Coaching changes tend to lead to a change in a team's pace. Eight teams changed coaches before this season, and six of those eight teams have changed their pace significantly. The Knicks, Bulls, Mavericks and Pistons have increased their play dramatically, while the Bobcats and Suns have slowed greatly. Only the Bucks (with Scott Skiles in place of Larry Krystkowiak) and the Heat (with Erik Spoelstra in place of Pat Riley) have remained virtually unchanged, and with Spoelstra, the lack of change is understandable considering he worked his way up from within the system.
It seems sensible enough that teams play differently under a new coach. A need for change is part of what leads to a coaching change in the first place. That brings up an interesting question about Kevin McHale, who has taken over for the Timberwolves in place of Randy Wittman, who was fired on Monday. The Wolves are 16th in possessions per game (94.3) so far this season and finished 13th and 17th the past two seasons. Will McHale's influence significantly boost possessions for the rest of the season? The Wolves have a ton of offensive talent but rank 25th in offensive efficiency. They don't fare much better defensively, either, placing 24th. But if the team is to form an identity, it definitely seems as though it will come from its offense, which has weapons such as Randy Foye, Al Jefferson, Mike Miller, Kevin Love and Rashad McCants.
McHale also took over for the Timberwolves when Flip Saunders was fired, back in the 2004-05 season. He coached the final 31 games of the season and went 19-12. Thanks to the database at basketballreference.com, I tallied the number of possessions in each of those 31 games. For the season, the Timberwolves finished 22nd in possessions per game at 89.1 per game; the league average was 90.9, and the Suns' 95.9 paced the league. Under McHale, though, the Wolves averaged 95.1 possessions per game. If sustained for the entire season, would have placed the Wolves second in the NBA.
Minnesota had a veteran team, too, during the final season of the Kevin Garnett-Latrell Sprewell-Sam Cassell core. It worked, as the Wolves finished sixth in offensive efficiency. McHale oversaw a tremendous jump in pace on a veteran-laden team that finished a game out of the playoffs. It would be much less surprising for the current Timberwolves to undergo a similar change because they are a young team that needs its future roles defined. In two games since the coaching change, the Wolves have accumulated 98 and 100 possessions against the Jazz and Nuggets, respectively. The Jazz average 94.7 possessions and rank 13th, and the Nuggets average 97.5 possessions, good for fifth in the NBA. The Timberwolves likely will start running more. If you were looking to buy into the stock of any Wolves, now is the time to do so, especially if Foye or Love can come at a decent price.
Comings and goings
Rasho Nesterovic has been fouling like crazy, racking up at least four fouls in six of his past eight games. He has seen his minutes plummet and has risked his starting job as a result. Nesterovic's flirtation with fantasy viability at center was fun while it lasted. The Suns' trade for Jason Richardson really seems to kill Leandro Barbosa's once-surging fantasy value. Barbosa was averaging 16.2 points in 27 minutes this month, but unless he backs up Steve Nash at point guard, he won't garner much playing time behind Richardson, who averages 36 minutes per game for his career. Both Grant Hill and Matt Barnes have small forward covered, and playing J-Rich and Barbosa at the 3 would have to be considered a poor defensive move, especially considering the Suns' philosophy shift with regard to defense. Keep an eye on Javaris Crittenton, for whom the Wizards essentially just traded a first-round pick. The Wizards already were starting Dee Brown, a second-round draft pick they've since waived to make room for Crittenton and Mike James. Although James is a stopgap, Crittenton could emerge as a long-term option at the point. Despite their poor record, the Wizards' investments in Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas force them to play for the present, and shipping off a first-round pick only reinforces that they're suddenly counting on Crittenton to be a big part of the team's plans. Martell Webster won't play until at least January, giving the Blazers a few more weeks until Webster's return forces a roster crunch. Nicolas Batum, who has scored three points so far in December, is looking like a nonfactor, and Rudy Fernandez has more than replaced the long-range shooting Webster provided last season. When Webster is healthy, it will be intriguing to see what minutes, if any, he'll take from Travis Outlaw and Fernandez. Don't look now, but Lou Williams of the Sixers has scored 13 or more points in seven of his past nine games, and is getting to the line an average of 4.6 times per game.
Larry Hughes, SG, Bulls (8.2 percent owned): Hughes has averaged more than 26 minutes in his past five games and played quite well in a preceding five-start stretch. Even in limited time, Hughes is valuable because he gets steals (1.4 per game) and this season is shooting the ball really well. He has his highest field goal percentage (44.6 percent) in five years and his first season better than 40 percent from long range (46.9 percent). Although it's a fairly crowded situation in Chicago, it's also pretty fluid, especially if an injury strikes, and Hughes has been getting extra time at small forward, too. The Bulls are fifth in the NBA with 95.1 possessions per game, and a transition game does wonders for Hughes, who has had his best seasons in wide-open offenses. His poor fantasy reputation has kept his ownership low, but Hughes' production speaks for itself at this point.
Jose Juan Barea, PG, Mavericks (2.1 percent): Barea seems to be a pretty obvious candidate for a pickup at this point, but I suppose there's no reason not to make it official. Barea dropped 21 points on the Spurs and 22 on the Hawks, the latter of which has been above-average defensively with Josh Smith in the lineup. The Mavs also have a soft schedule in December, with only two of their remaining nine games in the month against teams in the top 10 of defensive efficiency. Barea's efficiency is impressive: He has averaged 20.3 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.0 free-throw attempts and 4.3 assists with only 3 turnovers in his past three starts. It's a performance that reminds me of Jose Calderon's last season; Barea's production just demands playing time. If he can keep this up, he should stay in the picture even after Josh Howard returns.
Ronny Turiaf, PF/C, Warriors (1.0 percent): One of the most amazing stats this season is Turiaf's 2.2 blocks per game -- in just 16 minutes. His blocks per game have increased every season of his four-year career, a significant change considering he swatted 1.4 shots per 18 minutes even last season. Although his foul rate (2.4 per game) is fairly high, he is improving it, as it has gradually decreased in recent seasons. On a Don Nelson-coached squad, he definitely could get a longer look at some point, but for now, in a deep league, two blocks per game at center is pretty valuable on its own.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.