Mike Gallagher

Offseason Beat

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Pace Yourself

Friday, October 04, 2013

You can get a lot more stuff done when it’s done at a faster pace. If you’ve paid any attention to the NFL, there has been a lot of talk of the Philadelphia Eagles running a faster pace in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. The Eagles were using less play clock and were running a lot of plays in just a short amount of time. Their running back, LeSean McCoy, had a career high in carries in Week 1 and there was plenty of fantasy goodness to go around.


It’s the same in basketball. The faster the tempo, the more possessions occur per game. Since just about every possession is going end with a score, rebound or turnover -- team rebounds notwithstanding -- teams with a faster pace have a greater likelihood of posting more stats in general. The Rockets led the NBA in pace last year, so it’s no surprise that James Harden blew up, Chandler Parsons was one of the best values in drafts, Omer Asik was second in the Western Conference in rebounding and a slew of other players made a splash.


Secondly, the 3-point line has changed the game. Getting 150 percent on your money for a triple vs. a regular shot has changed the way teams try to score the ball. Some teams are regularly in the top of the rankings for treys and it reflects their guys having higher fantasy values than some of the other players on teams with less of a fantasy impact. The 3PM category in fantasy is among the easiest to target, so any changes in the way teams approach their ways of knocking down treys should influence your draft strategy. Personally, I try not to focus on triples early in drafts since I’m usually able to pick them up in the middle and late rounds. In other words, I don’t plan on drafting Stephen Curry and not just because of his ankle issues. Chris Paul and James Harden are much more to my liking.


This offseason there were some serious changes to teams that were at the top of the league in pace.  Teams moved some of their players, a handful of coaches changed scenery and there were just a few ideological changes. All of these changes could potentially impact teams positively or negatively in that department. Let’s take a look at the noteworthy teams in pace and triples. Today we’re starting off with the top-five teams in pace last season. Interestingly, three of these five teams hired different coaches:


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Houston Rockets (2012-13 pace rank: 1) - James Harden and Co. were running like crazy all season long and it’s part of the reason why Harden ranked third in eight-cat formats. They were also second in the NBA in fast-break points while ranking just 14th in turnovers forced per game, so their tempo is not based on using turnovers to their advantage.  Chandler Parsons was outstanding and he was one of the biggest breakouts in all of fantasy. They’ve made some major personnel changes and there’s no doubt that will reflect their pace.


Dwight Howard coming to town is going to change some things. The Lakers brought on Mike D’Antoni and his seven-second offense, so the Dwight factor is offset by the coaching mentality. While Dwight was in Orlando, the Magic were consistently in the bottom for pace. During the 2011-12 season they ranked 29th, and in the two previous seasons they averaged a rank of 20.5. The Rockets just aren't built to run slow with Dwight, so a big question is going to be how much Dwight and the rest of the team have to compromise.


As for threes, Dwight's Lakers ranked fourth in the NBA in makes, but his Magic teams were absolutely dominant in triples during those days. The Magic ranked first in triples made in five of his last six seasons there, ranking second in the 2007-08 season. Clearly, teams collapse on Dwight and things open up for shooters. This should mean that Harden and Parsons are going to see an uptick in treys. If you want to reach for Parsons a bit, go for it since he has a shot to be in the top 10 for treys. Harden seems like the obvious pick at three for the Rotoworld crew. As for Dwight, he’s not the type of guy you’ll want to take in a Roto league, but he's a good bet to build from a sub-par 2012-13.


Bottom line: Head coach Kevin McHale said the team is going to try and play similar even with Howard in the fold, so things could be looking up for all of their key pieces. Harden will be a stud, Parsons is worth an early-middle round pick, Dwight should lead the NBA in boards while putting up plenty of blocks and Patrick Beverley is one of my favorite sleepers in standard leagues. I’m not touching Jeremy Lin, but he could get more 3-pointers. He’s also spent a lot of extra time on those this offseason.


Denver Nuggets (2012-13 rank: 2) – The Nuggets have lived and died by George Karl for a while and those times are now dead. They’ve consistently been among the elite in free throw attempts and have been fueled off fast-break points for years, ranking first in either of the last two seasons. Now, Brian Shaw steps in and he’s been in a variety of schemes. He was brought up on Phil Jackson’s triangle and has been the primary assistant in the Pacers’ defense-first scheme for a couple years. Shaw is a smart coach and he’s not going to let an ideology dictate how he runs his team, he’ll let his personnel do that. Although, the Nuggets' lack on defense can’t sit well with him. They’ve averaged in the bottom half of the NBA in defensive efficiency over the past four years partially due to their fast pace. Karl’s teams also like to get to the line a lot and they ranked 28th in percentage last year – behind Drummond’s Pistons and Dwight’s Lakers. That’s not a good combo.


This year there’s not too much fundamentally different in the Mile High City as far as personnel goes. Ty Lawson is going to run the show and Shaw would be a fool not to let his athleticism control an NBA game. The Nuggets have a lot of speed on paper and they really don’t have too many lock-down defenders, so a faster tempo makes a lot of sense. They should still be among the top-10 teams in pace.


The team adding Randy Foye and Nate Robinson should help their 3-point output. The Nuggets couldn’t crack the top 15 in makes in each of the last two seasons. Of course, it’s tough to do that when there aren’t any proficient shooters from downtown. Danilo Gallinari ranked 60th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, which was a team high. Foye ranked 24th and Robinson came in at 29th last season, so this is an obvious area of improvement to space the floor.


Bottom Line: Lawson dealing with Achilles problems put a damper on his fantastic second half and while the loss of George Karl could impact his free throw numbers negatively, he still has some of the highest upside in fantasy for threes, field goal percentage, steals, assists and points. Wilson Chandler’s aggressive style on D makes him an interesting pick and JaVale McGee could lead the NBA in blocks. Kenneth Faried is another play that supports the claim to push the pace. He has one of the best motors in the NBA and his athleticism has nothing to do with his lack of minutes. Foye could be a sneaky pick to make 2.0 triples per game and Nate could make 1.7 or so.  As far as overall yield in fantasy, the Nuggets should produce less with Shaw than they did with Karl. There’s still a lot to like here and I’m not opposed to targeting any player mentioned.


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Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.

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