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 NBA Insider Kevin Pelton, and ESPN Fantasy's Kyle Soppe and Joe Kaiser.
Not only are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl-Anthony Towns two of the best young bigs in the Association, they rank sixth and seventh (respectively) on the Player Rater (averages). Which player would you take ahead of the other in the first round of 2017-18 drafts?
Kevin Pelton: I think I'd lean Towns. Antetokounmpo -- my pick for the NBA's Most Improved Player -- has come so far so fast that at some point a consolidation season is probably inevitable.
I think people tend to believe that past improvement is an indication of more to come in the future, but my research has actually shown to some extent that the opposite is true. Regression to the mean tends to pull such overachievers back to the pack a little bit.
Already, we've seen Antetokounmpo's scoring average slide modestly from 23.4 points per game before the All-Star break to 22.0 thereafter despite his usage bumping up slightly with Khris Middleton returning from injury and effectively replacing Jabari Parker in the Bucks' lineup.
Meanwhile, Towns has gone the opposite direction, boosting his averages to 28.0 PPG and 13.5 RPG after the break as compared to 23.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG beforehand.
Kyle Soppe: Antetokounmpo is the answer to this question for me, but don't misunderstand that as I am anti-Towns; both players are obviously great and will be first rounders for me next season.
Why is the Bucks' do-it-all point forward the right call here? It's two-fold for me: positional eligibility and room for growth.
The first part is self-explanatory, as Antetokounmpo currently checks in at four different positions (PG, SG, SF, and PF) while Towns is "only" a center. The flexibility is a nice building block for your team, but this is more about the loaded center spot. Consider this: According to our Player Rater (averages), KAT has been 60.6 percent more valuable than the No. 10 center, while Antetokounmpo has been 145.3 percent more valuable than No. 10 shooting guard.
As far as "growth," what more can we get from Towns? Maybe another assist?
Antetokounmpo's counting metrics across the board could grow a bit, but I'm more banking on a scoring spike to happen sooner than later, as he is shooting below 30 percent from 16-plus feet for his career. He's not going to be a knock-down shooter, but if that part of his game becomes respectable, he will be a top-five player next season.
Joe Kaiser: This is literally a question I asked myself just yesterday, as I was writing about Towns.
Based on Towns' huge second season in the league, my immediate thought was that he should be considered as high as No. 3 next season -- ahead of the likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James but behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Then, I asked myself, "Who am I forgetting," and it struck me: Antetokounmpo.
It's a close call, but to me the Greek Freak is the slightly better option, for several reasons:
He's virtually just as durable as Towns, who hasn't missed an NBA game yet. Antetokounmpo played 77 games as a rookie and 80 or more each of the last three seasons.
He's eligible at more positions, and those positions happen to have less depth than the center spot that Towns occupies.
He's proved himself longer, having played four years in the league compared to Towns' two years. Playing basically the same amount of minutes as last season, the 22-year-old Bucks star added 6 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG and 0.5 BPG this season while notching career bests in field goal percentage (52.1) and free throw percentage (77).
If the draft started today, I'd go with Antetokounmpo at No. 3 then either Durant or Towns at No. 4, Durant/Towns fifth, Kawhi Leonard at No. 6 and James at No. 7.