Starting Five: Debating Embiid, Ibaka, Jokic and more

Four games into his pro career, Joel Embiid ranks 15th on the Player Rater, based on per-game averages. AP Photo/Chris Szagola

We fantasy pundits always preach early in the season to not overreact to hot or cold starts. Even the best players have a bad week or two, and some of the worst players will get hot for a fortnight on occasion.

That having been said, after speculating and hypothesizing all summer, it's not necessarily too soon to draw some conclusions about players now that we have actually seen them in action this fall.

Joel Embiid looks every bit like a superstar, but will that continue? Serge Ibaka and Nikola Jokic have looked like busts. Will they turn it around? Who has played well enough to be snagged off your waiver wire? How about expectations for a player we haven't seen ball this season: Darren Collison?

Don't worry; we have the answers for you.

At the start of each week this season, I'll tip things off by posing and seeking answers to five key questions, thus "The Starting Five."

This week's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's John Cregan, Jim McCormick and Joe Kaiser.

Four games into his NBA career, Joel Embiid is averaging a stunning 18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.0 BPG, 48.0 FG% and 80.0 FT% in just 22 MPG. Of course, he missed the past two seasons due to injuries, so the risk in owning him is obvious. Where do you put his statistical ceiling for 2016-17?

Cregan: It all depends on his minutes cap and his status for back-to-backs. In terms of a ceiling, for now, you're probably looking at it. His usage rate (35.8) and PER (25.39) are so high that he simply has nowhere else to go. The latest reports have the Sixers reviewing Embiid's restrictions in six weeks. So there's a chance he gets ramped up come early 2017.

McCormick: Embiid's ceiling is cathedral high, when we consider he's already second in the league in blocks per game and third in usage rate. Blocks prove truly rare and scarce, while the usage rate indicates Embiid is an integral offensive weapon whenever he's on the court. Currently on a minutes restriction hovering around 25 minutes per game, reports suggest increased exposure could begin after Christmas. As a big who doesn't hurt investors in free throws and offers help in points and blocks, Embiid could truly break out as a top-five fantasy center in the second half (he's currently 11th on the Player Rater at the position).

Kaiser: At this point, the only thing I'm worried about with Embiid is injury. He's looked so good throughout the preseason and early part of the regular season that I think the 76ers realize that they'll need to unload Nerlens Noel and/or Jahlil Okafor in the near future, as Embiid's minutes restriction disappears. As far as his ceiling goes, I don't think he'll put up the numbers Karl-Anthony Towns had as a rookie last season, but I think he has a chance to be a notch under that, as long as he can stay healthy. Remember, Towns played all 82 games as a rookie.

After seeing Serge Ibaka's block production dwindle each season from his career-high mark of 3.7 BPG in 2011-12 to 1.9 BPG last season, there was hope that we would see a spike in that department after joining the Orlando Magic over the summer. Instead, he is averaging a career-low 0.8 BPG. Is he a buy-low candidate for blocks or are his days of being "Serge I'Blocka" over?

Cregan: It wasn't me! I had no hope for Ibaka's block production! Don't put that hope on me! Block production tends to taper off the deeper a player descends into one's career path. There aren't many cases of players suddenly rediscovering one's Year 2 block mojo. One and a half to two blocks per game would be a minor statistical miracle.

McCormick: I'm not sure of the exact value of this correlation, but Ibaka's block rate began to descend when he made a sudden and dramatic surge in 3-point attempts in 2014-15. As he's become a stretch forward, his defensive metrics have suffered. It's disconcerting to see Ibaka's block rate take another dip, but I'm just as concerned with his deflated minutes, as he's playing the lowest rate in five seasons. With Jeff Green and Aaron Gordon fulfilling similar roles, I'm not sure he's going to vault above 30 MPG for a deep frontcourt rotation. I don't find Ibaka as a buy-low candidate and, instead, would seek to market him based on the value his past production might garner.

Kaiser: Every now and then, a player seems to age more rapidly than normal. I think about Martell Webster when I think of players like this. And I think Ibaka is similar in that, even at age 27, he isn't as bouncy as he once was in his earlier years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Add to the fact that his game has moved more to the perimeter, and he's a player who is suffering not only in terms of blocks but also rebounds (5.2 RPG this season). If he's averaging on 14 points, 5 rebounds and less than a block a game, he's not a top 80 player.

It's been a bumpy start for a player many people expected to break out this season: Nikola Jokic. How concerned are you?

Cregan: On a scale of 1-10, I'm around a 6. Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone has yet to figure out how to mesh Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic together in a way that's mutually statistically beneficial. Of the two, Jokic will struggle more in a timeshare due to his unselfish style of play.

McCormick: I'm quite concerned, since, like Ibaka, Jokic's minutes have been compromised so far. Unlike Ibaka, we don't have an elite sample of fantasy production for Jokic, but rather the speculation and upside his talent suggests. With just 9.2 shots and 23 minutes per game, thanks to rating sixth on the Nuggets in minutes, we'd likely need to see a Kenneth Faried trade or injury to facilitate the breakout his offseason hype demanded. The talent is undeniable, but the opportunity might just not be there this season. The real breakout for the Nuggets might just come from Jusuf Nurkic.

Kaiser: I think you have to remain patient with Jokic. He's a second-year player who doesn't turn 22 until late February, so any inconsistency he has this season -- particularly in the early going -- is to be expected. You can sell low if you want to, but I'd caution against it when you have someone who put up 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 0.4 threes per game in less than 22 minutes per contest as a 20 year old last season.

Name a player owned in less than 50 percent of ESPN leagues who you recommend adding to fantasy rosters.

Cregan: I like what both Louis Williams and and Sean Kilpatrick have done in limited roles in low-expectation situations. They're both worth rostering in deeper leagues as is. Both have plenty of room to grow in terms of minutes, so there's plenty of upside with both.

McCormick: The Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist ranks among the league's trees -- as in the big men -- when it comes to rebounding opportunities. MKG has enjoyed 18.8 rebounding chances per game, defined as being within 3.5 feet of an available board, which ranks eighth in the NBA. We also find the versatile forward providing well over a block and steal per game, which adds to his immense and emergent value, despite the lack of appreciation from the fantasy marketplace so far.

Kaiser: ESPN.com's Zach Lowe reported on Nov. 3 that the Pelicans are hopeful that Jrue Holiday can return to the team by mid-November. The talented point guard missed training camp and the early part of the season to support his wife Lauren Holiday, who recently gave birth to their first child and underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. Our thoughts continue to be with Lauren in her recovery. Basketball pales in comparison to something as serious as that, but if Holiday is in fact back on the court in the coming weeks, he's immediately a must-own player. Currently, he is owned in only 34.6 percent of ESPN leagues. Pick him up now if you can -- the 26-year-old averaged 16.8 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 threes per game for the Pelicans last season.

Having served his eight-game suspension, Darren Collison (61.2 ownership in ESPN leagues) is slated to make his season debut Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors. What are your expectations for him this season?

Cregan: Around 16 points, 5.5 assists, 1-to-1.5 3-pointers and steals, plus dynamite percentages and a subtly high (for a point guard) rebound rate. He has top-50 upside, but I think he tops out around sixth-to-seventh-round value.

McCormick: Since Ty Lawson has averaged nearly 32 minutes in place of Collison to start the season, we can liberally apply Collison's per-36 rates from last season to approximate his potential for this season: 16.8 PPG, 5.2 APG, 1.4 3-PPGand 1.2 SPG. These are really helpful numbers, and even if they prove a bit generous in some categories, Collison's assist rate should climb north of six per game.

Kaiser: Ty Lawson has played well enough to at least deserve a 50-50 split of the minutes at point guard in Sacramento, but it's impossible to know how first-year Kings coach Dave Joerger is going to dole out the playing time. Collison averaged 14 PPG, 4.3 SPG and 1 SPG in 30 MPG last season under George Karl, and that was with Rajon Rondo on the roster, but I don't see his stats going up on a Kings team that's taken on a much slower-paced approach under Joerger. In fact, the Kings enter Monday ranked 29th in the league in pace, ahead of only Utah, which means fewer opportunities for Collison.