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The Numbers Game

Change of Pace

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Pace is the number of possessions used, per 48 minutes, by a given player or team. Today's column determines whether team pace and/or individual pace were strongly linked to a player's overall fantasy value in 2014-15. The more possessions used by a team or player, the more opportunities there are for fantasy-valued statistics, but more possessions also yield more turnovers and missed shots.


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Last season the five teams with the fastest pace were Golden State (100.7), Houston (99.3), Phoenix (98.7), Denver (98.7) and Boston (98.4).


The five slowest teams were Utah (92.8), Miami (93.3), New York (93.7), New Orleans (93.7) and Memphis (94.2).


Using these two extremes as our test subjects, let's see how many players these 10 teams had in the top-200 and top-100 for overall 8-cat value last season.


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Number of players for each team:

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This off-the-cuff approach suggests that teams with the fastest pace might sneak another player or two into the top-200, but that team pace wasn't much of a factor in top-100 value. We'll see whether that holds up in a more rigorous analysis below.


It must be mentioned that the picture is a bit different this season -- the Celtics are running at a ridiculous pace of 106.4 possessions per 48 minutes, followed by the Kings, Pelicans, Wizards and Warriors. The slowest teams at this very early juncture in the season are the Jazz, Nets, Heat, Pistons and Bucks. The Pelicans have yet to win a game this year, and Anthony Davis has yet to really find his groove, but Alvin Gentry wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to push the tempo.


Now to the heart of the matter. Was team pace correlated, positively or negatively, with 8-cat values last season? The first analysis looks at each player's fantasy value compared to their team's pace.


Image and video hosting by TinyPic


Image and video hosting by TinyPic


The trendline in the chart above sums things up -- contrary to my expectations, there wasn't much of a correlation to be found. The Pearson's r was 0.0457, which means that there was either no correlation or else it was very weak. However, you'll notice that among the top six players last season, only one (Anthony Davis) played for a team with a slow pace. The other five (Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant) may have benefited from playing in relatively up-tempo situations, but that's purely anecdotal. When I isolated only the top-100 players, the Pearson's r increased to 0.1401, suggesting a weak positive correlation between team pace and 8-cat value.


I also ran the numbers for individual 9-cat values and team pace, with the assumption that the correlation coefficient would shift toward negative since more possessions also lead to more turnovers. It did shift, from 0.0457 to 0.0380, but once again that's too small to be statistically significant. There simply wasn't much of a relationship between these two variables (team pace and fantasy value) last season.


There are, however, many players whose individual pace far exceeded their team's pace, or vice versa. Goran Dragic averaged 5.2 more possessions-per-48 than the Heat, but that's logical since he played 52 games with Phoenix before heading to Miami. Among players who stayed put, those who picked up the pace, so to speak, include Corey Brewer (+2.6), Russell Westbrook (+2.3), Kevin Durant (+2.3), Kobe Bryant (+2.0), Derrick Rose (+2.0), Jrue Holiday (+1.8) and C.J. Watson (+1.8).


Players whose individual paces were substantially slower than their team included Jordan Clarkson (-2.0), Dennis Schroder (-1.9), Roy Hibbert (-1.4), Taj Gibson (-1.3), Donatas Motiejunas (-1.2), Dirk Nowitzki (-1.2) and Andrew Bogut (-1.1).


With that in mind, let's see if an individual's pace was more strongly correlated with 8-cat values.


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Image and video hosting by TinyPic


Anthony Davis' individual pace of 94.3 was faster than the Pelicans' overall pace of 93.7, but he's still a clear outlier among the top seven players. The Pearson's r was still just 0.14683, which indicates a weak positive correlation -- when a player's individual pace increased, their 8-cat value had a mild tendency to also increase. This fits my initial expectations better than team pace did, but it's still a shaky enough connection that it wouldn't sway me when drafting or plucking someone off the waiver wire.


FanDuel doesn't penalize missed shots and a turnover (-1) is weighted the same as a point (+1), so perhaps pace was more strongly correlated with values from FanDuel's scoring system (explained in depth in last week's column)? I thought it would be. I was wrong.


The top-200 players showed a very slight negative correlation between FanDuel values and pace, from Russell Westbrook (who averaged 49.9 FanDuel points last year) down to Jason Terry (13.0). Even when I ran the numbers for only the top-100 players, the outcome barely budged -- the correlation coefficient went from -0.0235 to +0.0053. In neither case was the result statistically significant.


So if you're a DFS owner, should you typically target matchups vs. fast-paced teams? Not necessarily. In addition to the weak or non-existent correlation explained above, the 2014-15 Warriors are an instructive case study.


They had the league's fastest pace, as mentioned, yet according to RotoGrinders they gave up the fifth-fewest FanDuel points to opposing point guards last season; the sixth-fewest points to shooting guards; and the ninth-fewest points to small forwards. They were more lenient for opposing big men, but the point is clear -- if pace swayed you to play someone like Ty Lawson vs. the Warriors last season, it probably didn't end well.


There are better indicators of whether or not a matchup is favorable, such as defensive efficiency, but that's beyond the bounds of this column. A good starting place, for both DFS owners and anyone on the fence about a particular player on a given night, is the RotoGrinders tool I linked above. I'm also partial to HoopsStats.com and Basketball-Reference, and of course you can get virtually any statistic you want on NBA.com these days.


As I said, the results of this analysis ran against what I'd expected to see -- pace convincingly rising in tandem with overall fantasy values. Pace has always been a background concern for me when evaluating fantasy options, season-long or on a daily basis. I'll still keep an eye on each team's pace, but today's research makes me hesitant to put a lot of stock in it going forward.

Ryan Knaus
Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.