In a few recent interviews I’ve been asked about the best young cores in the NBA. Specifically, I’ve been asked, if I were a GM, would I rather start my team with:
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker OR Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins
Towns and Wiggins are the two most recent Rookie of the Year winners, after being the number one overall picks in their respective drafts. And both are in the midst of seasons that demonstrate growth from their lofty starts, suggesting that the future is bright in Minnesota.
Meanwhile, there are those that felt that Parker should have been picked over Wiggins in the 2014 draft, and that the only reason that Wiggins won Rookie of the Year was that Parker (as well as Joel Embiid) was injured. And Antetokounmpo…oh my, he’s putting on such a show this season that he can very credibly be mentioned as someone that could potentially change the entire game for the next generation. That’s a whopping amount of potential, and he is showing clear signs that he could fulfil it.
When discussing this for actual NBA value it’s a fun, and surprisingly explosive debate (just check out the comments on that link -- Giannis supporters are emphatic in their feelings on this). But in this space, I want to look at this question on a fantasy front. For the rest of this season, and/or for next season’s draft, which of these pairs packs the most roto punch?
Let’s start in the preseason. According to Yahoo’s ADP, this is how the four ranked in terms of average draft slot:
The numbers are similar, but both Timberwolves were picked a bit before both Bucks, on average. Now, let’s fast-forward to their production on the season:
Towns: 21.9 pts (49% FG, 82% FT), 12.0 reb, 3.0 ast, 1.5 blk, 1.1 3PM, 0.6 stl, 2.7 TO (14th overall)
Antetokounmpo: 23.2 pts (53% FG, 78% FT), 8.7 reb, 5.6 ast, 2.0 blk, 1.8 stl, 0.7 3PM, 2.9 TO (3rd overall)
Wiggins: 22.0 pts (44% FG, 73% FT), 4.2 reb, 2.3 ast, 1.2 3PM, 0.8 stl, 0.4 blk, 2.5 TO (140th overall)
Parker: 20.8 pts (50% FG, 73% FT), 5.7 reb, 2.6 ast, 1.5 3PM, 1.1 stl, 0.3 blk, 1.6 TO (41st overall)
Now, that’s interesting.
It really separates into two matchups in different weight classes, just like with ADP, but the ranks have reversed. Now, at least according to Yahoo!, Antetokounmpo edges Towns at the top of the rankings, while Parker dwarfs Wiggins on the lower end. Of course, those rankings have to be taken with a grain of salt, because if you look at the individual categories Parker and Wiggins are actually fairly similar across the board. Parker is clearly a bit better (mainly because of the field goal percentage), but I wouldn’t say they’re in different classes like their rankings might suggest. Similarly, Towns and Antetokounmpo do different things and each have advantages in certain areas, but on the net it would appear that Antetokounmpo is the more roto-productive, so it’s fitting that his ranking is slightly better.
Be that as it may, the two Bucks clearly have the upper hand in this comparison and that doesn’t seem likely to change very much anytime soon. Antetokounmpo has the most versatile skill-set, contributing guard-like assists and steals numbers with primary wing scoring on good percentages and big manlevel boards and blocks. He’s even edging up to almost one three-pointer per game, closing his final category hole.
Towns is almost as complete overall, but his contributions are more traditional big man strengths, outside of the treys and free throw percentage. For Towns to catch up to Giannis, he would have to have a dominant category where he just blows Giannis away, such as outscoring him by 10 points or doubling up his rebounds. But Giannis’ contributions in those categories are so high, especially for his position, that such a dominance for Towns is unattainable.
Wiggins and Parker are much more similar, but Parker is just a bit better at everything. Neither are overaly versatile and are essentially one-dimensional scorers. For Wiggins to surpass Parker, he would either need to take a huge step forward as a volume scorer on better percentages, start knocking down a lot more treys, or finally start living up to the defensive reputation he had coming out of college and start racking up steals and/or blocks. This type of conversion seems unlikely. Considering Parker continues to get better as he distances himself from his knee injury, it seems likely that Parker should continue to be the better asset for the foreseeable future.
These players are all still very young, and injury and/or changes in personnel could always affect future output. But all things being equal, if I had to project next year’s fantasy draft based on where things stand today, I’d have to choose the Bucks’ duo over the two young Wolves. The most surprising part to me, actually, is how (relatively) easy that particular choice is right now.
Around the NBA
Trend: Sickness wrecking shop: There’ve been an epidemic of illnesses in the NBA over the last few weeks as we’ve gone through the heart of the flu season. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are just a few of the impact players that have had to miss game action over the last couple of weeks. The suddenness and lack of warning make these absences killers for season-long teams with weekly moves and can be difficult on daily transaction/DFS leagues, as well, if the announcements don’t come until just before tip-off. There’s really nothing to be done about flu season, but it does suggest that this is the time of the season when (if at all possible) you should be checking your lineup right around 6:45 EST every night to at the least avoid as many of the late scratches as possible.
Trend: So is Rest: Rest is also keeping the veterans on the bench quite a bit these days. On Sunday, both Dwyane Wade and Brook Lopez were DNP-rest casualties. On Saturday, Joel Embiid sat out for rest purposes on the second half of a back-to-back. LeBron James and the Cavs have sprinkled a few off-days into the mix, including on the day after Christmas when I went to the Cavs/Pistons game at the Palace and didn’t get to see LeBron play. And we haven’t even mentioned Gregg Popovich and the Spurs yet, and they are essentially the inventors of the DNP-rest designation. Much like sickness, missed games for unexpected rest wreak havoc on year-long leagues with weekly transactions.
Thankfully, at least in some cases, the rests are more predictable than the illnesses. For example, in a week-long league, I have Wade and saw that the Bulls had five games scheduled for this week. I knew there was no way he was playing all five, especially when I saw there were two back-to-backs, so in my mind I just planned for him to only play three games. Similarly, with a guy like Embiid, you know he’s going to sit half of every B2B. I even kind of predicted that LeBron wouldn’t play in Detroit, as it came the day after his huge showdown with the Warriors on Christmas. Now, you can’t predict every rest that a coach does, but careful planning at least cuts down on the number of times that serial resters can catch you and your team off-guard.
Porzingis’ Achilles: Kristaps Porzingis’ Achilles continues to bother him, so he continues to sit out. He missed three games right around the New Year, then played four increasingly underwhelming games before sitting out again the last three. For those in weekly leagues, it appears that Porzingis will miss at least one game and possibly more as the Knicks have no reason to play him before he is back at 100 percent.
Bradley’s Achilles: Avery Bradley has also been dealing with a sore Achilles that has kept him sidelined for the last four games, but he seems to be trending in the right direction. Bradley was able to practice in full on Sunday, though he is still listed as questionable to play on Monday. We should get final confirmation on his status later Monday, hopefully after the morning shootaround, which will help to gauge whether week-long leagues can safely deploy him.
Caldwell-Pope’s shoulder: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was forced out of the game early on Thursday with a shoulder injury, and he then sat on Friday and Sunday. The Pistons don’t play again until Wednesday, but there is no guarantee that he’ll be ready to go even after a few days off which makes him a very risky play in weekly leagues. While he sits, look for Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock to continue picking up extra minutes at SG.
Hood’s knee: Rodney Hood had an extremely scary looking injury on Saturday, when his knee appeared to give out on the break. Watching live action I thought he might have torn something and tweeted out my reaction:
Rodney Hood just went down with what looks like a on-contact knee injury. He's screaming on the ground. Here's hoping he's ok— Andre Snellings (@ProfessorDrz) January 15, 2017