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 Joe Kaiser, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.
Since the All-Star break, we've seen D'Angelo Russell average 19.4 points, 2.8 3-pointers, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 63.3 from the foul line. Dennis Schroder has averaged 18.5 PPG, 1.3 3PPG, 6.2 APG, 43.3 FG%, 90.2 FT% during that span. Which player do you like better as a keeper for next season and beyond?
Joe Kaiser: Russell has the star potential and the higher ceiling, but to me Schroder is the safer option because he has a defined role and two more years of experience in the league. In Los Angeles, coach Luke Walton and the Lakers are still trying to figure out if Russell is better as a point guard or playing off the ball as more of a shooting guard. There are also questions in Laker Land as to whether Walton and/or Russell are going to be in Los Angeles for the long-term, and it's possible either or both of them could be in different situations next season.
Schroder isn't the pure scorer, 3-point shooter or steals threat that Russell is, but he is averaging 17.7 PPG as a 23-year-old and is more of a distributor (6.2 APG). That will be especially true if Russell moves off the ball in more of a permanent role next season. Schroder is also a much more efficient option, helping you in percentage categories (45.3 FG% and 84.4 FT%) rather than hurting you like Russell (40.8 FG and 74.5 FT). All these factors have me leaning toward Schroder over Russell.
Kyle Soppe: I'd be happy to keep either player, as I believe both are only scratching the surface when it comes to fulfilling their potential. That said, I'm rolling with Russell here, as I think his ceiling is slightly higher. The Lakers have plenty of young talent, and while I am encouraged by some of them, the youthfulness will allow Russell to expand his role as much as he is capable. While Schroder is very good, what chance does he stand to expand his role moving forward, given the Hawks roster around him?
As far as on-the-court metrics are concerned, Russell profiles as a star in the making. He has regressed slightly as a scorer from close to the rim (something I will bet on improving due to his 6-foot-5 frame), but the fact that his efficiency outside of 8 feet has increased (making 37.8 percent of shots, up from 36.4 percent in his rookie season) has me thinking we are looking at a 20 PPG scorer sooner than later.
Schroder's only real advantage in this matchup is his assists total, and I'm not even sure that is sustainable, as Russell gains experience and the talent around him develops.
Jim McCormick: I was a huge advocate of Schroder's heading into the season, going as far to tout him as a potential top-five fantasy point guard. This was bold then and remains bullish now, as Schroder is 22nd among point guards by averages on the Player Rater at the deepest position in the league. Russell, for his part, is 25th by averages.
Even though my allegiance was once with Schroder, I'm more intrigued by the future value Russell offers, given the rewarding pace-and-space scheme Walton employs with the Lakers. Since the All-Star break -- and more notably, since Lou Williams was dealt -- Russell has lofted 16.7 shots per game, including 7.3 from beyond the arc, which is a sizable leap from the 12.7 FGA and 5.6 3FGA he averaged before the break.
With such similarities in steals, assists and shooting from the field, the differentiation point for me is the upside of Russell's 3-point volume and scoring potential in a scheme that heavily values and relies on such usage. Schroder is a high-usage guard with respectable cost certainty, which is to say he's a high-floor fantasy player and should be a top-20 fantasy point guard next season. At the same time, I sense Schroder's ceiling a bit limited, especially without his ability to work off the ball as a shooter. Even if it doesn't show up in the wins column, Walton's fantasy-friendly system and Russell's congruent skill set could lead to some big offensive seasons ahead.