Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today’s contributors are ESPN Fantasy’s Joe Kaiser, Kyle Soppe and Tom Carpenter.
Kyle Soppe: You’re talking about two very similar players, and my answer might change if you asked me to build the best NBA team over the next five years, but for fantasy purposes, I want Beal next season.
Both can shoot the rock and are improving at a rapid rate (both Beal and Thompson have seen their FG% increase in each of the last four seasons), so while that is impressive, neither gets a bump over the other.
With the addition of Kevin Durant, Thompson hasn’t lost any shots this season, but with consecutive seasons that essentially mirror one another, it’s pretty clear that he is nearing (if not at) his ceiling. That’s all fine and good, but I’d rather take my chances in a keeper format in a player who is about 3.5 years younger and is gaining usage with each season.
Beal is also slightly more versatile (he has never averaged fewer than 6.3 rebounds-plus-assists, while Thompson has never averaged more than 6.1), a minor difference that I expect to grow before it shrinks in the coming seasons.
Now, I prefer Beal because I am comfortable I can draft depth behind him in the event that he misses time, so if you are not as confident in that area, Thompson is the play, as he has missed just 11 total games in the last five seasons (Beal has missed an average of 17 games per season over that stretch).
Joe Kaiser: Beal’s season is one of the biggest surprises to me, because heading into the year I had him pegged as a chronic underachiever. His reputation as a sharpshooter and lethal scorer never quite fit with reality. Fast-forward to today, with the regular season winding down, and Beal has transformed himself and taken his game to new heights (23.1 PPG, 2.9 3PPG, 48 FG%) while staying healthy and playing a career-high 34.8 minutes a game.
This isn’t to say that I’d take Beal ahead of Thompson next season, but Beal has certainly closed the gap — if not most of the way, then all the way. As mentioned, he’s actually rated higher than Thompson in the Player Rater. Statistically speaking, Beal actually had a bigger impact in assists and steal than Thompson did this year, too, which is more reason to side with the Wizards’ shooting guard in this debate.
Thompson, however, has been so durable over the course of his six NBA seasons that I think he’s the much safer play of the two. Thompson has played 72 games this season after playing 77 or more in each of the last four campaigns. By contrast, Beal suffered through countless leg injuries and never played more than 73 games in any of his first four seasons in the league.
I think Thompson has a higher floor and is the safer play here, while Beal carries more risk but also has a slightly higher ceiling. It’s worth noting, too, that Beal, 23, is nearly several years younger than Thompson, 27, so there’s a chance Beal’s game will continue to blossom next season, while Thompson’s pretty much is what it is at this stage in his career.
Tom Carpenter: I think the decision comes down to how you value risk versus upside as a long-term team need.
Thompson is going to go down as one of the all-time great shooters and has been a model of durability throughout his career. There are few safer bets in the NBA; Thompson will play close to 82 games, get you a ton of 3s and score well with great percentages. Locking in that sort of consistent production is a beautiful thing as a keeper.
However, I’ve always focused more on upside, especially with keepers, and Beal has gobs more than Thompson. Beal will be three years younger than Thompson next season, and it’s not outrageous to think he could score in the upper-20s at some point running alongside John Wall.
Your team may be better off taking Thompson’s consistency, but I prefer Beal’s higher ceiling.