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:
1. Milwaukee Bucks
2. Houston Rockets
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
4. New Orleans Pelicans
5. Washington Wizards
1. Atlanta Hawks
2. New Orleans Pelicans
3. Sacramento Kings
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.