I wrote an article before the season began about which teams I thought would have the best pace in the league. Here were my guesses from that article and where they currently stand:
1. Milwaukee Bucks (6th)
2. New Orleans Pelicans (25th)
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (7th)
4. Golden State Warriors (3rd)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (14th)
Big yikes. I actually didn’t do too badly when you take into account that Ja Morant has missed significant time this season (eight of 13 games) and three out of five are in the top seven. The Pelicans are the main surprise here as coach Stan Van Gundy has them playing at a snail’s pace straight to a 5-10 record. Woof. They’ll need to figure it out and probably play faster with all the talented, athletic guys on the team.
It’s also important to note that I made these predictions before the Russell Westbrook – John Wall swap which has helped vault the Wizards into 1st and well before the James Harden trade to the Brooklyn Nets, but I digress.
Anyways, here are the actual top 5 in pace:
|3rd||Golden State Warriors||106.4||8-8|
There are plenty of observations to make here, like how pace doesn’t necessarily mean you win, or how the top teams in pace play minimal defense, but what we’re really interested in here at Razzball is what this means for fantasy. Does pace actually help guys out? Is it important to look at? We need answers, dammit!
The Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers definitely are a surprise here. Their respective jumps in pace have nothing to do with roster changes and everything to do with coaching changes as Billy Donovan replaced Jim Boylen in Chicago and Doc Rivers replaced Brett Brown in Philadelphia. So if you’re looking for how a coach can affect the game, here’s some proof.
But what that affords us is an opportunity to look at some individual players and see how the change in pace has affected them.
1. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards sat at 7th in pace at the end of last season and find themselves in 1st to start this season, and the only difference is that Russell Westbrook is playing in D.C. now (sometimes). The main guy to look at here is obviously Bradley Beal, who is sitting at 7th overall in per-game 9-category value according to Basketball Monster. That’s a minor bump from 11th overall last year and you’d have to think pace plays a big part in that.
A big boost to Sir Beal’s stats this season have been in the defensive statistics as he’s averaging 1.4 steals per game, up from 1.26 a year ago, and 0.7 blocks per game, up from 0.4 in 2019-2020. His percentages are up as well, but the counting stats like points and assists are actually all down.
If I were a Bradley Beal owner, I’d probably view this as a sell high opportunity because those percentages will probably regress and there’s an awful lot of chatter around D.C. about a Bradley Beal trade. If you can wrangle an actual first rounder, I’d certainly pull the trigger. A second rounder that gives you stats you need makes a lot of sense as well.
A note on Russell Westbrook if you drafted him: Why? But that’s besides the point if you have him because your best move is just to hang on and hope to goodness that his putrid 38% field goal shooting and 66% free throw shooting can normalize back to his career averages.
He’s putting up a boatload of rebounds and assists, so if he can get healthy and play without making too many mistakes (5.3 turnovers per game), he could surpass his 43rd ranking per game in 9-cat last season. As it stands, he’s sitting at 135th overall. Ouch. Pace is what you want with Westbrook though, so if you’re punting turnovers and probably field goal percentage, you’re sitting pretty. It’s just tough to make it work.
2. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are turning some heads this season and it’s warming my heart. Replacing Boylen with Donovan has been a boon as well as getting a healthy Otto Porter Jr. all season. How has the faster pace helped the players though?
Let’s start at the top with hopefully future all-star Zach LaVine. He’s sitting at 17th per-game value this season compared to 38th last season, which is a very nice boost. Predictably, the faster pace has boosted his points, assists, and threes. He’s also seen an increase in blocks and rebounds too. His percentages are through the roof though, with a field goal percentage of 49.7% compared to 45% last season and a free throw percentage of 87.4% compared to 80.2% last season. Expect those to regress a bit, but I think for the most part these stick and he’s going to surpass his ADP of 31.1 on Yahoo!
Coby White hasn’t been stellar, but he’s cracked the top 200 sitting at 161st overall in per-game value. He’s a hold right now since you probably can’t find a trade partner, the Bulls are near the top in pace, he’s getting 34.3 minutes per game, and he still has a ton of potential to take off as he’s basically learning on the job. If you want to target him in a trade with someone you’re not super keen on or who is playing above their level, I don’t hate that idea.
Lauri Markannen hasn’t been great this season either, but as many experts were saying before the start of the season, the ouster of coach Jim Boylen has done him wonders. He’s sitting at 65th in per-game value as opposed to 103rd last season. He’s a great fantasy player, but in real life having Lauri, Coby, and Zach on the floor basically equals endless buckets for the other team. Coach Donovan has been experimenting a bit with rotations, and it feels like the starting combo of Otto Porter Jr. (101st overall per-game value) and Patrick Williams helps patch up the defensive liabilities of the starting backcourt.
Even if Lauri is coming off the bench, he should be safe to keep and land roughly around his ADP of 73. OPJ is worth a roster spot in most leagues and he’s currently only owned in 60% of Yahoo! leagues.
3. Golden State Warriors
WARRIORS, come out and plaaaayyy! Obviously, the loss of Klay Thompson really hurts here in real life and in fantasy. Without him, the Warriors don’t actually stand a chance to compete for a title despite what some fans might be putting up in forums across the internet.
Stephen Curry was at 31st in per-game value last season and this season he sits at 14th. Chef Curry is cookin’ quietly and he never really got an opportunity to do so last season before he broke his hand. His points are up, but his threes are WAY up compared to last season’s 5-game sample. He seems like a lock to land in the top 15, though I’m sure owners are hoping for a top-10 finish.
Draymond Green doesn’t place in the top 9-cat players as of yet. He seems to be working his way back into shape still, but he ended up 86th in per-game value last season. Draymond is shooting an awful 33.3% from the field, which should normalize towards that 43.4% career shooting. He’s rebounding, stealing, and blocking less despite the faster pace, which is really a bummer. It looks so far like the bounce-back season isn’t in the works but he should be able to creep his way back into the top 100.
Andrew Wiggins is doing Andrew Wiggins things, and he’s sitting at 87th in per-game rankings compared to 92nd last season. His stats are shockingly similar across the board compared to last year, which was spent mostly on the Minnesota Timberwolves who placed 4th overall in pace for the 2019-20 season. He’s averaging 1.56 block per game on the season somehow, which shouldn’t last. He’s a hold, but if you can find a Wiggins fan to trade with and get back decent, more promising value, please feel free to do so.
Kelly Oubre has struggled with the Warriors and it’s no secret around the league. This is a guy who ranked 50th per-game in 9-category leagues and has an ADP of 66.7 on Y! He will figure it out eventually, one would think, so he’s one of my favorite buy low players still. I’ve been saying that for a least a few weeks though, so it’s time for him to turn it on or become dead weight on your team that deserves a cut. His points are way down thanks to a career-low 35.1% shooting percentage this season. You have to figure that normalizes at some point.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are suddenly full of fantasy gold with six players in the top 150 and three in the top 50 players when judged per game. Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, and Danny Green are all the guys who make the cut.
Getting out from under coach Brett Brown has been a huge plus for Joel Embiid, who has been vaulted from 23rd to 6th in per-game value. That’s a nice jump and the pace has a lot to do with it as Embiid has enjoyed more points and blocks with more possessions. He’s currently shooting a blazing 55.4% from the field and that may regress a bit, but he’s getting way better looks in the flow of this offense so he’s looking like he’ll stick around near the top of the fantasy leader boards.
Tobias Harris has also jumped from 52nd in per-game value to 33rd this season. There’s a little room to be skeptical since his value has jumped in the defensive statistics and he’s averaging a steal and block per game right now, but there’s reason to believe he’ll crush his ADP of 60.5.
Ben Simmons hasn’t looked super great this season and he’s sitting at just 63rd in per-game value compared to 36th last season. That just means there’s a small buy low window here and he may not end up 36th overall but he should jump 10-20 spots before it’s all said and done. The faster pace has to help a guy who wants to get to the rim, one would imagine.
Shake Milton and Seth Curry are easy adds in 9-cat. Especially Seth Curry, who missed some time due to the health and safety protocols but has been stellar when he has played. He’s sitting at 39th in per-game value after suiting up for 10 games with the Sixers. He’s good for points and threes, though it’s highly doubtful he maintains his 59.6% shooting from the field.
5. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets are one of the easiest teams to figure out. The three guys at the top are going to crush it in total season value, but good luck figuring out which one is going to go off in a given game as there are only a certain number of touches to go around. Of course, I’m talking about Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. All of these guys are currently in the top 20.
Joe Harris sits at 72nd and it’s hard to imagine he continues to stick there as he’s shooting 50.5% from the field. His main contribution is threes though and with the three big dogs, he is probably going to get a lot of wide-open ones. He just hit seven in a game with all three of them in the last game. He’s an easy hold all season. He’s currently rostered in 70% of leagues and he should be owned everywhere by teams in need of three-point shooting.
DeAndre Jordan is beginning to climb the ranks and is at 180th. He’ll continue to climb easily with Jarrett Allen out of town and no real competition for minutes when the team needs an actually capable center on defense. He’s not going to blow anyone out of the water, but as long as you can stomach his 57.1% shooting from the charity stripe this season he can be a boon to teams in need of rebounds and blocks with sky-high field goal shooting. He shot 100% from the field in three of the last four games. He’s owned in 69% of leagues and that number is growing, so make sure you run out and snag him now if he’s somehow available and you aren’t afraid of the free throw shooting.
Yes, it seems that pace does help fantasy players quite a bit in most scenarios. There are some players who actually see a drop when some extra possessions come their way, which is a bit perplexing. The teams at the top here are likely to stick, so ride those hands while they’re hot and enjoy the inflated value.
Another thing to keep in mind would be to keep the other guys on these teams on your shortlist to pick up if people get injured or if you’re looking to stream. You can find more value with guys on these teams since they push the pace. For DFS, targeting teams going up against these top teams would make a lot of sense too. Additional pace for one team leads to additional pace for the other team naturally as they take less time to complete their possessions. Teams that push the pace don’t have a lot of interest in playing defense anyways, which is a story for another article.