three times, not to mention he just won a gold metal in Rio with Team USA Basketball. He was brought to the Bulls as a defensive stopper and owned that role while Derrick Rose was looking to be the next great NBA player. Rose then got hurt, so Butler took on the role as the team’s top scorer in his absence, all while playing shut down defense. When Derrick came back, Butler tried to share the team, but it became apparent that Rose was a shell of who he once was and Butler needed to keep being “the man” to keep his team in contention. The Cinderella story is still happening, but the clock may strike midnight soon. For the past 3 years, Butler has been unable to play more than 67 games each year. This offseason, he spent a lot of his time playing in Rio instead of nursing the knee injury that kept him out of much of this past season. With the addition of Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo (two very ball-centric players) Butler will have to play harder than ever to be sure he stays the leader in the locker room. With the lack of offseason healing time and the pressure of playing harder to solidify himself in the pecking order adds up to a rough year for Jimmy Buckets.
4 Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers
The Championship hangover is a real problem for some players, and Kyrie not only won the NBA championship, but also won a gold medal this past summer. He has to be feeling on top of the world right now. Throughout his whole career Kyrie has had some maturity issues, some injury problems, and isn’t known as the gym rat that many other superstars are. We aren’t knocking Kyrie for any of that, he’s still a great player, but those things combined make us feel like Kyrie is in for a very down year. Teams that win a championship are notorious for getting off to a slow start the next season, injury prone players who play in the championship often get hurt the following year, ditto if they played in the Olympics. Kyrie would have been better suited playing UNO with LeBron instead of traveling across the globe to play heavy minutes for the US team. He has never been able to play in more than 75 games, and only twice played in more than 70 games, so the choice to go to Rio may prove to hurt Irving this season (literally). He has a long career ahead of him, but 2016-17 may not be the glory filled season Kyrie expects from himself.
3 James Harden – Houston Rockets
James Harden led the NBA in minutes the past two seasons. Last year he played more than 200 more minutes than anyone else in the NBA. He also led the league in field goal attempts, and free throws. His body must be exhausted. The worst part about all of this is that he had been putting in those minutes with a true #2 option on the team (even if it was Dwight Howard). This season, who could possibly run the floor when Harden needs a breather, Ryan Anderson? Eric Gordon? Patrick Beverley? The team has no one who can reliably score if Harden needs A GAME or A QUARTER or A MINUTE to rest. The West is very top heavy with the Warrior, Spurs, and Clippers, but almost every other team has a shot at making the playoffs. Harden is going to have to come out guns blazing from opening tip-off if he wants even a chance to be playing in June. Mike D’Antoni has taken over the team, and he isn’t one for playing slow basketball, meaning Harden will be on the floor a lot with the ball in his hands. The minutes he has played, paired with the minutes he will have to play in 2017 scream injury to us, and we agree. There is a huge chance Harden loses most of the year to injury for the first time in his career, and the Rockets find themselves with a lottery pick because of his absence.
2 Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors
So many people have been asking what will Steph Curry play like next year while he tries to make sure Kevin Durant is happy in Golden State. Some believe that his offense will suffer and will be forced to be more of a distributor. While that is true, it’s stupid to take the best shooter of all time and say, “pass the ball way more.” Its unlikely Steph will take 400 3’s again this year, but 300 may be likely. Durant will still get his touches, he’s one of the 5 best players in the world, but someone is going to have to take a real step back on the team, and all signs point to Klay Thompson. Last season, Klay took 276 3’s, but much of his shining moments came when Steph was having an “off-night.” If it wasn’t Steph controlling the offense, it was Klay. That’s no longer the case. Klay will be more of a defensive presence and will only get the ball a lot in games where both Steph and KD aren’t making their shots. Draymond Green will be playing in the paint, so his role won’t change too much, but Klay will have to take a major step back as Durant takes over the second option role.
1 Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s hard to lose a player like Kevin Durant and just ignore it. That’s what Russell Westbrook will be asked to do in 2017. It’s not the same as when Durant was out for much of the 2014-15 season, this is different. Westbrook, for the first time, has to be the face of the team, has to be accountable for everything that happens, and will be the reason they win or lose. When Durant was hurt, media and coaches could say they lost because Durant was out, but that won’t fly anymore. When you look at that 2014-15 season, Westbrook was playing through a lot of injuries and missed a big portion of the season. He does too much when he’s “the guy” and ask Derrick Rose what happens when you do that. Westbrook is young, but he can’t forget that the amount of minutes he put on his legs is crazy high and he has to consider slowing his game down or else he’ll suffer the same fate as Mr. Rose. Russ isn’t one to accept his mortality and we think he will double down on his play style and end up hurt for much of the next season and beyond.