There is no doubting that Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are two of the most talented and exciting young bigs in the NBA and fantasy. But which one should go first in points-league drafts? André Snellings and Joe Kaiser debate:
André Snellings: Jokic is entering his fourth NBA season at only 23 years old, having improved significantly in each season. Last season, Jokic set or tied career highs in seven of the eight traditional rotisserie categories, including all of the volume categories. He really hit his stride during the second half of the season; in his last 44 games, he averaged 20.3 PPG (50.0 FG percentage, 83.7 FT percentage), 11.1 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 3PG, 1.2 SPG and 0.9 BPG with only 3.0 TOG. These numbers give a good baseline for Jokic's potential this season, and he still has upside for improvement.
Jokic is the best passing center in the NBA, and one of the best passing bigs in history. The Denver Nuggets use him often as an offensive hub from the high post, where he has the ball in his hands as a decision-maker who creates for his teammates. Jokic had 13 games with double-digit assists last season, including a season-high 17 assists against the Milwaukee Bucks, and he averaged 9.0 assists per game for the entire month of February.
Those are elite point guard-level assist numbers, and since the ESPN default scoring system for points leagues assigns twice as many points for assists as any other counting stat, that is a huge deal for Jokic's fantasy upside.
Outside of assists, Jokic also has major upside as a scorer and rebounder. He averaged 21.7 PPG and 11.0 RPG after the All-Star break last season and upped those numbers to 25.7 PPG and 12.3 RPG during the month of April as the Nuggets adjusted to utilizing him as their primary offensive option on a consistent basis.
Paul Millsap was credited with getting in Jokic's ear and forcing him to step into that larger role on offense, and if Jokic continues to embrace that role going into this season, Jokic could legitimately threaten to lead all centers in points and rebounds.
Jokic has been reasonably durable during his career, averaging 76 games played during his first three seasons. Jokic is playing on a Nuggets team that features him heavily, has capable shooters at the other positions to boost Jokic's assist opportunities, and his style of play is demonstrably effective as he led all centers in on-court impact as measured by Regularized Plus Minus (RPM) last season.
Jokic has triple-double upside on a nightly basis, and outside of Russell Westbrook is the player most likely to approach a triple-double average for the season. Unlike Westbrook, Jokic is also an efficient scorer from both the field and the line and doesn't turn the ball over all that much.
Bottom line: Jokic has fantasy MVP-level upside with very little downside as he moves toward his NBA peak as one of the best points-based prospects in the NBA this season.
Joe Kaiser: When it comes to confident big men who can talk a big game and back it up, nobody is in the same league as Embiid right now. The 24-year-old center played a career-high 63 games in 2017-18 and set new personal bests in scoring (22.9 PPG), rebounds (11.0 RPG) and assists (3.2 APG).
There's more to Embiid than being just a scorer and rebounder with a big personality, though. He ranked fourth in blocks last season (1.76 BPG), trailing only Anthony Davis, Clint Capela and Myles Turner, and there's no reason he can't be right there with Davis for the league lead this season.
What helps Embiid in points leagues is how much the 76ers rely on him on the offensive end of the court. Being surrounded by a pass-first star in Ben Simmons, young up-and-comers Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz, and veteran role players like JJ Redick and Robert Covington, Embiid ranked third in the league last season in usage rate (31.8).
Compare that to Nikola Jokic, and there's a big difference. Jokic had a usage rate of 24.9 last season (46th in the league). That number could go down this season with the addition of Isaiah Thomas and 2018 lottery pick Michael Porter Jr.