Fantasy hoops: Will Jokic and Embiid be better than KAT?

ByESPN.com staff via ESPN logo
Thursday, January 19, 2017

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's John Cregan, Joe Kaiser and Kyle Soppe.

Taking health risks out of the equation, who will have the bigger second half to this season: Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic? Do you see all three as top-25 players the rest of the way?

John Cregan: It depends on how you look at things.

Do health risks include being on a minutes restriction and not playing back-to-back games? I don't view Embiid's restrictions as health risks. If you drafted him, you knew what you hoped you were getting: a sublime talent destined to dazzle in sustained bursts ... and sit. Due to scheduling anomalies, Embiid is going to play a large chunk of January before he starts getting hit by more back-to-back games the rest of the way. Based on total, not average production, Embiid won't be a top-25 player.

But now that Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone has finally seen the light, this at least is a two-man rest-of-season discussion: Jokic vs. Towns. The casual observer may wonder how one could conceivably lump Jokic in with Towns ... but fantasy enthusiasts know otherwise.

To me, it's a coin flip.

Both players deliver dazzling across-the-board production. Towns is the more reliable bet, based on past production and his unquestioned role in his rotation. I still don't fully trust Malone here. How could it have taken this long to unshackle Jokic from that timeshare?

I'm going on ceiling and upside, so I'll tab Jokic. His minutes, usage rate and role still have room to grow. He's gaining momentum by the day.

Towns' role is unquestioned. He's already the top fantasy center in the league. But he is surrounded by teammates with upside who could siphon touches as the season unfolds.

Joe Kaiser: This is the best question of the year because all three of these guys are playing out of their minds right now. It's hard to believe, but Embiid is actually the oldest of the bunch. In any case, the order for me would be Towns, Embiid, then Jokic.

Towns just does the most things the best at this time. He's not quite the shot-blocker of Embiid (2.4 BPG) or the passer of Jokic (3.8 APG) but he's still impressive in both areas (1.5 BPG, 2.9 APG) while also averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds this season. He's a more efficient shooter than Embiid but less efficient than Jokic, and he is slightly better from the free throw line than the other two as well. In addition, Towns is making 1.1 3PPG, which is tied with Embiid and well ahead of Jokic (0.5 3PPG).

Kyle Soppe: Short answer: Yes! All three of these big men are very much the real deal, and their fantasy domination is not going anywhere in the near future. But if forced to pick one, it's still Towns for me.

We are really nit-picking at this point, but Towns is the player I view as having the least amount of risk moving forward. He is playing nearly 36 minutes a night and has played in all 42 of the Timberwolves' games, making him an option you can rely on each and every night. Embiid might be the most fun player to own/watch in hoops (heck, in sports) right now, but with the Sixers likely welcoming Ben Simmons into the fold after the All-Star break and having 10 back-to-back games yet to be played, I have a hard time seeing Embiid outproducing Towns' raw numbers in the second half.

As for Jokic, he has been on a tear of late (81 points and 36 rebounds over his last three games). His well-rounded skill set is amazing for a 6-foot-10 player, who is still a month shy of 22 years old. But can he continue to shoot 62.7 percent from inside the 3-point line? I love Jokic as a passer (at least five dimes in four of his last six games), but I worry that his January explosion will regress a bit when the Nuggets' offense slows.

Listen, Denver has a capable offense and Jokic's increased role makes that more sustainable, but they are averaging 118.4 points this month. As good as Jokic has been, his field goal percentage and about one assist per game are about the only advantages he has on Towns, and I don't think that is enough to make him a more viable option for the rest of 2017.