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NBA Blog: Pace and Perceived Value

Andrew Schmalz

Andrew Schmalz writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Playing fantasy basketball can be a frustrating activity. Perhaps more than any other fantasy sport, fantasy basketball player rankings vary dramatically from season to season. A top-10 player from last season can quickly become a fantasy liability due to injury, teammate development, roster turnover, a coaching change or philosophical adjustments. Understanding which players will progress, or conversely regress, is critical to success. The key is to maximize each player's actual value and to not overpay for their perceived value. One way to analyze and accurately predict which players will be the best fantasy assets is to look at their team's pace.

Pace is the number of possessions a team uses per game. It's the speed at which a team plays. How quickly they advance the ball up court, how likely they are to shoot early in a possession, or how fast they run their offensive plays. It's all aimed at one common goal: To have as many offensive possessions as possible.

The more possessions a team has in a game, the more chances that team's players will have to accumulate statistics. Teams that lead the league in pace often have a higher percentage of top-rated fantasy players in comparison to the rest of the NBA.

In order to offer substance to my assertion, I analyzed the rosters for the top 10 teams according to pace for the 2012-13 season.

Top 10 Pace Teams 2012-13

1. Houston


3. Milwaukee

4. Golden State

5. LA Lakers

6. San Antonio


8. Dallas

9. Phoenix

10. Oklahoma City

I looked at the top 10 pace teams' rosters for the 2012-13 season, specifically recording each team's top five fantasy players (according to minutes played per game), and noted which were ranked in the top 100 of overall players (using Yahoo!'s ranks).

1. Kevin Durant

33. Brandon Jennings

58. Danilo Gallinari

89. Luis Scola

3. Stephen Curry

37. Klay Thompson

59. Shawn Marion

93. Tyreke Evans

4. James Harden

38. Tony Parker

60. Kevin Martin

94. Andre Iguodala

6. Kobe Bryant

39. Vince Carter

64. Ty Lawson

100. Jared Dudley

8. Serge Ibaka

42. Danny Green

65. Kawhi Leonard


9. Tim Duncan

48. O.J. Mayo

67. Metta World Peace


10. Russell Westbrook

50. Ersan Ilyasova

68. Kenneth Faried


17. David Lee

52. Thabo Sefolosha

70. DeMarcus Cousins


28. Larry Sanders

54. Darren Collison

72. Isaiah Thomas


31. Monta Ellis

55. Jeremy Lin

79. Tiago Splitter


32. Chandler Parsons

56. Goran Dragic

83. Dirk Nowitzki


For the 2012-13 season, 38 players in the top 100 total rankings came from one-third of the NBA. These players, from the top 10 pace teams (33 percent of the league), accounted for 38 percent of the top 100 players. Seven of the top 10 players played for high pace teams, and 25 of the top 60 players came from high pace teams. That's 41.6 percent of the top-60 ranked players on Yahoo! coming from the fastest-playing third of NBA teams.

This is only a sample of one season (2012-13), but the correlation is typical if you look at previous seasons as well. Teams that play at a faster pace have more possessions per game and have more valuable fantasy players than teams that don't play at faster pace.

How do we use this insight for success in fantasy basketball?

WhiIe I don't suggest overvaluing pace when drafting, I do take it into consideration when adding a free agent or analyzing a potential trade. First, I look at the teams that are leading the NBA in pace for this season.

High Pace teams for 2013-14


2. Minnesota

3. Denver

4. LA Lakers

5. Houston

6. LA Clippers

7. Oklahoma City

8. Dallas

9. Orlando

10. Golden State

Analysis of the top-five players (based on minutes per game) from each of these teams is somewhat risky because the current statistics and rankings are based on a very small sample of games. Player minutes will rise and fall dramatically by the end of the season. Below, I've listed the players who play for the top 10 pace teams so far this season based on their rank within Yahoo!'s top 100 players so far for the 2013-14 season.

2. Chris Paul

20. Arron Afflalo

38.  Nikola Vucevic

60.  David Lee

3. Kevin Love

22.  Monta Ellis

39.  Corey Brewer

63.  Nikola Pekovic

4. Dirk Nowitzki

23.  Stephen Curry

41.  Jose Calderon

67.  Andrew Bogut

5.  Spencer Hawes

25.  Chandler Parsons

46.  Michael Carter-Williams

68.  Jodie Meeks

8. Klay Thompson

31.  Blake Griffin

47. Ty Lawson

69.  Jordan Hill

9.  Kevin Martin

32. Shawn Marion

52. James Anderson

87.  Pau Gasol

10. Kevin Durant

33.  Jeremy Lin

53.  Samuel Dalembert

91.  Wesley Johnson

14. James Harden

36.  J.J. Reddick

55.  Evan Turner

93.  Thad Young

17. Ricky Rubio

37. Andre Iguodala

57.  Steve Blake

94.  Jamal Crawford




100.  DeAndre Jordan





Statistically, this season's sample is quite similar to the 2012-13 season sample. Thirty-seven players from high pace teams for 2013-14 rank inside the top 100. This indicates that players who come from high pace teams, this season and last, have a slight advantage in being a fantasy success over players coming from the other 20 NBA teams.

My goal is to roster as many of the players from high pace teams as cheaply as possible. The more I have on my team, the more likely I am to succeed. Most of the players I listed in the table directly above are currently owned, while some may still be available. The key is to maximize actual value, and not overpay for perceived value while trying to acquire players.

Every owner would love to have a Chris Paul or James Harden. Yet, their perceived values are so high that only a similar player could net them via trade. I try to focus instead on players with lower perceived value than their actual value.

Below, I've included some players to target, along with some information on each. These are not the traditional top 10 or top 20 players, they are lesser-known players playing for high pace teams that maximize their fantasy opportunities.

Spencer Hawes, C, PHI
Yahoo! Rank: 6
ADP (Average Draft Position): 115

Can Spencer Hawes be a top 20 player all season? I say yes, especially if he can stay healthy. This team has a lot, and I mean a lot, of opportunities for him to produce. They play extremely quickly - currently leading the league in possessions per game - and Hawes has been a huge benefactor this season. No one would expect a top 20 player back in a trade for Hawes, which means his perceived value is lower than his actual value. Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Marcin Gortat; I would trade any of them for Hawes, and just hope he stays healthy.

Ricky Rubio, PG, MIN
Yahoo! Rank: 17
ADP: 23.2

Any opportunity to trade for Rubio on a discount has passed. The time to trade for Rubio was the first two weeks before he really broke out. I would still try to acquire him; you'll just have to spend more. Minnesota has turned into one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, and they are playing at a high tempo. I expect many more double-doubles and perhaps a few more triple-doubles this season. I would take Rubio over Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Mike Conley, Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson and Tony Parker in head-to-head leagues. He's only a slight downgrade over Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, and it would take much less to get Rubio than either one of those two.

DeAndre Jordan, C, LAC
Yahoo! Rank: 100
ADP: 126.1

If you drafted DeAndre Jordan late in your draft, then you've been ecstatic with his early season performance. His free-throw shooting has always been a major deficiency, but he was putting up big blocks and rebounds numbers. I believe in Jordan, and the shortened Clippers rotation. If free-throw shooting isn't a concern of yours, go and get him. It's unlikely he is available (84 percent owned) but, if so, add him. Otherwise, try to trade for him. I have no qualms trading players like Carlos Boozer, Enes Kanter or Joakim Noah for Jordan.

Thaddeus Young, PF, PHI
Yahoo! Rank: 93
ADP: 57.1

It has been a difficult start to the season for Young and his owners. Poor shooting performances and erratic overall outputs have plagued Young all season. His Yahoo! overall rank is far below what he was projected to return, even before he missed games due to personal reasons last week. As I stated with Hawes, Philly is playing for more possessions than any team in the NBA right now, and Young will eventually reap the rewards of that system. If you own him, be patient. If you do not own him, you can probably acquire him, but he would likely require a currently higher-ranked player. Young still has fairly high perceived value, but I would bargain you can still get him for the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Carlos Boozer, or Ersan Ilyasova.

Samuel Dalembert, C, DAL
Yahoo! Rank: 53
ADP: 132

At 52 percent owned, Dalembert is readily available in many leagues. That, combined with a strong position in the Mavs' rotation has him primed to have a productive season with his new team. Health concerns, and his offensive limitations aside, Dalembert is the type of player that can really benefit from playing with more possessions. Even with restricted minutes, there are more opportunities for him to do what he does best: rebound. If you need blocks and rebounds, I recommend you add him as soon as you are done reading this.

Remember the basic rule of pace: Teams with a higher pace create more opportunities for their players to accumulate fantasy statistics. While pace is important to fantasy basketball analysis, it is only one way to measure a player's potential or ability to maintain high performance. It does not offer insight into efficiency statistics such as field-goal percentage or free-throw percentage, past player health history or a team's player rotation. Pace statistics are useful to spotlight particular players with more fantasy opportunity because of their team's high amount of possessions per game. Though pace is only one part of the equation for fantasy success, referencing high pace teams helps an owner more accurately predict which players can help lead them to a fantasy crown.