Pace Yourself

Mike Gallagher
James Harden is not fair, Kristaps Porzingis is most likely a unicorn and Donovan Mitchell is rolling. Let's Dose

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James Harden is not fair, Kristaps Porzingis is most likely a unicorn and Donovan Mitchell is rolling. Let's Dose

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.

Milwaukee Bucks (2012-13 rank: 3) – Perhaps no team looks more different than the Bucks. They let their top three scorers go and didn’t do much to replace them. Also, they were 15th in fast-break points, which is a little low considering the thievery of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis helped them rank second in turnovers forced per game. To be blunt, there’s simply no way they’re going to be elite in pace in 2013-14 with coach Larry Drew running the show.

Drew’s Hawks ranked in the bottom four in pace for two of the last three seasons and he’s been a proponent of slowing things down. His Hawks haven’t produced much and they’ve never really been among the elite in anything offensive. Since the pace is going to slow down, there could be some level of concern for Larry Sanders. He ranked second in the NBA in blocks due partly to the extra possessions, but the team should need him more on offense to help offset the dropoff. Not to mention the perimeter defense is going to be suspect, so Colonel Sanders should get his fair share of weak-side biscuits. Yeah, nobody calls blocks “biscuits.” I know.

Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo shouldn’t be influenced too much by the different coaching styles, so draft them as planned. Ghostface Ilya is going to play power forward exclusively and with the talk of John Henson getting some minutes at the five, it should help their pace a little, too. In other words, if I had my way, Zaza Pachulia will not get minutes.

Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo both figure to get their fair share of 3-point attempts. Knight did get some shooting-guard minutes last year, but the location of his shots from downtown reflect that of a ball handler. He took 80 percent of his threes from above the break, and he was also coming on last year, making 40 percent of all of his attempts from beyond the arc in the second half. Mayo also could do more ball handling and he did much more of that than usual last year, too. He had a career-high 4.4 assists in 2012-13, and much like Knight, 79 percent of his 3-point attempts came from above the break. Drew’s Hawks were fourth in 3PA last year, and even ranked in the top 10 without Kyle Korver in 2011-12, so he’s certainly a fan of utilizing the triple.

Bottom line: Mayo and Knight could be very helpful in the 3-point category, but their field goal percentages can cause some trepidation. As mentioned, there are a lot of points that need to be replaced, so it’s not crazy to reach a little for Ersan Ilyasova. Hopefully, he doesn’t have another disgusting November like last season. Sanders should have a more well-rounded line this year, especially after his fouls went way down in the second half. Henson is a high-ceiling guy and is one of the more alluring bench bigs to take in drafts.  Caron Butler could have the ball in his hands quite a bit as long as he stays healthy. I’m all for taking a chance on the 33-year-old forward. Don’t forget Caron is a terrific free throw shooter, can hit treys and is capable of earning steals. Luke Ridnour could be a sneaky pickup, too.

Sacramento Kings (2012-13 rank: 4) – There are a ton of changes in Sac-Town. The coach is gone, their second-highest scorer is a Pelican and the owners sold the team. Good riddance, Maloofs. But I digress. Anyway, they were also fourth in the NBA in fast-break points and ran quite a bit with ex-coach Keith Smart. The Kings brought on Mike Malone from the Warriors coaching staff and it could be a tremendous hire. The problem is that his Sacramento team is nothing like his Golden State squad. The Kings didn’t have any shooters rank in the top 25 for 3-point makes on the year and as a team they ranked 11th in percentage made.

The Kings figure to split some of their point-guard duties with Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas. Vasquez’s Hornets were dead last in pace and with him at the helm, there’s some concern that he’ll slow down the Kings. Although, GV was careless with the ball and had the seventh-most turnovers in the NBA, and that’s probably something Malone won’t appreciate.

The team really doesn’t have the firepower on offense that Malone might want. He’s a smart guy and he might just want to attack the basket and take high-percentage shots to counterbalance the lack of skills on the outside. Keith Smart being out has to help DeMarcus Cousins since the two weren't exactly best buddies, but besides him, it could get messy until the Kings figure out their rotation.

Furthermore, there are a lot of questions to be answered about how the team will address its 3-point production. There has been a lot of talk involving Marcus Thornton playing better D, which would open up a lot of possibilities on the other end. Ben McLemore is also in the mix to get some shots and all signs have indicated that he’s having a good camp. Although, this seems like the team’s only move since their first-round pick had a rough summer league. The Kansas product really couldn’t create his own shot, didn’t react well to on-ball pressure and lacked an overall understanding of floor spacing. His form is beautiful though, he gets very high off the ground like Danny Green and he just needs a little space to get a good look at the hoop.

Bottom line: The only player that truly seems safe to draft is DeMarcus Cousins, which feels really strange to type. Vasquez is coming off the board higher than IT2 in mock drafts, so Thomas might have a little more value. Plus, don't forget Thomas was dynamite in the second half. While McLemore and Thornton have been going in the same range, Thornton is a little safer and has a higher ceiling based on the struggles of B-Mac over the summer.

Golden State Warriors (2012-13 rank: 5) – The Warriors really started clicking on offense late in the season. They led the NBA in 3-point percentage at a sterling 40.3 percent for obvious reasons. In fact, the only other team to shoot over 40 percent since 2004 was the 2009-10 Suns. There’s really no scheme or analysis needed since they had the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in Stephen Curry with Klay Thompson and a full complement of shooters. They also ranked ninth in fast-break points, an impressive stat considering they ranked just 26th in opponent turnovers.

The team may have to slow it down a little bit this year, though. They’re expecting Andrew Bogut to come back healthy, but with the way his ankle has been reluctant to maintain its health, he’s no lock for 60 games. The Warriors more or less swapped out Jarrett Jack for Andre Iguodala and have similar depth, but they’re a little strapped on big men. That means they’re either going to have to play to Bogut’s limitations, or go ahead just let it loose with the up-tempo team they have outside of the Aussie. Iggy’s add bumps Harrison Barnes to the bench which projects to be a promising role for the second-year guy. He’s shown he’s capable of playing at the two, three or four with his superb versatility. If he gets minutes as a stretch four next to David Lee at the five, the Warriors are going to run a ton. It’s also worth mentioning there are murmurs of Barnes starting and Klay moving to the second unit.

Bottom line: Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect much change. It’s all about the health of Golden State and that’s about as far as it goes. Curry will cost a top-five pick, Klay should flirt with top-50 value, David Lee is one of the best offensive bigs in the league, Bogut can be huge pickup if he’s healthy – a huge if – and I’m all in on Harrison Barnes this year.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back next week with the bottom five and some other teams with noteworthy changes in personnel or coaching.

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