What is Pace and Why Do DFS Players Care About it?
Pace is defined as the number of possessions a team uses per game (48 minutes). Over the past 10 years, the league average for pace has risen from 92.1 to over 100(!) last season. It follows that a team playing at a faster pace (and thus using more possessions) will likely produce more fantasy points. It also follows that a team playing AGAINST a team that plays at a high pace will likely get more possessions, and thus produce more fantasy points. But does this actually translate? And should we be looking towards pace when building our DFS lineups?
Opponent Pace vs Points Scored
The first thing I did was look at opponent pace vs. points scored over the first half of the season. Did players playing in a 'pace up' matchup actually score more fantasy points on average? To do this I first averaged all player scores at each salary level, and against each opponent pace (at the time the game was played). I then standardized all player scores to the $7,000 salary level.
Players priced $6,500 have scored an average of 36.34 points against opponents ranked 22nd in pace.
Standardized by dividing 36.34/6,500 and then multiplying by 7,000.
Gives us ~39 points on average.
After standardizing all scores to the $7,000 salary level, we can compare how players performed against opponents with different ranks for pace, all else being equal. See below:
As expected, players playing against teams that play a higher pace scored more fantasy points. This starts to add some validity to the idea that 'pace up' matchups are important factors to consider in NBA DFS. However, this doesn't tell us the whole story. I decided to look further into this by breaking our sample into two groups. Players over $8,000 and players under $7,000. (I played around with these thresholds a bit to find the most noticeable results).
Players over $8,000
The first group I wanted to look at is expensive players, or stars. My initial theory was that stars would see even MORE of a boost from 'pace up' matchups, as they would likely be taking significantly more shots and finding themselves on the end of more rebounds and assists.
So, I was shocked to find out that there was very little correlation between points scored by players over $8,000 and opponent pace. One thing I will note from this graph is that stars playing in high pace matchups on average seem to have relatively high floors, but there was too much deviation to make any real conclusions from this graph. I suspect this is largely because stars will get theirs regardless of the matchup. They are far less dependent on extra possessions to put up their usual numbers and typically take a consistent amount of shots game to game.
Players Under $7,000
The next group I wanted to look at was players under $7,000. Now knowing that stars performed similarly regardless of opponent pace, I suspected that the correlation we had seen in the first graph was driven by cheaper players.
And boy was I right, there is a VERY significant correlation between cheaper players and high pace matchups. My theory here is similar to that of before, but in those games with extra possessions, the extra possessions aren't going to the starts, who will get their touches regardless. Instead, they are going to the role players, who step into expanded roles in games that are played at faster paces.
So, what can you (or I) take away from this moving forward. I think what it shows the most is to not over value a star player playing in a high pace matchup, or on the flip side, undervalue a star in a low pace matchup. Stars will get their touches regardless of the games pace and the players who truly benefit from faster games are the ones who might be getting overlooked.
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