The 2017-18 class of fantasy basketball stars is one of the deepest in history, but who is the cream of the crop?
Our experts make their cases for which player they would take first overall for roto scoring systems and for leagues that play in weekly head-to-head matchups.
Let the debate begin ...
Eric Karabell: Westbrook finished second to James Harden on the 2016-17 Player Rater, though it wasn't for lack of trying. Westbrook was awesome, averaging a triple-double, though he left a bit to be desired in field goal percentage. OK, so Westbrook's team added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, who have been big-time scorers. Harden's Rockets added Chris Paul, a pure point guard. I don't see Harden coming all that close to matching Westbrook in rebounds or assists, and I'd like to get a head start in those categories by selecting Westbrook first. I can get the extra 3s and safe field goal shooters later. Both are great -- and the only ones I'd consider first in a roto setting -- but I don't see Westbrook losing too many stats despite the addition of George and Melo addition. In fact, the assists could rise a bit.
Kyle Soppe: In Roto, it's about the versatility in the early rounds, and what better way to check all the boxes than with Mr. Triple-Double? Based on Player Rater value, Westbrook finished inside the top 12 players in six of eight categories last season, and while the additions of George and Anthony might regress his usage a touch, you're still looking at an historically involved player. It's possible the counting stats come back to earth in 2017-18, but I'd speculate that any impact felt by fantasy owners in that regard is offset by an increase in efficiency. I'm all-in on waiting for point guards ... if you pick at any spot but first overall.
John Cregan: When there's a razor-thin margin separating the top players (and you could make an argument for up to five to go in the top slot in roto), I like to go with the player I feel has the most upside. Meaning upside within his own game and his role on his team. Antetokounmpo is building momentum in that he's still several seasons from his peak production, and he's increasing control on his team. There are more touches available for him to suddenly take as his offensive game grows.
Joe Kaiser: Passing up on Westbrook or Harden for Antetokounmpo wouldn't make sense if there were a strong chance that Westbrook and/or Harden could repeat their numbers from last season, but that isn't going to happen with Paul joining Harden in Houston and George and Anthony taking shots away from Westbrook in OKC. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo enters his fifth NBA season after notching career highs nearly across the board: 22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.9 BPG, 1.6 SPG, 52.1 FG%, 77 FT%. As strong as those numbers are, the amazing part is Antetokounmpo doesn't turn 23 until December, which means he hasn't even come close to reaching his peak. His efficiency sets him apart from Westbrook and Harden, and if he can add more 3PG to his game (he hit 53 last season), the Greek Freak will distance himself as the surefire No. 1 player in roto leagues this season.
Jim McCormick: Harden offers 80 percent of Stephen Curry's 3-point and steals production while also rivaling Westbrook in rebounds and dimes. The bearded one led the NBA in free throw attempts and makes per game last season. This all adds up to roto success. There are certainly legitimate contenders for this perch atop the roto rankings, as Antetokounmpo is an ascendant playmaker with Andrei Kirilenko-like defensive value, and Russ will still likely lead the NBA in usage rate. Yet it's Harden at the centerpiece of an offense that shot at an historic 3-point rate last season -- an NBA-record 46 percent of the Rockets' shots came from beyond the arc last season. While some see overlap in skill sets and specific usage with Paul, I see Harden arguably seeing better looks around the floor than he has since he was in Oklahoma City; Paul has finished first, second and fourth over the past three seasons, respectively, in adjusted assist-to-pass percentage. No other player offers such a comfortably high and coveted floor across multiple important categories as Harden. He's the Mike Trout of fantasy basketball production.
Joe Kaiser: Westbrook's 2016-17 season will go down in history as one of the greatest of all-time. Not only did he have 42 triple-doubles, he also averaged a triple-double (31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG). While that is unlikely to happen again due to the additions of George and Anthony, Westbrook's ability to fill up the stat sheet not only as a scorer, rebounder and distributor, but also in the steals department (1.6 SPG last year) gives him the nod over Antetokounmpo and Harden in points leagues. It's also noteworthy that while his 42.5 FG% from a season ago was a crusher to that category in roto leagues, it doesn't have as much of an impact in points leagues.
Eric Karabell: In points leagues, the other option for me would be Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, a magnificent, young player who fills the 20-10 needs we want for big men, along with the blocked shots, but I still like to build around point guards and power forwards if possible. Westbrook is the best point guard, and I believe even in points formats, the better option. In the middle rounds, I seem to be gravitating toward leftover centers others ignore, but the point guard crew after Round 5 doesn't provide much all-around statistical aid. That's not necessarily a problem in a points league, where Ricky Rubio's shooting isn't a problem, but strange to say, this comes down to depth, and the fact I think the Wolves won't need Towns to score as much with Jimmy Butler in town.
Jim McCormick: Points formats equate production across each category. This is especially true in ESPN standard scoring. When entering any type of points format, you should pay close attention to the leaderboard in recent seasons. Even in a league dominated by guard and wing play, in the real sense, the elite double-double bigs are still the dominant, league-swaying forces in this fantasy format. This is because six players averaged at least 12 boards last season, while a dozen players cleared at least 10 per game. There were 24 players with at least eight rebounds per game last season. Conversely, six players averaged at least eight assists last season and only three were in double-digits per game. Which brings us to Towns, the prodigious stretch big, who is basically on Tim Duncan's early career arc -- except with fewer blocks and far better shooting rates. Towns was sixth in boards and 12th in points per game in just his second season. In a volume-driven weekly points format that depends on availability as much as ability, it helps to note Towns has yet to miss a game and averaged a ridiculous 37 minutes last season (fifth in the NBA).
John Cregan: Again, upside. In points, I'm looking for a top player most capable of delivering overwhelming volume. Westbrook is the obvious choice, but adding George (and now Melo) is going to decrease his usage rate. So it's about thinking about how far Westbrook might drop. Whereas even with the addition of Butler, Towns is still years away from his peak.
Kyle Soppe: I want a high floor from as many big men as I can get in a points setting, so KAT leaps Westbrook when building a points league winner. As a matter of fact, I've got Antetokounmpo as my second overall player, understanding that there is more of a premium placed on efficiency in this format. Towns gives you the interior dominance (shot 64.1 percent from inside of eight feet last season) and rebounding that you look for from the anchor of your frontcourt, but his underrated touch (he shot 40.4 percent from outside of eight feet last season) is a skill that gives him the top floor/ceiling combination in a points league.