Impact of pace on final-week stats

Updated: April 9, 2013, 3:53 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

A part of me has always felt it unfortunate that the most important part of the fantasy basketball season -- championship week -- coincides with the close of the NBA regular season.

The end of the NBA season exists in a state of rotational anarchy. You're faced with shutdowns (Dwyane Wade?), sudden cutbacks in minutes (Tony Parker), and downright tanking (the Cleveland Cavaliers).

For 95 percent of the season, fantasy basketball features a very fair setup.

But right now, this is the other 5 percent.

You have to protect yourself.

It's of paramount importance that you follow all pieces of late-breaking NBA news; a single missed game or sudden reduction in playing time could spell the difference between winning and losing.

We're at the point in the schedule where Gregg Popovich could wake up, have a bad breakfast burrito, and decide to start Matt Bonner over Tim Duncan for the remainder of the regular season. This is not an embellishment.

Popovich doesn't care about your fantasy team. But I do. And I'm telling you to focus on the statistical aspects and trends more within your control. One numerical area you can harness to your benefit? Team-wide statistics.

Players and their minutes may come and go, but a team's system will remain largely unchanged. And, more importantly, the speed at which a team plays tends to stay the same, regardless of personnel.

The most underrated team-wide statistic in fantasy is pace. Pace uses a formula to estimate the amount of possessions a team has per game.

(The Pace formula is Team Possessions + Opponent Possessions / 2 x [Team Minutes Played / 5]).

The higher the pace, the more possessions a team burns up per game. The more possessions a team burns up per game, the more fantasy stats generated for that team's individual players.

I'm not just talking points. I'm talking all of the volume stats: points, rebounds, assists, 3-pointers, blocks, steals and turnovers.

[+] EnlargeCorey Brewer
Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY SportsNot only is Corey Brewer getting more minutes, he's playing on a team that gives him plenty of opportunities to put up big stats.

Points scored per game -- and points allowed per game -- are important team-wide stats. So are offensive and defensive efficiency, and any of their percentage-based offshoots.

But pace drives all of the volume categories. It's a foundational metric.

You'll find the pace rankings over here. There, you'll see that the Houston Rockets lead the league in pace (98.6 possessions per game) by a comfortable margin.

Pace is why obscure players on Mike D'Antoni-coached teams suddenly break out to become fantasy factors. D'Antoni's teams are always among the league leaders in pace (the Lakers are fourth in pace at 96.9).

So when Earl Clark comes out of nowhere to throw up a line of 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, a steal, and 3 3-pointers, it's surprising but not shocking. (Remember, it was also D'Antoni who made Linsanity possible. And Diaw-mania, but now I'm dating myself.)

Look at the power forward slot on the Rockets. Earlier this season, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris shared the duties, with Patterson eventually settling in as the not-too-firmly-entrenched starter.

Because Houston leads the NBA in pace, both players were productive despite averaging less than 26 minutes a game.

Patterson averaged 25.9 minutes per game in Houston and put up 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.7 3-pointers and 0.4 blocks. Morris averaged 21.4 minutes, 8.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.4 3-pointers. That's a lot of production for a timeshare. Put that together and you have a top-40 player.

Post-Sacramento trade, different players have bubbled up at Houston's four (Donatas Motiejunas, Thomas Robinson, Greg Smith). Right now, we have D-League call-up Terrence Jones posting serviceable power forward numbers (13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks Saturday night).

It doesn't matter who it is; because of Houston's high-pace system, a steady role is often more important than a random individual player. (I'm looking at you, Chandler "Homewrecker" Parsons.) Take a solid player and give him 25-plus minutes in a high-pace system, and the fantasy numbers will come.

Pace not only drives the fantasy fortunes of NBA teams, but also the teams they're playing.

The Denver Nuggets are second in pace for the season at 97.5 (the average NBA pace is 94.4). So while the Nuggets are generating 97.5 possessions for their players, they're giving the ball back to the other team 97.5 times a game. That's nearly six more possessions per game than a defensive-minded squad such as the Chicago Bulls (27th with a 91.9 pace).

That's why we circle games on the calendar like the Rockets-Nuggets romp on April 6. Odds are that those games become a track meet and a fantasy bonanza.

[+] EnlargePatrick Patterson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsPatrick Patterson could be in line for big numbers late in the season with a rematch against his former Rockets teammates.

Sure enough, that matchup ended with Denver winning 132-114. A tremendous amount of fantasy production flowed from this game. Players like Francisco Garcia, Motiejunas, James Anderson, Anthony Randolph, Corey Brewer and Evan Fournier all had serviceable lines.

If you picked up a couple of those guys (as I did with Brewer and Garcia) for a spot start in deeper leagues, you were rewarded.

I want to look at some remaining games on the schedule that could result in high-pace production.

But I'm also going to add something extra, something that really wasn't possible before this season, individual player pace rates. This is thanks to one of the best statistical developments of the past few seasons: the evolution of NBA.com's stats section.

John Schumann and his colleagues have assembled a magnificent all-you-can-eat numerical cornucopia for people like myself who don't get out of the house that often. It's a tremendous engine that allows you to sort through basic and advanced stats, broken down by team and player.

One of its features is assignment of an individual pace rating for every NBA player. The number is just as high as a team-wide pace rating. For instance, Isaiah Thomas leads all NBA players pace over the past 15 games with a pace of 99.57. Sacramento's team-wide pace over the same span is 97.83 possessions.

I asked Schumann what the individual pace was meant to reflect, and he explained that it represented what pace that player's team played at when the player was on the court. That's why most of the top pace players will be from the top pace teams.

(The following pace ratings are taken only from the past 15 games to give you a more current snapshot. And I'm only listing games matching up teams with paces equal to or greater than 95. And I'm only listing players who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game over their last 15 games, but any random benchwarmer could pop up with a nice line, so monitor who's in line for minutes down the stretch.)

Tuesday, April 9
Phoenix Suns (97.83 pace) at Houston Rockets (97.87 pace)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Terrence Jones (101.76 individual pace), Wesley Johnson (98.86), Luis Scola (98.75), Markieff Morris (98.12), Jared Dudley (96.75), Jermaine O'Neal (96.33)

Wednesday, April 10
Milwaukee Bucks (97.60) at Orlando Magic (96.58)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Arron Afflalo (97.84), Jameer Nelson (97.20), Mike Dunleavy (97.13), Beno Udrih (96.18), Maurice Harkless (96.18), J.J. Redick (95.37)

Phoenix Suns (97.9) at Dallas Mavericks (95.02)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Wesley Johnson (98.86), Luis Scola (98.75), Markieff Morris (98.12), Jared Dudley (96.75), Darren Collison (96.79), Jermaine O'Neal (96.33), Vince Carter (95.71)

Thursday, April 11
None

Friday, April 12
Milwaukee Bucks (97.60) at Atlanta Hawks (95.75)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Mike Dunleavy Jr. (97.13), Ivan Johnson (95.84), DeShawn Stevenson (95.51), Kyle Korver (95.49), J.J. Redick (95.37), Devin Harris (95.18)

Denver Nuggets (96.74) at Dallas Mavericks (95.02)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Corey Brewer (97.55), Darren Collison (96.79), Andre Miller (95.82), Vince Carter (95.71)

Golden State Warriors (95.07) at Los Angeles Lakers (95.96)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Steve Blake (96.37), Antawn Jamison (96.26), Harrison Barnes (96.24), Metta World Peace (95.89), Jodie Meeks (95.48), Andrew Bogut (95.29), Earl Clark (94.71), Jarret Jack (94.53)

Saturday, April 13
Phoenix Suns (97.60) at Minnesota Timberwolves (95.29)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Wesley Johnson (98.86), Luis Scola (98.75), Markieff Morris (98.12), Chase Budinger (96.79), Jared Dudley (96.75), Andrei Kirilenko (96.50), Jermaine O'Neal (96.33), Luke Ridnour (95.67), Derrick Williams (95.60), Jose Juan Barea (95.12), Dante Cunningham (95.08)

Sunday, April 14
Sacramento Kings (97.83) at Houston Rockets (97.87)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Terrence Jones (101.76), Jason Thompson (98.75), John Salmons (97.52), Patrick Patterson (96.13)

Monday, April 15
Denver Nuggets (96.74) at Milwaukee Bucks (97.06)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Corey Brewer (97.55), Mike Dunleavy (97.13), Andre Miller (95.82), J.J. Redick (95.37)

Houston Rockets (97.87) at Phoenix Suns (97.60)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Terrence Jones (101.76), Wesley Johnson (98.86), Luis Scola (98.75), Markieff Morris (98.12), Jared Dudley (96.75), Jermaine O'Neal (96.33)

Tuesday, April 16
None

Wednesday, April 17
Phoenix Suns (97.60) at Denver Nuggets (96.74)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Wesley Johnson (98.86), Luis Scola (98.75), Markieff Morris (98.12), Corey Brewer (97.55), Jared Dudley (96.75), Jermaine O'Neal (96.33), Andre Miller (95.82)

Houston Rockets (97.87) at Los Angeles Lakers (95.96)
Less-Owned High Pace Players To Watch: Terrence Jones (101.76), Steve Blake (96.37), Antawn Jamison (96.26), Metta World Peace (95.89), Jodie Meeks (95.48), Earl Clark (94.71).

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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