Who should go No. 1 in fantasy basketball drafts: Is Nikola Jokic a slam dunk?

Nikola Jokic efficiently racks up numbers from the center spot. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

The first two rounds of fantasy basketball drafts are as talented as they've been in years, with talents like LeBron James and Anthony Davis possibly sliding into Round 2. How's that for depth?!

But when it comes to who to take with the No. 1 pick in Points leagues and Roto leagues, our experts zero in on only three names.


Points leagues

James Harden, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets

I could marshal an argument to let Nikola Jokic ride at No. 1 here as well, but I'll leverage positional scarcity and give Harden the nod. Giannis Antetokounmpo forms a three-way tie for the top spot. But shooting guard is looking relatively bereft this season. I can't name another two that is a serious candidate to crack the top 10 in Points leagues. If you're playing Points, positional scarcity carries even more weight. Harden's dual eligibility is a real plus. The high-end pickings are slim after Harden, so taking him first will nicely set up the rest of your draft. -- Cregan

Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets

Jokic dominated the 2020-21 season in points formats, eclipsing Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic, who were next on the list, by nearly 900 points. It is rare to find this type of domination, but Jokic achieved it, and while we can point to the lofty figures in scoring, rebounding and passing, the fact is he is also durable and among the minutes leaders. That really matters, too, having a first round pick playing every game, not sitting for rest. Jokic does not rest. With scoring guard Jamal Murray out, expect Jokic to log a ton of minutes yet again and be the center of the Denver offense. The Nuggets need him to do just about everything. This is a good thing in fantasy! -- Karabell

The sheer volume of Jokic's counting stats is amazing. With lead scoring and distribution duties on his big shoulders, Jokic -- who led all players in points leagues by a full four points per game last season -- is the safest and most bankable pick in points leagues again this season. -- McCormick

Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks

Jokic would be a worthy top pick in points leagues, but I'll give Antetokounmpo some shine as well. Giannis was in a bit of a perfect storm of value depression last season, as the two-time defending MVP had produced fabulous numbers two-straight seasons but was under scrutiny for the Bucks' lack of postseason success. His every regular season accomplishment was devalued in the public eye, and the pressure was on for him to produce in the playoffs almost to the exclusion of producing in the regular season. While still fabulously productive, last season marked the first time in Giannis' career that he didn't increase his scoring and rebounding averages from the season before. But, at the end of the season, the Bucks won the championship with Giannis playing the game of his life. This season, all bets are off. I expect him to bounce back in a big way, and the entire Bucks team could have a bit of that 2016 Warriors swag where everyone produces free and easy. In points leagues, I'll give serious consideration to Giannis as the top overall pick. -- Snellings


Roto leagues

Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets

Do not overthink it. Jokic was the best roto player last season, easily outdistancing Stephen Curry on the Player Rater. There is little reason to expect a decrease in statistics this coming season. Jokic is not merely among the leaders in points, rebounds and assists, but he contributes steals and he is an excellent shooter from the field and the line, an efficient player with a high usage rate. No other top players are shooting 56% from the field and 86% from the line. Then there is the Jamal Murray factor; Murray may miss most of the season with a torn ACL. That means more usage for Jokic! The fact you can fill a center spot with the first pick, and deservingly so, makes it obvious. Jokic is the best player in fantasy for roto. -- Karabell

There isn't a scintilla of doubt -- it's Jokic, and no one else comes close. Jokic could post the best overall roto campaign since 2015-16 Stephen Curry if he stays healthy. That's really the debate (given health): what is Jokic's ceiling in roto formats? In 2015-16, Curry posted 30.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 5.1 3s, 2.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, with a 50.4 FG% and a 90.8 FT%. I'd argue that's the best single season of the fantasy era. I don't think Jokic hits that rarified air, but a facsimile of last season's numbers could push Harden's 2018-19 production or Anthony Davis' 2017-18. -- Cregan

Jokic is my top pick in roto leagues. He is coming off a magical campaign in which he won the MVP award and flirted with averaging a triple-double, and he enters this season with the chance to improve across the board. The Nuggets will be missing their primary perimeter scorer and facilitator, Jamal Murray, for most of the season as he recovers from knee surgery. Thus, Jokic may have an even larger offense-creation role this season than last. His shooting and aggressive mentality last season made him nearly unguardable 1-on-1, but his court vision and excellent passing make doubling him a nightmare scenario for opponents. Add in that Jokic is an iron man, having missed only two games total over the past three seasons, and he is clearly deserving of the top spot in roto drafts. -- Snellings

James Harden, SG, Brooklyn Nets

Even on a team brimming with superstars, Harden is the key creator and distributor for Brooklyn. In this unique capacity at the helm of a super team, the bearded one will pace the NBA in assists, shoot and make twice as many 3-pointers as Jokic and flirt with triple-doubles just as frequently as the reigning MVP. The volume free-throw and deep shooting tip the scales for me with Harden. I'm also buying into last season as an outlier for a truly durable player the past decade. -- McCormick