Today we’ll learn all about the most often overlooked team stat in fantasy basketball: Pace. If you’re into daily fantasy sports and don’t know why “pace” matters, I’d like to invite you to my heads up lobby on Fanduel. Just kidding. Mostly. If you’re in a season-long league, it’s a bit more forgivable if you haven’t been taking this into account. This article should change that. There are going to be many, many roster moves in the next month or so, but one thing that should hold (mostly) steady is pace.

Let’s take a look at which teams will have the fastest pace in the 2020-2021 season and why that matters.

 

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Why pace matters

Pace is the number of possessions per team in 48 minutes of basketball. It’s simple, yet effective shortcut to make smart fantasy basketball decisions. This can affect every single player up and down the roster, but is especially effective at the end of fantasy drafts, as the pool of known value diminshes and you’re left scraping for guys with potential. There’s a lot more that should go into your decisions here, but one thing that can help you a great deal is pace.

For example, D’Angelo Russell split time last season between the Golden State Warriors (15th in pace according to NBA.com) and the Minnesota Timberwolves (3rd in pace according to NBA.com) and had roughly the same usage (32.2% with the Warriors and 29.5% with the T’Wolves). Here are his per-36 numbers with each team last season:

Russell’s per-36 with the Warriors: 26.5 ppg, 7 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 spg, 0.3 bpg, 3.4 TO

Russell’s per-36 with the T’Wolves: 23.9 ppg, 7.3 apg, 5.1 rpg, 1.6 spg, 0.4 bpg, 4.2 TO

As you can see, every counting stat for fantasy purposes increased outside of points, which can be attributed mainly to a bit of decresased usage coupled with a 3 percentage point drop in three-point shooting. Turnovers went up too, which is something to consider, but an increase in pace leads to more stats which leads to more wins for your fantasy team.

Teams with Pace

Here are the top five teams in terms of pace the past three seasons, according to NBA.com:

2019-20 season

1. Milwaukee Bucks

2. Houston Rockets

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

4. New Orleans Pelicans

5. Washington Wizards

2018-19 season

1. Atlanta Hawks

2. New Orleans Pelicans

3. Sacramento Kings

4. Los Angeles Lakers

5. Milwaukee Bucks

2017-18 season

1. New Orleans Pelicans

2. Phoenix Suns

3. Los Angeles Lakers

4. Philadelphia 76ers

5. Golden State Warriors

Looking at this smallish data set, there are a few things we can take away. First, pace doesn’t necessarily portend a great record or a good team. Second, personnel matters. You’ll notice that the Los Angeles Lakers with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram played with a lot of pace. When they switched gears and acquired big man Anthony Davis, they fell out of the top 5. And won a championship, but I digress.

Third, coaching matters too. Take a look at the Sacramento Kings. In 2018-19 they were one of the top three teams in pace with Dave Joerger at the helm. With Luke Walton last season, they finished 19th in the league while still having four of the same top five players in usage: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, and Bogdan Bogdanović.

Personnel means more though, as evidenced by the Phoenix Suns who ousted Jay Triano for Igor Kokoškov, but mostly saw their pace change due to drafting Deandre Ayton. They only managed 12th in the league in 2018-19.

Predicting the 2020-21 Pace Leaders

There’s plenty of turnover when it comes to pace in the NBA, so the top five are really anyone’s guess. Having identified a few of the factors above, we can make some reasonably smart guesses about what the top five will look like next season. Here are the teams I believe will be near the top of the league in terms of pace next season:

1. Milwaukee Bucks

2. New Orleans Pelicans

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

4. Golden State Warriors

5. Memphis Grizzlies

Here’s what I’m basing this on:

  • For one, the Milwaukee Bucks will most likely return with the same coaching staff and roster which means they’ll be looking to play with pace yet again.
  • Second, the New Orleans Pelicans are consistently in the top 5 and, with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson on the squad, they should continue to play at breakneck speeds.
  • The Timberwolves are in a similar boat as the Pels.
  • A lot of people forget, but the Warriors make their bread on pushing the pace. They were owners of the fifth-highest pace in 2017-18, fourth-highest in 2016-17, and first in 2014-15. All of those were championship years.
  • The Grizzlies were sixth in the league in pace last season, but more importantly, they were a rotten 30th in the league just the season before. The difference? Ja Morant, who will be entering his sophomore season with much to prove. The coaching staff and supporting cast remains in tact. Morant should see a small increase in pace from year one to year two when you compare him to second-year players like Luka Dončić, who went from an individual pace of 100.99 to 101.24, or Collin Sexton, who went from 98.54 to 100.37 according to NBA.com.
  • I knocked Houston out of the top 5 because it looks like Westbrook is on the move. Despite the perception, just because James Harden chucks up a lot of shots doesn’t mean he does it with above average pace. There’s a lot of dribbling before those bombs. The Washington Wizards were also knocked out of the top 5 because the return of John Wall means a bit of a return to normalcy in D.C. They had been middle of the pack in most of the seasons Wall has run the show and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be returning to take the helm for a struggling team. The Wizards played with pace last season more out of necessity than anything else, winning games with sheer scoring that sometimes outmatched their swiss cheese defense.

Players to Target

Milwaukee Bucks

The Obvious

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – Safe to take anywhere in the first round. He was just 16th in overall value last year according to Basketball Monster and Yahoo! has him ranked 7th. You can take him anywhere from first through 12th and feel good about it.
  • Khris Middleton – Very, very solid third or fourth round selection. Second round is reaching a bit, but I wouldn’t fault you for it if you’re high on him.
  • Jrue Holiday – Solid third round production. Great source of assists and steals.

Under-the-Radar Guys

  • Brook Lopez – If you find yourself in need of a center towards the middle of your draft, this is absolutely the guy you should be focusing on. Elite level blocks and three-point shooting from the center position. The downside is that his minutes have steadily decreased season by season, as the Bucks go more small ball with Giannis at the center position.
  • Donte DiVincenzo – Taking a last round flyer on DiVincenzo is exactly the type of value we’re looking for when we write articles like this. His per-36 numbers are nice with 14.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2 steals on 46/34/73 shooting splits. He only received 23 minutes per game last season but down the stretch he was leaned on more heavily than the aging Wesley Matthews, a player who is reportedly opting out of his contract anyways.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Obvious

  • Zion Williamson – He’s going to be an elite player in real life and will provide elite field goal percentage and scoring. There are some concerns about the counting stats though, so I’d probably look to snag him in the second round if you’re targeting him.
  • Lonzo Ball – Very solid middle round guy if you are in need of a point guard. Assists, steals, and threes will buoy his value and, for the first time since he’s been in the league, I’m recommending reaching for him.
  • Brandon Ingram – Another guy who may be worth reaching for as high as the fourth round. He’s going to put up points in bunches and provides a lot of assists as a forward-eligible player. His usage will see a dip with Zion back and fully healthy though, so be advised.

Under-the-Radar Guys

  • JJ Redick – Don’t be surprised when the savvy player in your league drafts Redick at the end of the draft to fill a needed hole in the three-point category. He is among the best of the best in that one statistical field.
  • Jaxson Hayes – 67.2% field goal percentage and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes. Derrick Favors isn’t returning. That’s about all you need to know to take a late flyer on the athletic big. If your team needs a big late, pull the trigger.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Obvious

  • D’Angelo Russell – Snagging him in the fourth or fifth round will do your team well. He seems rejuvenated and should be motivated playing along his friend, the next guy on this list.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns – An argument can be made for taking him number one. I’ve done it multiple times. It hasn’t always been the best option, but he finishes in the top five for fantasy with regularity. He should be healthy this season, which will return him to glory.

Under-the-Radar Guys

  • Malik Beasley – Assuming he can shake all the legal troubles he’s had this offseason and, assuming the T’Wolves re-sign him, Beasley averaged over 20 points and 5 rebounds a game while sinking 3.5 three-pointers per game in his 14-game stint with the Towns-less T’Wolves. I don’t expect him to replicate those numbers, not by a long shot. However, it did showcase the talent this kid has and he’s someone you should absolutely consider taking a flyer on in the last round.
  • Anthony Edwards – Will start and have plenty of opportunity with the increased pace to produce nice stat lines.

Golden State Warriors

The Obvious

  • Stephen Curry – Take him number one overall and enjoy the ride, if you’d like. He’s safe anywhere at all in the first round for his next level scoring and three-point shooting.
  • Andrew Wiggins – He’s a nice option towards the end of the middle rounds for any team for his ability to score.
  • Draymond Green – In leagues where he’s center eligible, jump on him a little sooner. Truly next level forward production in terms of assists and steals. He’s good to go at the start of the middle rounds, or even as high as the third round if you think he’ll have a bounce back year.

Under-the-Radar Guys

  • Marquese Chriss – Chriss was a horrific underperformer in Phoenix, but saw a revival in Golden State last year. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 16.5 points and 11 rebounds while blocking a shade under 2 shots per game. With the Warriors drafting Wiseman, he may have a tough time getting the minutes to match those numbers, but he may be worth rostering at the beginning of the season until Wiseman gets up to snuff anyways. You probably don’t need to draft him, but he’s someone to immediately add to your watchlist to stream as the situation shakes out.
  • James Wiseman – Will benefit from the fast-paced offense that emphasizes sharing the rock.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Obvious

  • Ja Morant – If you think he’s going to take that next step, go ahead and reach for him in the second round. If not, he’s a solid third or fourth round pick for the assists and scoring.
  • Jaren Jackson Jr. – When he plays, he scores. He can shoot from beyond the arc and has the potential to be an elite shot blocker too. He’s a nice high upside pick at the start of the middle rounds. He just needs to stay healthy.
  • Jonas Valančiūnas – A bit of a sleeper pick but he will provide elite level rebounding and field goal percentage. The middle rounds are perfect for such a guy, depending on your team build.

Under-the-Radar Guys

  • Dillon Brooks – Probably the best example on this list of players who benefit from a faster offensive pace. He’s not special, but in the last handful of rounds of your draft, select him if he’s still around.
  • Brandon Clarke – I’m pretty high on this young man. His path to minutes is a little spotty, but he’ll provide elite field goal percentage as well as rebounding and points on a per-minute basis. You can’t go wrong drafting him in the final few rounds, stashing him, and hoping for the best.
  1. Alastair Williams says:
    (link)

    just read some of your keeper league article from nov 2

    im trying to start a keeper league from scratch, and i was thinking roto scoring but most people seem to lean toward h2h cat

    what is your preference for scoring format for a 10 or 12 team 4-6 keeper league

  2. jiggy nits says:
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    just read your keeper post from nov 2nd

    im keen to try a rotisserie keeper league but all my friends are used to h2h cat or h2h points

    whats your favourite format?

    • joggy nits says:
      (link)

      (for keeper leagues)

    • Keith

      Keith says:
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      Hey Jiggy!

      It really depends on what experience you’re trying to create. A lot of the experts and longtime fantasy hoops players will tell you that roto is the superior scoring format, and there’s a lot to like there. If I’m playing for money or just in a competitive league with a bunch of people who are as dedicated as I am to doing well, then that’s probably the way to go since it has the less variance in terms of winning.

      If you’re just trying to have a good time with da boyz, H2H is where it’s at. I play both, but if I had to have a preference, I’d say H2H is it. The reason is that it keeps me on my toes every single week as any player can get hot any given week, and that matters in the overall scoring. Sure, it’s annoying when my player drops a 50-burger in points when I’m already up 100 points on the week, but it’s not as annoying as being completely out of contention halfway through the season. That’s a real potential with season-long roto type scoring.

      Hope this helps, and hope you all figure out which one you want to play!

      • jiggy nits says:
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        thanks for the detailed answer. any thoughts on incentive to not finish last in roto to keep people interested?

        • Keith

          Keith says:
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          I would definitely add some small incentive. In my league we have a trophy and the loser has to pay to have the trophy engraved and shipped (if necessary). You could also do something else fun, like they have to do a hype video for a team or player they hate or put a decal on the car for a period of time or something. Get creative and make people care, but don’t go overboard. If you do, you’ll never get them to pony up. The goal should be to give losing the league a negative stigma while also keeping it light and fun. If you’re a super serious league, obviously a monetary penalty works better or something more serious. Maybe losing a keeper slot or something. But if you’re playing for money, again, you’ll just be discouraging them from playing again next season.

          • Glenn says:
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            Bottom 2 in our keeper league host a bar B-Q.

            • Keith

              Keith says:
              (link)

              Ohhhh, I love that idea if you’re all local. We span several states, so not the most logical thing for us. I like that solution though also for the fact that it shares the burden and incentivizes the bottom two spots and not just the bottom spot.

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