by Will Overton
We talk a lot about how you can’t go wrong in the first couple of rounds and that’s not where you win your leagues. There’s truth to that, but that doesn’t mean you can go blindly into your draft and take just anyone. Everyone should go in with a preference in mind.
I am going to try and help fantasy owners navigate things a bit. Owners are going to face some tough calls in the draft room this year and while both choices might be good ones, one will end up being better than the other and you want more than good, you want the best.
We will be doing a few of these fantasy throwdowns comparing two guys with similar draft stock and discussing which one is the better pick. I will make a case for each guy and then offer my personal choice. For our first throwdown we have two big men coming off career years, Joakim Noah and Serge Ibaka. Both guys are likely second round picks who would be steals in the third round. Which one should come off the board first? Let’s take a look:
The Case for Joakim Noah
There are not that many five category fantasy basketball players out there and Joakim Noah is one of the best. Literally the only thing this guy doesn’t do is knock down three pointers and I think we can forgive him for that one. Noah even has the shooting percentages down with 47.5% from the field and 73.7% from the line, a place most big men are an anchor to your fantasy team.
Noah’s numbers look similar from year to year, but if you pay attention you can see the progression he has been making. Last year the biggest gain seen was Noah taking on a more active role on the offense after being known as primarily a defensive stopper. Noah took more shots than ever before last year, got to the free throw line more and in turn he scored more points than ever.
Noah’s offensive gains are not just evident in his scoring though, but also in his playmaking ability. Noah had 5.4 assists per game, a staggeringly strong number for a frontcourt player, let alone a center. This tells us that the offense was running through Noah on a regular basis and it only got better as the season went on. Noah averaged 13.8 PPG and 7.0 APG in the second half.
The argument against him would be that Noah did all this with Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin running the point and this year Derrick Rose will be back, at least initially. Will the offense still run through Noah as much as it has in the past with Rose at the point and also Pau Gasol next to him in the middle, another playmaking big man? I think the answer is yes. Tom Thibs knows he has someone in Noah who is more than just a defensive playmaker, but is also an offensive playmaker. The offense will still run through Noah plenty.
Noah is the top of the heap when it comes to blocks + steals, if he can bring it on the offensive end again he’s a borderline top 10 player.
The Case for Serge Ibaka
For two years in a row I have not been in the corner of Serge Ibaka. For two years I have said that this guy doesn’t belong in the second round of drafts, even though that’s where he always goes. Last year though I think Ibaka made the leap and has pushed himself genuinely into the top 20.
My biggest knock on Ibaka was that he was too much of a one category guy to be a top 20 pick. Even though he was a shot blocking machine, that alone wasn’t enough to make him worth a second rounder. Last year he proved he was more than just a shot blocker though. Ibaka put up career highs in points with 15.1 PPG and rebounds with 8.8 RPG.
Ibaka’s offensive improvement seems very much legitimate too. Ibaka has long relied on his ability to maneuver around the hoop and find easy buckets thanks to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Last season Ibaka developed some more legitimate post moves and also added some range to his game. Ibaka wasn’t afraid to take a mid range jumper and he was knocking them down. He even made 0.3 3-Pointers per game. The best part of it all is that he added range to his game while still shooting 53.6% from the field.
Noah may have the steals and the blocks, but Ibaka has dominance on his side. While Ibaka may not get as many steals, he is the best shot blocker in the game and he can single handedly put you in a very ideal spot in one category. The combination of Ibaka’s dominance in blocks and his evolving all-around game he truly is worthy of a high pick.
There isn’t much separating these two in my opinion. I think both of these guys are very much worthy of a second round pick. While there isn’t much separating the two of these guys I do have to lean towards the side of Joakim Noah.
Ibaka’s dominance in blocked shots make him very appealing, but Noah is almost equally as dominant in rebounding. Noah’s 11+ boards per game give you the freedom to take a chance on someone like Ryan Anderson in one of your forward spots and still be ok on the boards. Noah does all that while contributing in all those other categories too. Ibaka is becoming a more complete player, but Noah is already there in my opinion.