Fantasy hoops: Has Jokic plateaued?

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic.

Today’s contributors are ESPN Fantasy’s Joe Kaiser, Jim McCormick and Kyle Soppe.

Nikola Jokic sits at No. 15 on the Player Rater (averages). Do you think his overall fantasy value will rise once he returns from his ankle injury or has he simply plateaued?

Kyle Soppe: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed with Jokic’s output prior to the ankle injury, but I’m hanging in there and acquiring him wherever I can. He is Denver’s leader in rebounds and assists, as this offense clearly runs through Jokic, and with his scoring touch seemingly proven (since the beginning of last season, he’s shooting over 64 percent at the rim and cashing in roughly 51 percent of his midrange jumpers), the best is yet to come.

Gary Harris and Will Barton are combining for 31.5 points per game, but they have played more than 60 games in just 37.5 percent of their combined seasons, so I think Jokic’s involvement on the scoring end right now is more symbolic of his floor than what we can expect moving forward. He averaged nearly 20 points per game in addition to nice counting stats from January on last season, and I’m looking for more of the same this season.

Jim McCormick: The oracle informs me a plateau is defined as a state of little or no change following a notable period of activity or sustained progress. The Joker established a new level of elite offensive production and versatility that he’s sustaining through this season, as the Player Rater reveals, but I think it’s entirely fair to say he’s plateaued in fantasy value. He’s arguably even regressed a bit in terms of scoring efficiency.

As is the trend among many big men around the league, Jokic is trading interior shots for attempts beyond the arc. He’s taking 17.4 percent of his shots from within three feet of the rim this season, compared to 16.2 percent from 3-point range. Last season, he took 35 percent of his shots from within three feet and 10.2 percent from beyond. This shift in shot distribution also clearly adds value to his 3-point profile, so it’s safe to say he’s nearly the same asset as last season, just in a bit different fashion.

Is it reasonable to expect this growth trajectory to be linear? I’m guessing another sizable leap in skills and production will surface at some point for Jokic, who turns 23 in February, but I’m also guessing it happens in a future season and not in the next 50 games.

Joe Kaiser: Jokic is a terrific fantasy asset who doesn’t hurt you in any way, thanks to high shooting percentages and a well-rounded skill set.

That being said, it’s difficult to envision him rising any further on the Player Rater given his relatively low scoring average (15.5 PPG) and minimal impact as a shot blocker (0.6 BPG). There are just too many players having really good years this season, and Jokic’s fantasy value really has nowhere to go but down, even if he fully recovers from the ankle injury.