March 21, 2017, 11:24 am
The most common mistake made by DFS players is allowing factors like consistency, match up, narratives, recent play, or preset opinions on a player’s skill level to take precedent over opportunity. These factors influence efficiency. While both opportunity and efficiency are important, opportunity plays a much larger role than efficiency in NBA DFS.
In the NBA, opportunity comes in two different forms:
1 – Opportunity based on time. Fantasy production is directly correlated to the amount of possessions a player sees on the floor. In general, a player who sees a 20 percent uptick in possessions will see a 20 percent uptick in fantasy production. We measure time-based opportunity using Minutes and Pace.
2 – Opportunity based on role. Different roles provide different opportunities to accumulate fantasy production. We measure role using statistics such as usage rate, rebound rate, assist rate, and play type data.
This article is the first of a four part series looking at opportunity in NBA DFS. In this article we will look at ways to project pace and how it influences fantasy value.
Overview of Pace
Below is the average pace for NBA teams as of March 21st:
Pace is simply the amount of possessions a team plays in 48 minutes. Teams who play at a high pace tend to push the ball quickly up the floor after rebounds, run more of their offense though perimeter players and run actions such as high screen and rolls and quick pin downs that can create shots early in the shot clock.
Low pace teams are more likely to set up a half court offense in lieu of transition play, run offense though big men and run offenses that use more of the shot clock to create a good look. Good defensive teams can also force a lower pace by denying good shots to an opposing team early in the shot clock and forcing them into more late clock situations.
Pace varies based on matchups. When a team plays a fast paced opponent, their pace for that particular game will be higher than their season average. This situation is called “playing pace-up”. When a team plays a low paced opponent, their pace for that particular game will be lower than their season average. This situation is called “playing pace-down”.
Playing pace up results in 4 benefits:
1 – Higher fantasy point projection. As discussed before, fantasy production is directly correlated to the number of possessions a player sees. If a player is expecting to see a 10% increase in pace from the season average, they can expect a 10% increase in fantasy production.
2 – Higher absolute ceiling. Every possession has a limited amount of fantasy points a player can score. There will only be 1 made shot, rebound, or steal in most possessions.
3 – A higher floor. Players in high paced games are safer. By seeing more possessions, a player will get more opportunity to regress to their mean production if they get off to a rough start.
4 – A more stackable game. With only 1 player usually accumulating fantasy points in a single possession, more possessions make it much easier for multiple players to have a great fantasy game.
Now that we know what pace is and why it’s important, we need a way of estimating the pace a game will be played at. A common mistake would be to take the pace of the two teams playing each other and take the average. Whether a game is pace-up or pace-down does not depend on if the opponent’s pace is lower or higher. Instead, it depends on if the opponent’s pace is lower or higher than the league average.
For a more accurate way of estimating pace, we can assume the average time per possession is the average of each team’s average time per possession. After doing a bit of algebra we arrive at the following formula for estimating pace:
While not perfect, this formula is the quickest way to get a good estimate of the pace a game will be played out.
Below is the matrix for each match up (click to embiggen):
Incorporating Pace into Projections
Incorporating pace into our projections is very easy. Because pace is directly correlated to possessions, and possessions are directly correlated to fantasy production, all we need to do to do is increase a player’s fantasy production based on the increase of pace.
Now let’s use Andre Drummond vs. the Brooklyn Nets as an example. Brooklyn has the fastest pace in the league. Therefore, this is the most pace-up matchup Drummond will face all year. After plugging in Detroit’s season average pace of 97.0, Brooklyn’s season average of 103.5, and the league average of 98.8, we get a estimated pace of 101.6. That’s a 4.7 percent increase in pace – but what does that mean in terms of actual fantasy production?
All other factors equal, we should expect a 4.7 percent increase in fantasy production for all the Pistons. This means an increase from 1.29 FPPM to 1.35 FPPM is expected from Drummond based on pace adjustment alone. If Drummond plays his season average minutes of 30 minutes per game, this 0.06 fantasy point increase will equate to a 1.87 extra fantasy points over the course of the full game.
An increase of 1.87 fantasy points may seem small, but in terms of projections it’s quite significant. It can turn a good play into a great play or a poor play into a mediocre play. Consider that an phenomena that increases fantasy production this much throughout an entire 8-man DK roster would result in nearly a 15 fantasy point increase in our final score. For comparison, most players’ home/road splits affect projections less than one fantasy point.
Pace is extremely important when playing DFS and projecting fantasy points. It is not the most important, however. Next week we will explore a factor so critical that it’s arguably more important for DFS than all other factors combined.