Ben Miller, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
When drafting a fantasy team, the first thing owners often do is simply look at a player’s projected stats. They can get a glimpse of the averages — points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc. — and then use that as an indicator of a player’s value.
While that’s a good place to start, there are other factors that must be considered in order to ascertain a player’s true value. Rather than looking solely at the player’s production, it’s also important to look at the team and situation, as a whole.
Below, we’ll examine some of the most important statistics and situational factors to be mindful of when conducting research for drafts or waiver wire moves.
PACE OF PLAY
Perhaps the most important statistic to consider is the pace at which a team plays. The relevance of this is rather simple: The faster a team plays, the more possessions they have. The more possessions they have, the more opportunities for players to rack up fantasy relevant statistics.
Let’s take a look at two different teams on opposite sides of the spectrum. The Warriors finished fourth in the league last season with a pace of 99.9 (possessions per 48 minutes), while the Jazz finished dead last at a pace of 91.6.
With one of the faster-paced offenses in the league, the Warriors finished with team totals of 9,503 points, 3,643 rebounds, 2,491 assists, 785 steals and 555 blocks. The Jazz, on the other hand, had 8,258 points, 3,545 rebounds, 1,651 assists, 550 steals and 410 blocks. While rebounds were somewhat close between the two teams, the other four categories significantly favored the Warriors.
It could be argued that Golden State having four All-Stars on its roster was a significant factor in the discrepancies, but we can dispute that by looking at the Suns. Phoenix ranked second in the league with a pace of 100.3 last season. Despite finishing dead last in the West with a record of 24-58, they racked up team totals of 8,831 points, 3,688 rebounds, 1,604 assists, 673 steals and 399 blocks.
Yes, the Jazz barely edged the Suns in assists and blocks totals, but the Suns still had a fairly significant advantage in the other categories. So despite the drop-off in individual talent from the Warriors to the Suns, the superior pace of play still translated to more potential fantasy points, overall, compared to a slower-paced team like the Jazz, Mavericks or Grizzlies.
Based on recent trends, other uptempo teams to target this season include the Nets, Rockets, Lakers, 76ers and Nuggets.
The offensive style of a team is something to keep in mind as well, as it can point you toward players who are able to boost certain fantasy categories.
For example, we can look at the opposing styles of the Rockets and Timberwolves. Last season, 46 percent of the Rockets’ field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, enabling them to set an NBA record for the most three-pointers made in a single season. On the other hand, just 25 percent of the Timberwolves’ field goal attempts came from three-point range.
Say, for instance, you’re lacking three-point production and are considering picking up Shabazz Muhammad or P.J. Tucker. You might lean toward Tucker, given that he’s likely to be put in position to provide more production in that category.
In today’s top-heavy NBA, a team’s potential to either blow out its opponents, or get blown out, must be taken into consideration.
For both good and bad teams, lopsided scores can result in starters sitting out large portions of the second half. If the Warriors are up 30 points on the Pacers, there’s a decent chance Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson aren’t playing much, if any, of the fourth quarter. When that happens on a regular basis, it can significantly affect fantasy value.
On the other hand, however, it can present an opportunity to find value in bench players. It’s often beneficial to target key reserves who average the most fourth quarter minutes on elite teams, as these are the guys who are going to benefit with extra playing time and production while closing out games.
Consider someone like Patrick McCaw in Golden State. He’s already a key member of the second unit, but as a young player, he’s also going to get extended run in a blowout scenario. In deeper leagues, players like McCaw can make all the difference.
For bad teams, similar logic applies. Blowouts often mean benching veterans in favor of giving young players a chance to develop in real-game situations.
If Atlanta is getting blown out, there’s a good chance they pull a veteran like Ersan Ilyasova and instead roll with rookie John Collins for much of the game. The Bulls are another team expected to struggle, which could mean large doses of Lauri Markkanen or Bobby Portis, rather than a known commodity like Nikola Mirotic. This is particularly important to consider later in the season, when bad teams begin to blatantly jockey for lottery position.
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OTHER SITUATIONAL FACTORS
There are plenty of situations unique to particular teams that also warrant attention when considering acquiring certain players.
Consider younger or foundational players on teams that are expected to tank. Last season, the Lakers shut down veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov fairly early in the second half of the season, as they wanted to go with their younger options like Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram. A similar situation developed in Phoenix, as the Suns shut down Eric Bledsoe, traded P.J. Tucker, and reduced the roles of Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley.
While the league has taken steps to trim the number of back-to-backs, resting players could still be a factor. Gregg Popovich of the Spurs is well known for strategically resting his veterans, which means guys like Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge or Rudy Gay could come down with mysterious “injuries” right before tip-off on any given (non-national TV) night.
Finally, take into consideration coaching styles. For the most part, NBA rotations are similar from team-to-team. Coaches typically give their best players the most minutes and strive to engineer the most efficient five-man units. There’s not a coach in the league who doesn’t follow those basic principles.
But there are certain situations that can be especially advantageous to fantasy players. Pace of play and offensive style aside, Tom Thibodeau has forged a reputation as a coach who relies heavily on his best players, sometimes to a fault.
Consider that last season, Thibs’ first in Minnesota, the Timberwolves had three players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns — average at least 37 minutes per game. In each of Thibodeau’s final four years in Chicago, one of his players ranked either first or second in minutes per game. With Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague joining Towns and Wiggins in Minnesota, it’s difficult to assess how the production will be distributed. But considering Thibodeau’s history, Butler, Teague, Towns and Wiggins will each play enough minutes to — theoretically, at least — avoid major drop-offs in value.
If another coach were at the helm, that might not be the case.